Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lewis makes retirement official

School district struggles to meet challenges


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

School administrators said Monday that programs are in place and being developed in the Blaine County School District to counter dire predictions from national educators that the U.S. will lose its economic leadership in the world if the country's education system isn't improved.

"It just happened 200 years ago to a little country called England," said District Superintendent Jim Lewis. "They had all the power until the United States came along."

Lewis and Assistant Superintendent Lonnie Barber said education is the key to not losing economic leadership to nations such as India or China.

"That shift could happen very quickly," Lewis said. "The only place you can store knowledge is in the brains of the next generation. Education is more important now than it has ever been before."

Lewis and Barber were speaking at St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center at a brown-bag presentation sponsored by the Blaine County Education Foundation. "The Vision for Your Public Schools" presentation was previously held at Power Engineers in Hailey and at the YMCA in Ketchum.

Lewis has also announced his retirement at the end of the next school year. The announcement was made Monday by Alexandra Sundali, chairman of the district board of trustees, at a school administrators' presentation at St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center. Lewis' intended replacement is Assistant Superintendent Lonnie Barber, a former Caldwell School District superintendent who has served under Lewis for the past two years. Lewis explained that a three-year transition process has been underway between Lewis and Barber so the district can continue in its present direction without a loss of momentum.

In the presentation Monday, Barber cited a 2007 National Center on Education and Economy report that discussed a decline of professional skills in the U.S and recommended changes in the nation's education system to resolve the situation.

Barber said a major problem in the educational system is that many students are not ready for school when they are enrolled in first grade and that lack of preparation tends to keep entire classes from advancing. To combat the problem, Barber said, the school district provides preschool and kindergarten at all elementary schools and is considering all-day kindergarten for students who are lagging.

"We want to make sure that all kids are proficient readers by the time they reach the third grade," Barber said.

Lewis said money could be saved if students are taught through regular curricula rather than requiring special education classes.

"A lot of dollars are going for students in special ed who aren't special ed," Lewis said. "They just don't know how to read."

Lewis and Barber also discussed the district's Dual Immersion program, now in its eighth year, under which some students are instructed half in English and half in Spanish, starting in kindergarten. The administrators said that not only does the program help students become proficient in a second language, it also makes them better students.

Lewis and Barber also said the district is in the process of training teachers for the International Baccalaureate program, which emphasizes project-based learning. Also, the district has established technical academies in the high schools and is preparing students for college with Advanced Placement offerings for high school students. Under the Advanced Placement offerings, students at Carey School and Wood River High School earned more than 400 college credits this school year.

"Our goal is to be first in the state with all our students," Lewis said.

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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