ORecently, David Ryan, Superintendent of School at SAU 16, spoke about the importance of helping build pathways to careers for students at Seacoast School of Technology, a topic he feels should receive more attention.

“The current state of education includes multiple pathways for students that don’t resemble traditional schooling of years’ past,” he said. “We have more K-12 students learning in community settings, colleges and universities, internships, independent studies, and extended learning opportunities.”

These opportunities, he said, stand in stark contrast to prior educational models in which students “were required to sit for a definitive number of hours in a classroom chair and learn only in the schoolhouse.”

“The roll-out of competency-based education as a regulatory requirement in 2005 was groundbreaking in terms of requiring it in all schools,” he said.

Ryan said the concepts behind competency-based education have been alive and well for years in career preparation models, such as CTE and corporate-sponsored training programs. These models, he noted, underscore a very important shift that has begun and will continue to take place in education.

“We have begun to talk seriously about training students to be thinkers and leaders as opposed to rote memorization of facts and redundancy of skills,” he said. “Students need to be able to assimilate and adapt to the changing labor market.”

The concept of “career pathways” is not mere ,either.

“Science and technology move too rapidly to single out one specific career path,” he said. “Building a fundamental skillset on the basics of science and technology and then applying those basics to increasingly complex experiences that promote inquiry, prototyping, and discovery will be the new way to learn.”

He said this new way to learn rests on partnerships between schools and industry.

“We need our community partners and business leaders to begin providing those experiences and guidance now,” said Ryan, who said the economic lever of every community is its school system.

“In New Hampshire, real estate values rise and fall depending upon the quality of the education people believe their children receive,” he said. “The quality of the education can depend quite heavily on the financial support it receives from the town.”

He said that employers seeking quality job candidates, particularly those with young families, find it much easier “to recruit and hire the very best” when they are able to demonstrate the strength of the schools.

“A high quality school traditionally attracts families who value education, making it easier for businesses to not only stock their rosters but thrive in retail settings,” he added.

Noting schools are “preparing the employees of tomorrow,” Ryan said it is critical businesses and schools work together to complement an educational program that includes adaptability to changing markets and accessibility to good paying jobs.

“This is essential if communities are going to sustain their quality and growth by keeping our graduates here,” he said.

Presently, Ryan said this is an issue that is not receiving the proper attention it deserves.

“Thankfully organizations like NH Coalition of Business and Education, Stay Work Play NH, and the Governor’s Task Force for the Recruitment and Retention of a Young Work Force for NH are addressing it with gusto,” he said.

As for steps he is taking in his own district, Ryan said they are expanding their Extended Learning Opportunity (ELO) program to include a full time coordinator.

“We want to better serve the individual needs of students who are seeking such opportunities as well as expand and introduce them to the meaningful and rich experiences from among a more broad array of organizations,” he said.

He said that part of this process will include guiding students through some form of personal reflection to help them understand self-knowledge and the impact that has on their outlook to the future.

“ELOs can do this, but we also want to enhance our internships that currently exist with our current business partners by introducing cooperative education experiences that involve full-time employment that carries academic credit,” said Ryan. 

He said their goal in SAU 16 is to create more opportunities for students to discover their passion and then create a supported path of exploration.

“We believe this will allow our students to really focus more on what they want to do after graduating from high school and be better prepared to do it successfully,” he said.

To learn more about SAU 16, visit sau16.org.