NORTH SALEM, N.Y. - It has been less than four years since the North Salem Central School District introduced its mission to the students, educators and parents of the school district, so it is still too early to judge its ultimate effects.
But information is starting to bear fruit. “We think we’re already beginning to see some results,” said Mike Hibbard, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction and Human Resources.
The mission’s one-sentence statement is, “Engage students to continuously learn, question, deﬁne and solve problems through critical and creative thinking.” Hibbard deﬁnes it as “a long-term powerful mission for students to be problem solvers, with emphasis on critical and creative thinking.”
“So much energy goes into state tests,” said Hibbard. “Schools are forced to teach what’s demanded. It’s not wrong. It’s just not enough. The big thing is to teach real problem-solving. That requires the ability to think openly and broadly.
“This is a collaborative endeavor,” said Hibbard. “We work with the community, asking various groups or business people to come in and talk about problem solving. And we do it in conjunction with the regular state requirements. It’s embedded in the curriculum.
Hibbard believes that everyone has the ability to think creatively. It is not simply a skill people either have or not. "We can get people to be much better at it," he said. "We can give them a divergent took kit. We encourage this type of thinking in both individual and group work, just as in real life.
“Problem solving always involves diversion and conversion. Divergent thinking is when all of the options are presented," he continued. "That’s brain-storming, or ‘thinking outside the box.’ You’ve got to get beyond your early ideas, which are based on memory, and ﬁnd something new. Convergent thinking is when you assess all the ideas and narrow in on the answers.”
As an example, Hibbard told of a young man who went to Google for a job interview. He was met by seven people, each from a different department. “They gave him a problem and watched him solve it. Then they said, ‘Okay, now give us another solution.’ And they did it seven times.”
“The branding of America must begin here,” said Hibbard. “This is the edge we have. It’s not manufacturing. Things are made all over the world now. How can America keep its edge? We have to be the place where things are imagined and innovated.”