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Superintendents’ Forum: Past, Present and Future of Public Education

This article was originally published in the Reading Eagle: https://www.readingeagle.com/2023/03/16/superintendents-forum-past-present-and-future-of-public-education/

By: Dr. Brett Cooper, Daniel Boone Area School District Superintendent

Thursday, March 6, 2023

As a soon-to-be retired public school educator of what will be nearly 34 years of serving students and families in three different school districts across the southeast demography of Pennsylvania, I share some past, present and anticipated future thoughts and opinions of our commonwealth’s public education system.

Reflecting on the fall of 1988 for my professional semester experience, to the spring of 1989 during my student teaching, and eventually, the fall of 1989 as my teaching career begins, what the public education system has done for the students and families of our commonwealth in preparing young people for the careers of tomorrow continues to intrigue.

My early career experiences found educators advocating post-secondary options for our learners as college-bound being the only answer to a successful livelihood. If your post-secondary plan did not involve further education in the traditional four-year college/university, you would be setting yourself up for failure in the workplace.

As I progressed in my public service career supporting students and families through teaching health education and physical education for nearly 15 years, I began to experience a shift in the earlier traditional thought. Emphasis began to shift away from the four-year college/university-only belief for success to perhaps two years of college/university experiences or even education through service to our country via our military as a viable option to a successful livelihood.

Approaching the middle part of my public school service, I was transitioning from the classroom to various building-level administrative roles; another shift occurred even further to include not only four-year or two-year college/university experiences and post-secondary education via service to our great nation via the military, but rather the inclusion of career technical education began to take hold as a viable option, too, for successful livelihood preparation.

College opportunities through concurrent/dual enrollment began to emerge in secondary schools, providing a jump-start to post-secondary learning for our students. This option was made available to our college-bound students as well as our career and technical education students. This was groundbreaking in that it broke the mold of the traditional education model of preparation for post-secondary education to that of preparation for post-secondary experiences that promote the continuation of learning via a variety of learning modalities.

In reviewing the latter part of my public school service, transitioning from a building-level administrator to a central office administrator and superintendent of schools, I’ve come to realize that what is most important to our students and families is identifying appropriate post-secondary learning opportunities/options for our young people that should be available in many forms.

We have students whose path to successful livelihood would take them through four-year or two-year college experiences or a combination thereof, which may have started as early as high school sophomores.

Some would define it as learning experiences afforded to them through service to our country via one of our military branches.

Others would have it defined as the successful completion of a career technical education program, which too, may have included college coursework. As I approach my final months of public school service and look into the proverbial crystal ball that has so often eluded me throughout my career, I see an even further shift to additional post-secondary options/opportunities; the aforementioned aside, available to students throughout their senior high school experiences to include internship and apprenticeship opportunities.

Preparation for postsecondary opportunities/options should have no boundaries and be limitless for our students and families. Learning should be an ongoing, never-ending path that continues to offer continued growth in providing successful livelihoods that are fluid and flexibly adjusted without roadblocks.

Today’s students and tomorrow’s learners are technically swift with an expectation of learning and access to instantaneous information with the swipe of a finger. Families have an expectation, post-COVID-19, of flexibility in how their child accesses individual learning growth opportunities. An integrated learning system that is accessible anytime and anywhere and provides such flexibility will play an integral role in publicly educating our society’s most valuable assets, our children, for careers and jobs that yet exist and require outside-of-the-box thinking and preparation.

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