On Sept. 16, nearly all Ascension Parish’s public school classroom teachers — about 1,600 — gathered at the Healing Place Church arena in Baton Rouge to hear from speaker Bill Daggett, CEO of the International Center for Leadership in Education.

Founded in 1991, the center assists schools and school districts in matters involving curriculum, instruction and assessment systems.

Ascension Schools Superintendent Patrice Pujol brought all her staff to the arena, school district Public Information Officer Johnnie Balfantz said, because the subject of Daggett’s talk — preparing students for the 21st century — was a message Pujol thinks every teacher needs to hear.

“We’re preparing kids for our past, not their future,” Daggett said. “We have insulated ourselves from change.”

Why else, he said, would one of the most-advanced technologies we have — the smart phone — be readily accessible everywhere in the world, except inside the classroom?

Allowing every high-tech distraction in the schools may not be the answer, Daggett said, but students have to be prepared for the world in which they’ll be job-seeking, and that world is one with rapidly changing technology.

Americans still use the QWERTY keyboard, Daggett told teachers, and the United States is the only industrialized nation that still does. The original keyboard layout – with the most commonly used keys as home keys – made typing too fast, which made the keys on old manual typewriters jam, Daggett said.

The keys were rearranged in the QWERTY layout (Q-W-E-R-T-Y are the first six letters from the left of the top line of letters on traditional keyboards) to slow down typists, he said, because the technology couldn’t keep up with the people who used it — in 1917.

Youngsters are using Wolfram Alpha — a new search engine technology — while most people, including teachers, are just getting comfortable with Google, Daggett said.

The school year is still defined by the nine-month agricultural calendar, and class times are defined by the parameters of “the bell,” breaking classes into 40-minute increments, a throwback to the industrial age, he added.

All these factors can put students at a learning disadvantage, Daggett said.

In addition, students must be ready to find jobs in a much more competitive, and more populated, world.

The message wasn’t all gloomy. Daggett, a former teacher and education administrator in New York, said he’s been all over the world, and there’s no other country where he’d rather his children be educated.

Daggett’s first child was gifted and talented. His second was bright, and his third child “loved to go to school, but didn’t actually go to class.” His fourth child is autistic, and his fifth child was severely injured in an accident at the age of 6.

All five not only went to public school, he said, but excelled, all at their own levels.

“My youngest son went on to get a bachelor’s and master’s degree, and is now out-earning both his brothers,” Daggett said.

He is most thankful for what public-school education did for his last two children, he said.

At Gonzales Middle School, Principal Lori Charlet’s teachers considered four questions:

e_SBlt  What do students need to know to be successful?

e_SBlt How will teachers know when their students have learned those skills?

e_SBlt What if students are struggling to learn these skills?

• How can teachers push their students beyond even that?

“We’ve got to ask ourselves what is essential learning — what do they need to know so they will lead successful lives when they leave us,” Charlet said.

C.J. Futch covers Ascension Parish schools for The Advocate. She can be reached at cfutch@theadvocate.com.