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posted: 9/1/2012 8:00 AM

Business leaders offer advice to Dist. 303

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Just in time for the release of school performance report cards, St. Charles schools Superintendent Don Schlomann wants to concentrate on something else.

"We need to move beyond just the testing," Schlomann told an all-staff, kick-off-the-school-year meeting Friday.

Approximately 2,000 workers -- from all schools and all departments -- packed the auditorium at Christ Community Church in St. Charles.

The district's job, Schlomann said, is to prepare students for success in careers after high school -- not just hitting benchmarks.

He called on a panel of four experts to find out what's wanted. The answers: technical and mathematic skills, ability to work on a team while taking individual initiative and responsibility, and entrepreneurial spirit.

"Every time there is an education reform or a change, we (the Navy) respond to that because we have to adjust what we do to what you do," said Naval Cmdr. Nancy Fink, executive officer of the Navy Recruiting District of Chicago.

Attorney Patrick Crimmins, a 1979 graduate of St. Charles High School, recalled that interactive programs that challenged him individually, such as participating in mock trial competitions, inspired him.

Jeff Surges, chief executive officer of Merge Healthcare, admitted he was not a stellar student when he graduated in 1985 from St. Charles, went to college on a basketball scholarship and flunked out after a semester.

"I'm not sure I'm your role model academically," he joked.

That led to him learning in "the school of hard knocks" at Elgin Community College, then getting a bachelor's degree at Eastern Illinois University. "Any class that made me engage, communicate, listen, ask questions -- anything but that textbook" prepared him for the work he ended up in, he said, where people have to think critically, be innovative and work on a team.

The oldest of the panelists, Bison Gear and Engineering Chairman Ron Bullock, recalled the engineering feats of the 1960s and 1970s for the Apollo moon missions, for which he designed some items. "That hands-on problem-based learning meant the most to me," he said.

All were asked what worker attributes their organizations need to succeed, and if that has changed in the last decade.

Fink said that, due to technological changes and budget constraints, the Navy expects recruits to have a much higher degree of technological and mathematical skills. Eight years ago, she said, 30 percent of its recruits were classified "undesignated," meaning they could try different things before they settled on a career path and the Navy trained them. "That's down to about 5 percent of the people," she said.

Crimmins said every hour in a classroom "should be like a 'House' episode," with ideas being challenged and refuted, as they are when the TV show's doctors are trying to cure mysterious ailments. "If we don't get there soon we are going to have some problems."

"Candidly, I am a little worried," said Surges, calling education and health care "lethargically poor innovative industries."

He noted his own children's reluctance to use a paper textbook, but their enthusiasm at finding answers for their homework with their iPads. He compared it to doctors' offices, where patients are still handed a clipboard of paper forms to fill out. "I don't see enough information technology in the classroom," he said.

And Bullock, who served on a National Science Board commission on science, technology, mathematics and engineering education, doesn't think the federal government has helped.

"It looks to me like the federal government has pretty well micromanaged a great education system to mediocrity," he said.

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