Mary Alber
Special to the Bonanza

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March 6, 2013
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Incline education - how well can we collaborate?

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. - Mark your calendars for the March 14 WCSD community meeting regarding future plans for Incline Village public schools. The new superintendents spent the fall assessing local education needs and opportunities through discussions with administrators, teachers, students, and community members.

Now they seek our input on a proposed multi-year strategy for improving education quality and performance for all students and schools. As Superintendent Martinez said months ago, he would like to see our schools become the flagship K-12 system in the district.

Though I haven't been privy to details of the proposed plan, I'm encouraged by hints that JoEtta Gonzales shared at the last Incline Great Schools Advisory Committee meeting: to build upon the "vertical alignment" initiatives that IGSAC has been working on since 2010 and to more fully leverage Incline's unique educational and community offerings to empower our diverse student population to greater heights of achievement.

Of course the devil is in the details so the ensuing discussion should prove to be very informative.

As discussed previously, more rigorous curriculum standards are barreling upon all schools like a tsunami even as WCSD faces another $40 million shortfall this year. After several years of shrinking budgets and growing class sizes, teachers struggle to maintain and raise student proficiency levels and growth rates - which correlate with graduation rates.

With literally no capital budget, facilities show their age and outdated computers sit in labs. Yet teachers are heroically expected to nurture each unique student into deeper learning at a faster pace and in ways that build necessary skills for success in today's technology-based jobs and careers.

Ideally all students should graduate with a passion for life-long learning and capacities to solve complex problems and innovatively build a brighter future. However, top educators know that achieving such outcomes cannot be done with the same old approaches. Education excellence today requires a transformation in how learning - and teaching - happens.

For a good idea of what the future of learning and schools looks like, watch the TED video by Sugata Mitra, who won the TED Prize 2013, "Ted Talk by Sugata Mitra," via the Huffington Post at the following link:

Mr. Mitra builds upon the inspirational insights of Sir Ken Robinson (my education guru) to elucidate how learning optimally happens. Aristotle and Socrates first modeled this by posing compelling, universal questions and letting students go on intellectual adventures with each other to answer them. Instead of lectures, students self-organize using their creativity, critical thinking, and communication skills to journey through physical and virtual experimentation - learning most vividly from failures.

Teacher-coaches in the digital knowledge age mainly ensure students have essential learning tools - including Internet access, engaging challenges, and peers to learn with - then nurture and celebrate their successes.

As the Incline Schools Data Summit Report made clear to me, reversing concerning data trends will require more than just teachers and students working harder - they are already stretched thin! It means working smarter. How? Ensuring that every student has access to the world of knowledge (computer and connection) with rich opportunities to ask and answer compelling questions and solve real-world problems both alone and in groups - whether at school, home, a friend's house, a local college, a local business, a non-profit, or in other cities and countries.

Moreover, each student should be encouraged to go deep into their passions and develop their singular aptitudes to their highest potential. Their individual learning pathways should adapt and evolve as they do. The age of factory-style education is extinct. Welcome to "just in time" adaptive, individuated learning!

I am confident that this community has a unique, untapped potential to manifest such a vision here and now - in partnership with WCSD. Can we collaborate around a strategy to manifest an enlightened center of learning that offers all of this for each and every student? Can we create a center of learning that magnetically attracts students and families with the highest expectations for educational excellence?

First step to a potential answer: Join the WCSD community meeting March 14, 4-6 p.m. in the IHS cafeteria.

- Mary Alber is an Incline Village resident with two children in local schools and an advocate for 21st century learning opportunities. She holds a PhD in Transformative Learning and Change. She may be reached for comment at

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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Mar 6, 2013 10:29AM Published Mar 6, 2013 10:29AM Copyright 2013 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.