Missoula County Public Schools, through its Forward Thinking, High Achieving: 21st Century Initiative, demonstrated its willingness to be in the forefront of American education by responding to the demands of the 21st century. As detailed in Appendix A. Background on 21st Century Teaching and Learning, current economic, political, and social realities require all students to reach high levels of career preparedness; work collaboratively in teams; use technology; gain more sophisticated reading, writing, and presentation skills; and engage in creative and critical thinking. While the required skill set for the 21st century is well-documented and disseminated, the system of education has not changed accordingly to educate, engage, and prepare all students to graduate college and be career-ready. MCPS chose to step forward to make certain that its K-12 educational program prepares all students to succeed both in life and the world of work.
When district leadership sought a third party to facilitate the development of a 21st century teaching and learning system, they determined that the pursuit of a 21st century initiative advances district goals, as related to:
- Improving student achievement and graduation.
- Supporting and evaluating staff.
- Capitalizing on best practices.
- Restructuring the organization to become more efficient, effective, and accountable.
- Enhancing stakeholder involvement in the system of education.
Creating a more engaging teaching and learning environment was also positioned as supporting the District’s high expectations, as codified in Graduation Matters Missoula and Academic Achievement, namely that “[its] students graduate fully prepared for post-secondary education, the world of work, and citizenship in a democratic society” (MCPS, March 2010). The leadership spoke of the urgency with which the District must act. The impetus for action was, and continues to be, driven by several factors, including greater competition within the educational domain (e.g., charter schools, distance learning); the need to more deliberately support students to develop the skills and competencies required by the local and global economy; and the moral imperative to meet the needs of all students, not only those who have learned to succeed within the current system.
MCPS recognized that any district undertaking required the involvement of the community, as the community has proven integral to the success of schools in past efforts and has consistently expressed a desire to be provided with opportunities to more intentionally support the school system. Mayor John Engen corroborated this point, stating that when the District leadership determined that the pursuit of a 21st century initiative was in the best interest of the community, the District embarked on this undertaking with significant community support. Similarly, the District recognized that its greatest asset was its staff, and acknowledged that their work ethic, expertise, and best thinking contribute to the current success of MCPS and are critical to further improvements. The District stressed that developing a new 21st century model of teaching and learning requires seeking input from across stakeholder groups; incorporating multiple perspectives; and providing constituent groups with varied opportunities to participate in the process. Consequently, a range of stakeholders (i.e., staff, students, parents, and the community-at-large) engaged in the data collection and model development processes to discern the range of supports already in place, identify District priorities, and offer research-based suggestions for changes in procedures, structures, or otherwise. The participatory nature of the processes resulted in a vision that is reflective of the needs of the students and the community.
District leadership also recognized that a 21st Century Plan was critical to the success of its 21st Century Initiative and early on called for “a research-based, master plan for 21st century schools and model programs” (MCPS, March 2010). They acknowledged that a roadmap clearly detailing goals, implementation strategies, and related action steps was required for the District’s 21st century teaching and learning vision to be actualized. In response to the District’s call for a clear roadmap, a District-designated Action Planning Team delineated timelines, persons responsible, resources, implementation steps, and measures of success to bring the required specificity to the action steps. Ultimately, the 21st Century Plan will support MCPS in its efforts to actualize its vision and to transition to 21st century teaching and learning.