The old adage says, “Time flies when you are having fun.” And, I would say my first six months as superintendent of schools has moved at rocket speed. I have been blessed to meet and work with many dedicated school personnel, parents and business and community members as we develop a new vision for USD 353. As I’ve met with many in the community, your message has been consistent and clear-“Prepare students for the 21st Century. Look to the future, and provide students with the academic, technological, and social skills necessary to be successful in an ever- changing world.”

We are listening to you, and to this extent, the board recently approved an initiative that will eventually provide all district students with a laptop or other digital device. This initiative is just the beginning of changes we will see across the district over the next few years. We will be future focused because to ignore the future will greatly disadvantage our students. One might say the U.S. ignored future trends in the job market beginning in the 70’s, and as a result we saw a devastating decline in high paying jobs, and the subsequent decline of the American middle class.

Indeed trends in the job market changed dramatically over the last few decades. For instance, even though none of my grandparents graduated from high school, they found good jobs in factories. In these factories, post World War II, American workers increasingly reached the middle class. However, beginning in the 70’s and over the next few decades, many of these great manufacturing jobs steadily moved to China and other developing nations. Workers in foreign countries were willing to work for pennies on the dollar. Some would argue state and federal agencies as well as the American education system did not prepare people for this overwhelming outsourcing of U.S. manufacturing jobs. In short, we ignored the future and we’ve paid a heavy cost.

We are now faced with yet another great paradigm shift -American manufacturing jobs are beginning to return to our shores because automation and robotics are even more cost effective than foreign labor. However, as manufacturing returns to the U.S., my grandparents would scarcely recognize these American factory jobs. The new American manufacturing jobs involve people who can operate, program, and repair or maintain complex computerized equipment and robotics. Not only is a high school diploma not enough for many of these jobs, workers need some technical training beyond high school. These jobs will be available for our children and grandchildren, if we ensure they receive the training necessary for 21st Century success.

While we respect the educational traditions of the past that prepared my grandparents for success in manufacturing, we know many of these traditions must give way to new traditions- Traditions that look forward to the future- Traditions that prepare kids for a new and exciting world. You spoke and we listened. Now lets all buckle up because the rocket of change is not slowing down!

Have a blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Mark Whitener