By now you have hopefully heard about the Education Summit which will take place on Tuesday, November 10, from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at Columbia High School. You may be wondering, however, what is an Education Summit, and why should you bother going? Is it just one more meeting where people will talk and talk and nothing will change?

My answer to you is that this Education Summit is not “just another meeting” – it is a unique opportunity to shape our children’s future, and we need to include every voice in our community as we do this critical work.

We want all students to find and develop their own special talents and propensities, to have deeply engaging experiences in school, to be challenged to do their best, and to be supported so they can succeed in college and career. Yet the traditional school model is structured to prepare students for jobs that may not exist or be relevant in the future, and to impart skills that are no longer the ones most valued by today’s employers, much less tomorrow’s. We need to move away from past patterns and outdated approaches to learning and teaching. We need to honor the past, confront the present and embrace the future.

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We know that we have to prepare our students for jobs that haven’t even been created yet, and to succeed in a future that we have yet to imagine.

But what will that look like? And how will we get there?

The Education Summit is an opportunity for us to join forces as a community to reimagine public education and to chart a course for the future of our schools. Tony Wagner, Expert in Residence at Harvard’s Innovation Lab, says that “innovation… is a team sport.”  Here in South Orange and Maplewood, we have so much talent, so much passion for education, and a strong commitment to doing our very best for our children. Together, we can envision solutions and innovative ideas that fit our values of excellence and access and equity, and that will give our students the skills and experiences they need to be successful.

The ideas and action items shared at the Summit and in subsequent conversations will be used to develop a new Strategic Plan for SOMSD. This Strategic Plan will outline our goals as a District, and include specific objectives (what we want our students to do), and strategies (what the adults are committing to do to help our students achieve the objectives).  Each strategy will have an action plan and a timeline, as well as a built-in quality assurance process, with regular reports on our progress to the Board of Education and to the community.  

Of course, we won’t all agree on everything, and no one will be happy with every part of the plan. Even some of the things we do all agree on may not be immediately achievable due to budget constraints, state or federal mandates, or other considerations. Hopefully, though, we will each see some of our priorities reflected in the final document. This Strategic Plan will be the blueprint for our future, and because we develop it together, it will be the community’s plan.

Active and engaged stakeholders with a broad range of interests have helped us organize the details of the Summit, to make sure that we are making it as easy as possible for everyone to participate, and that we are addressing the most urgent issues in our community. You can find out more about the logistics of the Education Summit here.  

The most important thing, though, is that you join us on November 10, and join the conversation as it continues for 30 days after the Summit. Our Strategic Plan can only reflect the true priorities and vision of our community if all perspectives are represented. We need your voice.