Return home

GUEST COLUMN: Education system adapts to ever-changing world

Sandra Sherwood, District Superintendent of Herkimer BOCES
Posted 12/24/22

During the next few weeks, the Daily Sentinel, in partnership with the Genesis Group, will publish articles written by area elected officials and business and community leaders.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

GUEST COLUMN: Education system adapts to ever-changing world


During the next few weeks, the Daily Sentinel, in partnership with the Genesis Group, will publish articles written by area elected officials and business and community leaders. In addition to the Sentinel’s Editorial Page, the articles will appear in the Genesis Group’s weekly newsletters and social media pages.

Education – The three Rs and so much more … Public education is a cornerstone of our American democracy – a democracy requires literate and informed citizens in order for the government to truly represent the people. New York State has a system of public and private educational institutions from preschool services through higher education and while these institutions are governed by their own boards, they are all part of the statewide effort to assure that New York has literate and informed citizens. This hasn’t changed in over 100 years … but the field of education is constantly changing!

One of the biggest changes in recent years has been the increasing social and emotional needs of students. While many may say that this is not an issue for the schools, it is very much an issue as teachers cannot teach if the students are not able to learn due to fear, anxiety, or other barriers. This has caused schools to spend a great deal of time and resources on both additional staff who are mental health specialists and on bringing in programs that help the teachers to deliver social-emotional lessons within their curriculum. The social isolation of the pandemic has only increased the mental health challenges in students.

Along with this, we have an economic shift as almost all industries have to compete on a global level – look at the downtown area of almost any upstate community and you see this in both the empty shops and in the few that are open. There has been a shift from small businesses with strong community ties to businesses controlled by larger corporations that may not be based in the United States. This is not an issue of “good” or “bad” – it is simply the reality in a market that is based on competition as the US market is. For education, this means that we need to be preparing students to compete in a global market, to be competent and respectful with different cultures, to have basic skills that will allow them to be flexible in an ever-changing business world.

For many years, schools focused education on the “three R’s: Reading ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic” … and while these are still important skills, they have changed significantly particularly as access to immediate information is literally in the palm of our hands or even on our wrists with all the smart devices that are available. So along with teaching students how to read, we need to teach them how to determine the legitimacy and validity of what they are reading. They have to develop a strong competence in discerning the sources of any information as well as any biases that may be inherent in that source so that they can correctly use the information for any given task. When we teach writing, it has to include the mechanics of basic writing skills as well as keyboarding awareness that includes how to switch your keyboard to include symbols or letters that are outside the standard English we teach. While we still teach math facts in order to help with math fluency, we also have to teach a deeper understanding of numeracy so that our students grow to understand how to process numbers in order to solve every day issues.

But these are just the basic skills taught in schools, what the business world keeps telling us they need are workers who have strong verbal communication skills, who are culturally aware of others and can work collaboratively with a team, who are creative problem solvers, and who are flexible and can respond to new situations or demands with poise and control. While these used to be referred to as “soft skills” they are now the basic requirements for many jobs. Keep in mind that the Department of Labor has said that most of the students who are in our public schools right now will be working in jobs that don’t even exist today and in fields that aren’t even in existence. What a daunting task for schools!

In this new world that our students will build for the traditional “three R’s” of education to succeed, they need to be underpinned by three other R’s: Respect, Responsibility, and Resourcefulness.

Sandra Sherwood is the district superintendent of Herkimer BOCES.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here