Pekel: First of all, the Board has put together a very subtle and thoughtful statement about the equity we need to put into operation. The board has added senior cabinet-level positions and a highly talented teacher, Will Raffin. He is brand new at work and will work with me to conceptualize what it is. So while some foundations have been laid, I think two things are needed.
First, Rochester Public Schools have no strategic plans. To be frank, I hesitate a little, but I think it’s important. To be fair, what we call a little strategic plan internally is actually three very broad goals that set high aspirations for children. So what I know the school board is very enthusiastic about, and being ready to see the needs of the district even in the first two weeks, is what the big problem is and where to go. It is to clarify strategically whether it is there.
I don’t think we should have a fair and strategic plan to answer your question. I believe that strategic planning must be about excellence and fairness. Planning to set the strategic direction of the district is important, and I think it takes many forms.
More specifically, one of the things I believe I need to put into practice is that Rochester Public Schools do not have the capacity for research and analysis. This is a bit crazy at the Mayo Clinic home. There is no research director, so if you really want to understand the cause of the inequality, you can’t suddenly ask an individual teacher who has to teach 150 children all day to understand the reading gap. Proficiency level. The achievement gap as a construct began to attract attention in American education when people began to measure it and try to understand why it existed. In order for the needles to actually move, they need to be able to actually provide schools and communities with recent data on these disparities, if not in real time. I don’t want to suggest that it helps improve children’s reading, but it’s an urgent priority.
MCB: A little backup — one of the questions I’m sure you’ll get: why come to Rochester to take this position first?
Pekel: When I started my career, I thought that the biggest problem in my life was the rise of China, so I was very focused on international issues. I was teaching in the now infamous Wuhan city in the middle of China. China hadn’t exploded yet, as it was shortly after the infamous Tiananmen Square Incident.
What I could see was that education was the basis of what happened in China. And I was really worried about education in my country. So I went back and got a license and became a teacher. Then I did this really unique fellowship in DC called the White House Fellows Program. There, he worked for someone in the presidential cabinet and for the director of the CIA.
MCB: So you were never a secret agent (as falsely suggested by protesters)?
Peki: My kids are as usual, “Maybe you are the deepest plant ever. And now they are sending you to Rochester. What do you do?’
The big picture of my career was what all American children, especially those raised in marginalized communities, needed to succeed in this economy and society. That’s what I saw happening in China, and I thought about what would happen, especially where we have a legacy of these discriminations.
When my first wife died and I had a young child, I was on the road, so I just pressed the stop button. I’ve been out of school and district for 15 years, working in two organizations for Minnesota students. Formerly a member of the non-profit Search Institute, his job is to support school and off-school programs.
Now that my kids are in college and trying to get out of the pandemic, I just said it’s time to return to a more central leadership location — and Rochester is an incredible opportunity for many reasons. It looked like. Diversity is increasing here and the capabilities of the community are incredible. I think we are on a scale that is suitable for doing something serious. We are large enough to diversify not only student demographics, but also school types, to innovate and build improvement networks. For students, we are small enough to build relationships.
MCB: What financial position do you inherit as a district leader?
Pekel: In short, it’s definitely going strong for the next couple of years. There is some pandemic mitigation, but in reality it is a bit better decision on the part of the board and certainly the former supervisor, and the next two years will be well funded by Minnesota.
Budgets beyond that could stay at the same level, but I’m not sure. And certainly, the third round of federal funding will be about $ 17 million. And we are just beginning to understand how it can be used to really help children, fully recover and engage again. Beyond that, I think it’s quite possible that we have some really important systematic issues that we need to address. And the best way we work on them is registration. We need to be the provider of choice for all Rochester families, but frankly, we are also chosen by people outside of Rochester.
It is very important to monitor where enrollment settles in the fall, as many families have made these very quick decisions in their school education pandemic. Questions about people’s whereabouts in October will be really, really important and hard to predict. One of the things I’m really excited about is probably that the first decision I made since I came here was to actually double online learning and create an entire K-12 online school called RPS. did. online. Many districts haven’t done that and are returning to full location-based or hybrid models. It was at the core of a great online program that I found a really good job that Rochester did in a pandemic. With about 800 children signing up, we decided to staff at risky K-12. I don’t know what will happen in high school because it’s mostly an online elementary and junior high school group … it’s a kind of “if you build it they come” kind of idea. I don’t know if they will come, but the point is that you need to be in that area and invest in a really quality curriculum.
I think it will be cool because it can also solve one of the important problems that high school has had forever, synchronizing difficult classes. You have a Frenchman 4, Century has 8 kids, Mayo has 2 kids, and you will be able to actually sync in a completely online environment. The vision is that you can be a full-time RPS online student or do some of the hybrid options as an older kid.
MCB: Well, you have an interesting perspective — you have taught in China and worked in Washington, DC for the federal government. Why do you think American schools lag behind other developed countries?
Pekel: One of the reasons is time. In most countries, children go to school for over a month. It’s not a very sexy answer, but it’s a very specific answer. They have more than a month of learning.
I think the reason is that the superpowers of education offer a coherent approach. They do not ask individual teachers to navigate a set of three competing goals and curriculum. There are no tests that do not match the curriculum, or there is no learning progress that is not vertically aligned. As a result, children in third grade who are two grades behind have a consistent path to actually catch up. By the second year of junior high school. The American education system isn’t really a system, but it’s 15,000 separate school districts, all of which are in it.
Take a step back and look at it, it’s a lot of good people and organizations that really work in a very uncoordinated way. So when you think about it, it’s not the way you’re going to tackle some of these huge problems that many kids are bringing into our classroom. So this is a very 30,000-foot-like observation. I think this will also affect what I’m doing here. We continually require children, families and teachers to navigate systems that aren’t really designed to make sense.
MCB: What do you think you can do to solve it?
Pekel: Giving young people some real-life paths that lead not only to some kind of post-secondary education, but even to careers. Now we are not responsible for the last part of that journey, but we need to turn them in those directions. As a family with a clear path and a clear curriculum, such as Finland, you will be intrigued by the fact that you are making all sorts of choices. This allows for individual autonomy and decision making, but these factors also fit into the system.
In addition, we forever wanted all children to graduate from high school and often receive some sort of post-secondary education. Still, there are legally acceptable dropout ages. If the goal is to graduate from high school or enroll after higher education, why do we have a legally acceptable dropout age?