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Forum focuses on future
Skills keeping pace with the work force
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Forsyth County News
Nobody knows exactly what’s in store for Forsyth County’s students after graduation. But the school system has a few ideas of how to help them compete in a global work force.

Some of these ideas, along with community feedback, were discussed during Monday’s presentation, “21st Century Skills: Where are we going?”

The panel discussion was a collaboration between the school system and Kennesaw State University educational leadership students. Several parents, teachers, principals and community members attended.

Among the five speakers at the event were: Matthew Arkin, director of the Georgia Virtual Academy; Brad Smith, director of Forsyth Academy; and Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Buster Evans.

While the typical approach to education serves a purpose, Arkin and other panelists noted the need for other options for students.

“The traditional model of education ... was designed for about 20 percent of the students to move onto college,” he said, noting about 26 percent of current students nationwide make it to their sophomore year of college. “The system is actually working well, as it was designed.

“We’re looking to move out of that traditional mind-set and provide the flexibility to better meet the students’ individual needs and to engage them to be able to find the opportunities to learn in different ways.”

One way this could be accomplished is through schools such as the Virtual Academy, Georgia’s only virtual charter school. The school has about 4,500 students enrolled.

Arkin called virtual education the “tip of the iceberg” in ways to help teach students who aren’t responding well to traditional classes.

The Forsyth Academy takes a similar approach, offering students at risk of dropping out of high school flexible learning, said Smith. Between self-paced instruction and its new nighttime classes, Forsyth Academy is helping students “accelerate their learning,” he said.

But the future of education isn’t just different methods of teaching, it’s also incorporating technology, said panelist Peter Lambert, who helped develop features of the Promethean Interactive whiteboards used in classrooms throughout the school system.

Lambert, who has a son at South Forsyth Middle School, said like many students, his child is able to listen to music, watch TV, surf the Internet and still get homework done.

“They multi-task all the time, and they’re ... good at it,” he said, adding that students are learning through technology outside of school.

“I don’t think it’s enough to adapt the learning environment to adapt instruction,” said Lambert, who is a former educator. “We have to transform it.”

Lambert said technology also comes with a careful balance of trust, including whether or not to allow students to use cell phones and hand-held wireless devices as learning tools.

It’s also crucial to provide equal technology to all students, he said.

Allene Magill, executive director of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, said the more students learn about technology now, the better off they’ll be in the future.

Technology, robotics, environmental and analytical skills will yield top paying jobs in the future, said Magill, who is also a former superintendent of the Forsyth County school system.

While Forsyth’s schools are fortunate to have many resources other systems can’t afford to provide, Magill said state and national standards need to be upgraded to prepare students.

“It’s a different world,” she said. “We’re not preparing our students to be as competitive as they could be.”

Evans, talked about the role of technology in curriculum and its place in the future of education.

The superintendent also said employee leadership development is “very, very important in Forsyth County.”

“The people who are part of this [leadership class] ... are the future leadership of Forsyth County Schools,” he said. “Our opportunity to be involved both with these institutions, as well as with these particular people who are teacher leaders now, is important to us.”