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Sandy Garrett's Column

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Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky,
Little boxes, little boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.
– “Little Boxes,” by Malvina Reynolds, © 1962

Many will remember the song “Little Boxes,” a social commentary on the cookie-cutter pursuit of the American dream that became popular in the 1960s. “Little Boxes” is now the theme song to a popular cable television series. It came to mind recently when preparing for my annual “State of Education Address” this summer.
Most are familiar with the typical school “box”—with four walls, a chalkboard and a teacher at the front. Each was the same, regardless of grade or school. Nothing else in the world is the same now as it was then.
To harness the power of our present and the opportunities of our future, we must look beyond that box. So, when school leaders gathered for our annual Leadership Conference July 15, I told them about the “perfect storm” that is brewing. This is the global, national, state and local forces impacting Oklahoma schools and their ability to successfully educate every child.
These forces are:
· The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
· The concern that not all in the workforce today have the skills needed
to be successful.
· The ongoing demographic changes resulting in more Oklahoma children
living in poverty, and more students who are homeless.
This converging of forces into a perfect storm makes it imperative that schools focus on the future and be willing to change quickly. It’s time to transform schools to better prepare every student to compete in the global economy now and to adapt to the job market of their future.
The president has offered a crisis plan to help chart a course through the storm. His recent initiatives include:
1. Promoting innovation and excellence in schools. In Oklahoma this can
mean increasing the quality and quantity of learning time; adding to the number of places for learning from which parents can choose (traditional public or private, charter schools, online, etc.), and engaging students with the tools of technology they will use in the workplace.
2. Encouraging higher academic standards and better assessments by
continuing to raise the bar on tests and advocating for common standards among states.
3. Recruiting and rewarding teachers in ways that help retain the current
teaching force and assist new teachers in being effective with students at that particular school.
4. Developing partnerships with CareerTechs and colleges, and continuing
our work aligning postsecondary standards with Pre-K through 12th grade.
5. Ongoing efforts to improve the quality of early learning programs –
even in Oklahoma where our Pre-Kindergarten programs are considered the national model.
Urgency is needed locally to rethink Oklahoma’s outdated school calendar, embrace new technologies, and tailor teaching to each child’s educational needs with a goal of 100 percent of students graduating from high school.
Schools can break free of the “little box” mentality of the past, and
focus our schools on the future. Because every child deserves a bright
future, I urged school leaders to do whatever it takes to “leave no future behind.”

Read to a child – the benefits last a lifetime!

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