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January 17, 2017

New schools chief: 'We can do better for students, workforce prep'

By: Bobbi Cussins   Comments: 0
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal. Photo: Brian Mittge/AWB
We can do better for students and it's time to do things differently in K-12 education.

That was the message that Chris Reykdal, the newly-elected state Superintendent of Public Instruction, delivered to business leaders Tuesday at the AWB Legislative Day and Hill Climb.

Reykdal said K-12 education has moved from a simplistic notion of students finding and following their passion to a more analytic model that attempts to identify the skills our students need to land in the job market.

He laid out four pillars he believes will modernize the system to benefit all students.

The first item of business, he said, is changing staff within the department, a move he said will bring about the changes in emphasis within the educational system that need to be made.

Second, and of critical importance, he said, is leaving behind the notion that all students need a four-year degree to be successful, and looking ahead to how leaders can boost career and technical education to fill the workforce pipeline and increase graduation rates.

"We are blessed to have manufacturing, food processing and agriculture, even as the service sector is growing," Reykdal said. "That means we need more people thinking about the future workforce needs - not just next year but many years from now."

Third, he said, is addressing assessments and how to find alternative graduation pathways for students who may not be college bound, but would benefit from a trade or vocational pathway.

"We need benchmarks in the system," Reykdal said. "But, the tests have become university-centric, testing students that aren't headed that way."

Last, Reykdal addressed education funding, or McCleary, saying that some people will think levy swap is a great idea and no taxes are needed while others believe that more taxes are needed to get better results for all students because there are large disparities based on socioeconomic issues.

"The system needs to be honest. Some school districts can generate a lot of money locally to support education, but property-poor districts cannot. This must change," Reykdal said, if we want to end the opportunity gap that disproportionately impacts low-income and minority communities.

The bottom line on education, he said, "If we don't pay for K-12 education that works for all students, those kids end up in other parts of the budget, like corrections and social programs."

For more information on education and workforce issues, contact AWB Government Affairs Director Amy Anderson.