Eighteen years from now, the pre-kindergarten students of Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District will no longer be in the classroom learning, but rather entering the workforce as adults — and with their master’s degrees.
This, says district superintendent Dianne Talarico, makes the year 2025 very significant.
So Talarico decided to create a “vision” for the future, the 2025 Plan.
“2025 is not a program — it’s a vision and a direction,” said Talarico in a presentation to the Santa Monica-Malibu school board.
Talarico proceeded to ask several “thought-provoking” questions to make the board think of how to look at today’s 21st century learner.
“What if today and tomorrow’s students were more actively engaged in the learning process through the use of interactive technologies in the classroom?” she asked the board.
“What if schooling were about spending a significant amount of instructional time solving real world environmental and social problems?”
Talarico said that 2025 is a vision that takes this year’s pre- kindergarten child and looks at them approximately 18 years from now, when they would be equipped with a master’s degree and prepared to enter the workforce.
It is also a time in the future when the economic competition will be “exponentially more intense than it is today,” Talarico said. And the vision would allow for individuals to succeed in this increasingly competitive environment.
Talarico said she aims to honor the development of the district’s 2002 Strategic Plan and “build on the success” and “expand and enhance” elements of the plan.
And Talarico pointed out that the goal of the district is still to raise the achievement of all students, while simultaneously trying to close the achievement gap.
“So what does the 21st century student look like?” Talarico asked.
“Imagine what learning would be like if our students were a part of an international network of learners interacting with one another, debating current issues, through the use of podcasting, video conferencing and video streaming?”
Talarico pointed out that the world has made the shift to “digital.”
“Today’s tools are fully functional, they’re mobile, they’re wireless, they’re online and they’re connected,” Talarico said. “Students are different today. They spend the majority of their time on-line researching for school projects, communicating with their friends, blogging, downloading files, creating art and music, using cell phones to create podcasts.”
Communication, information, learning and working are different, too, so teaching must be different, Talarico said.
Talarico said that the district has some exemplary teachers, but, she said, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if we could get them to learn how to use the tools that are really capturing the minds and attention of the young people in their classroom?”
Talarico said she thinks “real change” calls for flexibility in thinking and agility in methods to proactively adapt to trends as they emerge.
One priority at the top of Talarico’s list is foreign language instruction for pre-kindergarten through third-grade students.
“Everything says that our children need to be more than monolingual during the time that they enter the workforce,” she said.
Talarico said she has done a cost-analysis on the language program, and also pointed out that there was an “extensive list” of grant funders out there.
“You can actually pull this off for about $66,000 if you do it through DVD and video software packages,” she said.
Talarico said she thinks the time has come to begin exploring ways to prepare students for the 21st century, and that not having a conversation about it would be a disservice to the children that the district serves.
“I think it’s time for us to be bold,” said Talarico. “I do think that change initiatives such as 2025 ask us to step out of our comfort zones, and they require us to explore the endless opportunities available for us to provide our students with the tools and skills necessary to become global citizens. And that’s really what this is all about.”
The board seemed to be very receptive to the presentation, asking questions and requesting information about specific elements of the plan.
“I think it’s an exciting beginning to what will be a number of discussions on the issue,” said board president Kathy Wisnicki, thanking Talarico for her presentation.
Wisnicki asked how the district would measure success, determine the best practices and implement programs.
Board member Emily Bloomfield said she believes the key question is “what are we trying to accomplish?”
Bloomfield said, for her, an easier way to get her “head around it” was to ask the questions — why are we doing this? What’s the quality of the program? How do we know we’re succeeding? What are the costs and benefits? How is technology an enabler?
But Bloomfield said she was persuaded by the idea of the plan.
“I don’t think I need any convincing about the benefits and importance of technology, and the benefits of its uses in many contexts in the classroom, and its importance as a skill set for students entering the workforce,” she said.
“I want to thank you for laying out this vision,” said board vice president Oscar de la Torre. “I think it’s something that this community will really get behind. It really begs the question, what type of adults do we want to create? I’m excited about what the future will hold.”
Talarico thanked the board for the feedback and said she understood that the plan lacks specificity at this time.
Talarico said she wanted to make one thing clear though.
“At no time and in no way do I think technology replaces quality teaching and the human touch,” she said. “Absolutely no way.”
Talarico said she will continue to bring pieces of the plan forward to the board “in small doses, as we develop  and try to move it forward.”