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School Leadership Developing Heart, Body and Mind

The importance of learning life skills at an early age

We focus on the heart and hand skills as well as the head skills. Content-driven education was the old paradigm. What the workforce needs today and in the future are kids who have people skills. – Dr. Andrew Wise, Superintendent Olympia CUSD 16, IL

By Mind Rocket Media Group

When we spoke with Dr. Andrew Wise, Superintendent of Olympia CUSD 16, Stanford, IL at the AASA conference in New Orleans, it reaffirmed my belief that learning is best when it incorporates the intellectual, emotional, and behavioral. As part of his whole learning approach, Wise has adopted skill-based assessment for K-8 and eliminated letter grades for all district elementary programs.

Wise feels self-skills of students are as equally meaningful to development as intellectual learning. By focusing on perseverance, creativity, communication, and collaboration, educators can play a vital role in determining the future success of youth. Wise enjoys seeing his methods play out in the community setting as students test their skill sets through internship programs with local businesses. As federal and state funds become increasingly scarce, Wise realizes the importance of community involvement to district survival.

Jobs of the future are positioned to demand a combination of skills that meld the technical with the behavioral. District leaders like Dr. Andrew Wise understand the importance of honoring and encouraging interpersonal skill development into the curriculum. Most of all, life skills learned at an early age can have a lasting effect on the career and personal lives of all graduates.


Mind Rocket Media Group: Dr. Wise, it’s nice to spend time with you. I want to go over some topics that I’m finding are hot topics around educational leadership and that I hear more and more chatter from your colleagues in the role of a superintendent.

One would be resources districts have access to and alternative ways that they can bring in funding and support to more efficiently run their schools and districts.
If we think about incorporating the private sector or corporations, how do you see it interfacing with public schools to help offset challenges that we might have and budget shortfalls?
Andrew Wise: I think we have a great opportunity in front of us in connecting with our communities and our businesses. It’s our job to produce graduates who have the skill sets that can contribute to the workforce demands.
What better way to bring them in and have them part of that process!
So, having businesses come into our schools and having our kids do internships with their businesses can help close that resource gap.
Mind Rocket Media Group: What about from a funding perspective – are you seeing a shift in that where we’re finding ways that public and private live in the same space?
Basically, for generations, we’ve struggled with the concept. We have allowed privatization of everything from our sanitation to our food service, etc.. But, now, we’re seeing – “Wait a minute, there are other opportunities potentially to incorporate the private sector from a funding element.”
AW: We have no other choice but to evolve in that area because as our state and federal resources decline, our community resources have to increase. What better way than to connect with our businesses, our towns, our community leaders, and our universities to help offset those resource losses from state and federal funds.
gears and hands
Mind Rocket Media Group: Let’s talk about funding and slide it over into the technology space. A very specific element that I know a lot of people talk about is “How do we provide the most up-to-date but thoughtful applicable technology?”

I’m seeing that we’re starting to make – what I would deem – more thoughtful decisions around the difference between K-8 and K-12. The learner in different ages is going to experience technology differently, and teachers at those different levels of school are going to look for technology that’s going to provide different levels of service.

How do you look at differentiating technology in the same way that we’re personalizing learning for students when you’re purchasing district-wide?

AW: I think learning comes first. We are doing a much better job utilizing brain-based research. The John Hattie study on visible learning has been fantastic. It’s been a great guide for us in providing quality feedback to students on the skills in which they’re progressing in learning.

We use technology as a tool. Instead of going out and just purchasing technology for students, we look at learning and the learning needs of kids, and then we adapt the technology to their learning needs.

Mind Rocket Media Group: Let’s now talk a little bit about the consumption of learning and the way in which we communicate that out. Assessment is already a buzzword; and, obviously, community members and parents struggle, often, to understand where we’re going in education with assessments.

How do you look at capturing student achievement and then communicating that out?

It seems like we’re getting savvier and there’s not such a fear factor in the way we’re communicating.

How have you (from a district perspective) looked at student achievement around assessment and then communicating that out in a way that is documented and supportive?

AW: We’ve moved to a skills-based system for K-12 in our school district. We no longer have letter grades in K8; and in 9-12, we have skills-based reporting. We have to have letter grades to this point, but we’re moving away from the old grading and assessment models to a more skills-based approach. Students know exactly what skill they need to obtain and demonstrate, and then we report progress back to the student on where they are in the process using a 4, 3, 2, or 1.

We do that online. The parents have access. We communicate to the kids one-on-one and face-to-face as to how they are doing.

Feedback is very important in the learning process, and we take that very seriously.

feedback word cloud

From our district perspective, we want to make sure all the kids have the skills that they need to be successful; and the best way to do that is to give them feedback on their progress.

Mind Rocket Media Group: Dr. Wise, we are seeing students no longer labeled as “consumers” (as might have been the trend in the past) but, rather “creators.”

How do you look at it from a staff-support perspective in a professional learning or professional development perspective when we think about how to support your teachers? There’s been a gradual shift where even our younger students are creating and demonstrating how they can basically self-produce what they’re learning in ways that you and I probably didn’t have years ago, right? (laugh)

AW: Right.

Mind Rocket Media Group: How do you support your educators so that they can successfully live and work in an environment where the students are becoming the creators to a large degree?

AW: We focus on the heart and hand skills as well as the head skills. Content-driven education was the old paradigm. What the workforce needs today and in the future are kids who have people skills.

So we focus a great amount of time on perseverance and grit and creativity and communication and empathy and collaboration and all of the self-skills that a student needs to be successful in the economy for today and tomorrow.

We also provide parents’ feedback, and we send the message out through our report cards or assessment systems; and those skills are just as important as the content that kids, sometimes, receive inside classrooms.

Mind Rocket Media Group: Let’s close with this ─ the role of the superintendent. How has it changed in the way you interface with the community?

It seems to be an ever-evolving role. It’s not static. It’s not what you did last year – it’s changing every year – in the way you’re communicating, I would imagine in being progressive in assisting your community.

How has it changed for you?

AW: There is a great amount of personal accountability to ensure that every student graduates with the skills that they need to be prepared for college career and life.

As superintendence has evolved, accountability has become greater, both from a personal standpoint, as well as from a community standpoint.

It’s a great challenge. I accept the challenge. I love what I do. I give everything I can to make sure the kids get the skills they need.

Mind Rocket Media Group: Continued success, Dr. Wise!

AW: Thank you.

About Dr. Andrew Wise

Dr. Andrew Wise has spent over 15 years in the Olympia School District. Before becoming superintendent in 2013, Wise was the district’s business and operations manager for seven years and was principal at three district elementary schools from 2000 from 2006.

The Olympia School district is comprised of nine communities in Central Illinois: Armington, Atlanta, Covell, Danvers, Hopedale, McLean, Minier, Stanford, and Waynesville. The district has nearly 2,000 students and over 300 staff members. Wise earned a bachelor’s degree and doctorate from Illinois State University, and a master’s degree from Florida Atlantic University.

Follow Olympia CUSD 16 on Twitter

This article was originally published on The Huffington Post.

Further Reading
  1. Northern Public Radio Illinois Lawmakers File New Public School Funding Plan
  2. Chicago Sun Times – Bill would ban new charter schools in cash-strapped districts
  3. Chicago Tribune Wealthier counties shoulder more of school costs: Search the database
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