This is a guest post from Stephen Tomlinson, Superintendent of the Broadalbin-Perth Central School District. It has been adapted from a speech given at the Tech Valley STEM Smart Alliance launch event on April 23
During a year when the school district that I lead, Broadalbin-Perth, is laying off as many as 20 employees, you might be surprised to learn that we’re also adding 18 new electives at our high school. Many of these new electives fall under the heading of STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
You might ask: How could I do such a thing? How could I lay off employees but add new classes? The answer is simple: Our priorities have changed. Therefore, we as a school district must change in order to meet our new priorities.
Broadalbin-Perth is beginning the process of reinventing itself. We’re eliminating some classes that have been taught since the 1980s and investing in more rigorous and relevant opportunities for our students. Starting this fall, our high school students will have the chance to take classes in engineering, computer arts, robotics and nanotechnology—courses that are being developed in collaboration with Fulton-Montgomery Community College and Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery (HFM) BOCES.
A district-led ad hoc community group is helping us redefine what a Broadalbin-Perth graduate should know and be. The new Broadalbin-Perth that we are working toward will be characterized by hands-on learning; interdisciplinary instruction; student access to technology; and a well-balanced and challenging curriculum that meets the needs of the whole student.
Together, the school district and community have begun a multi-year process through which we will re-imagine a new kind of education for our students—an education filled with the relevant, practical learning opportunities necessary to help our students grow into productive citizens who will thrive in the 21st century.
Not all school districts require the kinds of ideological and programmatic shifts we are making in Broadalbin-Perth. To find out what your schools need, you must ask yourself: Are we really doing all we can to prepare our students for college and careers in the 21st century? If you’re not already offering the kind of education I’ve just described, chances are your answer will be “no.” That needs to change.
I challenge every superintendent, principal and school board member in the Greater Capital Region—and in all of New York State—to develop a vision for STEM education for all students, pre-K through graduation, that is supported by Board of Education goals. As education leaders, we must create a school structure that supports STEM instruction at every level, as well as collaborative programs with area colleges and businesses.
To paraphrase Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, it takes a village to educate a child. That’s why partnerships like the Tech Valley STEM Smart Alliance are so important. By working with the business and higher education leaders in our communities, we can create a better future for all of our students.
There has never been a more exciting time to be an educator than right now. But in order to give our students the education they need to be successful, we must have the courage and the conviction to stop doing what we have always done and start doing what we know is right.