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'We want to see innovation': Annual conference touts changes in ND schools

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum outlines his goals for the 2018 Governor's Summit on Innovative Education held Thursday, June 7, 2018, at Northern Cass High School in rural Hunter. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor1 / 3
Fargo Davies High School students Sunjeev Shaik (left) and Ben Hoefs demonstrate a robot built by the Fargo Public Schools' robotics team before the Governor's Summit on Innovative Education on Thursday, June 7, 2018. Helmut Schmidt / The Forum2 / 3
Abrar Sharfi, a Fargo South High School sophomore, was presented the Student Leadership Award by North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler on Thursday, June 7, 2018. Special to The Forum3 / 3

HUNTER, N.D. — Gov. Doug Burgum wants North Dakota "to be the most envied place" in the world, and that starts with sharing innovations in education, he told about 500 people at Northern Cass High School here for his second-annual Governor's Summit on Innovative Education.

"This is the giant rock in the pond. The ripples can go out from here," Burgum said Thursday, June 7.

"We're here to support you, empower you and get out of the way," Burgum said, adding that society is moving toward a customized model of learning.

"We want to see innovation. We want to allow it. We want to empower it," Burgum said.

Northern Cass has been home to a lot of forward-thinking initiatives, Superintendent Cory Steiner said, and now it will be "blowing up the paradigm" of traditional learning to focus on personalized learning.

As part of the school's Jaguar Academy, if a student knows a subject, they can move forward without spending a set number of hours in class. Students can earn credit for experiences outside of the classroom. And eighth-graders can earn high school credit, Steiner said.

"By 2020, all students will be met by where they are at," Steiner said. Grade levels and percentage grades for coursework won't exist in the building, he said.

The new structure may not be perfect, but the old model of learning left some students unprepared for college, he said.

"We need to change our mindset. We need to dominate change," Steiner said.

At West Fargo's Liberty Middle School, a pilot program matches seventh-graders with mentors from local industries. Students do job shadowing, and mentors give students real-world problems to work through, Assistant Principal Erin Spies said.

In the Ellendale School District, the emphasis is on helping students find their passion, then working with businesses to help students navigate high school courses and online, dual credit or Advanced Placement courses, as well as involvement in civic activities.

That way, students are better prepared and have "a little more laser focus" to pick the right college or a career, Superintendent Jeff Fastnacht said.

State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler said the conference is providing educators "rich soil for innovation."

Baesler said the goal for all educators should be to make learning meaningful and engaging.

"Now is the time for us to come together, bond with each other and really commit to each other," she said, so the ideas shared at the conference can be made available statewide to help all students.

Ted Dintersmith, a venture capitalist who now focuses on innovation and education, said North Dakota's emphasis on education is getting noticed.

"You are becoming a national model" about informed, thoughtful and progressive change in skills, Dintersmith said.

David Flowers, who is retiring as the West Fargo public schools superintendent, will soon be in charge of promoting promising initiatives statewide.

"My role will be like an ambassador or a cheerleader or a liaison," Flowers said.

Another local highlight included Fargo South High School sophomore Abrar Sharfi being presented an #InnovativeND award for student leadership.

Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including K-12 education, Fargo city government, criminal justice, and military affairs. He is currently one of The Forum's business reporters.

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