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Programming - December 2016
By Julie Cain

Julie Cain, member of the Facilities Master CommitteeThe Cedar Rapids School District Master Facilities Committee tasked the Program Offering Sub-Committee to develop a blueprint for technological and facilities needs as we move our district offerings into the 21st Century. The committee is comprised of parents, business and non-profit leaders, teachers, administrators, and other District staff members.  Our goal is to engage in thoughtful conversations and develop collective beliefs about what it means to be the kind of 21st Century schools that close the achievement gap, meet the needs of every student, provide meaningful technological experiences, and cultivate a passion for learning.

In order to develop a clearer understanding of what 21st Century schools might look like, we researched the Iowa Core Curriculum, the National Association of Colleges and Employers report on “What is Career Ready,” the Trends in International Math and Science Study Report, and the CRCSD Theory of Action. We discovered that people entering the workforce must demonstrate skills in problem solving, technology, and collaboration. Most of our current facilities, however, which are based on an historically traditional model, are not supporting efforts to teach these skills. For example, in the past we learned about math in the math room, science in the science room and history in the history room. Students memorized facts, figures, formulas, and dates while sitting in rows of desks. Those who could memorize and recall, scored well on tests and were guided toward advanced education.  Those who struggled were guided toward vocational tracks. For nearly two centuries schools have operated in this model. They have prepared diligent workers perfect for an industrial and agrarian economy. Low to mid-skill jobs comprised 70% of the work force in the 1970s. Today, those jobs make up less than 12%.

Our economic model has changed. The 21st Century is the Information Age and the world of work looks very different. Any fact, figure, and formula you would ever need requires only a quick finger swipe on a smart phone. Learners of today must develop critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, imagination, collaboration, and teamwork skills. The old industrial age model of school is no longer sufficient. Our District program offerings must realign and our facilities must be adapted to promote the change. 

Our subcommittee discovered that while we work to close the achievement gap, meet the needs of every student, provide meaningful technological experiences, and cultivate a passion for learning, we are ultimately preparing all children for the jobs of the future: jobs that will contribute to our vibrant community; jobs that probably do not exist yet. With this in mind we developed the following collective beliefs:

  • Learning spaces must be conducive for 21st Century learning.
  • Students and staff will get both academic and behavioral supports when needed.
  • Barriers to the meaningful integration of technology, both at school and at home, must be removed.
  • Time must be provided educators to collaboratively analyze data, create lessons, and engage in peer observations helping them to practice effective teaching strategies and improve student learning. This time will support our belief that all students can learn at high levels and PLC’s provide a systematic approach to deeper learning.
  • All students will have access to the academic program appropriate to their individual strengths/needs.
  • Teachers will guide students toward taking responsibility/ownership for their own learning.
  • 21st Century Learning is about applying skills into real world situations, problem-solving, working with others, and being creative and critical thinkers.
  • The District Equity Plan and Theory of Action are the foundational documents that guide our work.

As a teacher and parent of children in the District, I am excited about the direction the CRCSD is moving.  We are fortunate to live in a community where jobs in technology, art, and entrepreneurism abound. If we grow leaders, skilled workers, and collaborative thinkers, we can continue to build a community that young people will want to call home.

Julie Cain is a District parent and an Instructional Design Strategist/Japanese Teacher at Washington High School;