York superintendents discuss public education

David Weissman

Teacher training, use of technology and childhood poverty are all increasing in public schools, according to York County superintendents.

Central York Superintendent Michael Snell and West York Superintendent Emilie Lonardi speak to attendees of the Economics Club Breakfast on Wednesday, April 27 at the Yorktowne Hotel. (Photo by David Weissman)

West York Area School District Superintendent Emilie Lonardi and Central York School District Superintendent Michael Snell spoke to business leaders Wednesday morning at the Yorktowne Hotel on the current state of public education, its future and the importance of good teachers.

"It used to be about what you know," Snell said of education's purpose. "Today, it's what can you access and what you can do with what you can access."

Lonardi and Snell emphasized that public educators must embrace technological advancements, but students still need the human element.

"The sum of all human knowledge is at our fingertips," Snell said. "Everything we teach is out there."

To emphasize his point, Snell showed attendees of the York County Economics Alliance's monthly Economics Club Breakfast a video of a phone hovering over a math textbook, solving problems using an app that captures the equations through the camera lens.

"Now before you purists complain, how many of you knew growing up that the odd answers were always in the back of the book?" Snell asked, smiling.

Skills: Snell and Lonardi next asked attendees to look at the flier placed on their table that listed, in order, the 13 most important skills Fortune 500 companies craved in 1970.

The top four skills were writing, computation, reading and oral communication. In 2016, the importance of those skills have changed, according to Fortune 500 companies, which now rank teamwork (previously 10th), problem solving (previously 12th), interpersonal skills (previously 13th) and creative thinking (previously seventh) as the top four.

"You can certainly see how the human element plays a role," Lonardi said of the new rankings.

Lonardi, who is in her 10th year as West York's superintendent, said she meets with graduating high school seniors at the end of every school year, and those students always say their favorite part about school is caring teachers.

"Even if you spend thousands on tech, the answers stay the same," she said.

Finances: Spending thousands on technology isn't an option for many Pennsylvania schools, as Lonardi pointed out that the state ranks 45th in the U.S. for public school funding.

She also briefly addressed the recent financial struggles associated with the state's budget impasse.

"When the state doesn't give us money, it's huge," Lonardi said. "We were all answering questions about how long can we go without that funding before we're forced to close. We should not be having those conversations."

Snell addressed the financial struggles of public school students.

"For the first time in 50 years, a majority of public school students come from low-income families," he said.

Snell then referenced a study that showed that the wealthiest 25 percent of students in America are beating other countries' test scores, while America as a whole ranked toward the middle of industrialized countries.

America needs to find a way to address that disparity, Snell said, but it's more complicated than just saying poverty equals low test scores.

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