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April 20, 2013

VIDEO: CareerTech chief favors ‘blended learning’

STILLWATER, Okla. — The new state director for the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education said technology in the classroom is wonderful, but it must be used for a purpose.

“When I think of technology in the classroom, I think about a completely redesigned infrastructure that takes advantage of technology,” said Robert Sommers, who took office April 1. “In fact, most high-quality schools that are integrating technology well are probably using less technology and than those that bought a lot of stuff, but really had not a clue about how to implement it.”

Sommers said he is impressed with the efforts of Meridian Technology Center to partner with ASCO Industries in a training program for future employees of the aerospace company that is starting a manufacturing division in Stillwater.

“Career technical education has been all about a whole range of services.” Sommers said. “High school, we’re obviously well-known there. But also in the adult and customized training, where companies actually tell us what needs to be trained. We use the resources we have available in combination with what they expect and to be completely responsive to their needs. That process means we have to be very flexible, we have to be adaptable and most of all, we need to see companies as our customers.

“We are really thrilled to be a part of the decisions where companies come to this state because they know they have a cost-effective, high-paced provider for training.”

Sommers brings to his new position a strong agricultural instruction background. From 1986 to 2001, he served as the Ohio Department of Education agricultural supervisor and the state advisor for the FFA. He also created a career-technical funding system.

Sommers also served as the director of Ohio’s Office of 21st Century Education and led efforts to increase school performance and reform teacher evaluation models.

He earned his doctorate in educational administration and leaders from Ohio State University, where he completed his master’s degree in agricultural education.

Sommers said student achievement begins with putting students first and having high expectations. He said all students are capable of learning — it is the responsibility of instructors to develop methods to most effectively teach each student.

“Student achievement is all about whether students are prepared for the next transition, both college and careers,” Sommers said.

“So when I think about student achievement, I don’t think in terms of what a curriculum looks like. I think in terms of what the world expects and needs so that a student can be successful in the long-term. ... CareerTech understands that. CareerTech provides a wonderful way of teaching young people not only the academic talents but also the technical skills needed for work.”

Sommers served as superintendent at Butler Technology and Career Development Schools in Hamilton, Ohio, for nine years.

During his term, the district doubled in size, became the highest performing technical school in the state and became known for creative educational programs, including blended learning schools.

His work in education has earned him numerous leadership positions, including the chairman of the Performance Taskforce for the National Association of Career and Technical Education.

He is chief executive officer and managing partner of Carpe Diem Learning Systems, an organizational model that teaches faculty to create a personalized, blended learning education experience.

“Personalized, blended learning is taking advantage of all the technology we have today and taking advantage of high-quality faculty and staff, putting them together and allowing students to be served at their pace, at their place and at their passion,” Sommers said.

“The technology and the innovation available makes it possible for teachers to work with large numbers of students and have a personalized, educational experience. Blended learning is simply bringing digital content and digital instruction together with bricks and mortar and high-quality teachers.”

Sommers said it his goal to visit each of the 29 career tech schools in the state.

“We are extremely fortunate to have in Oklahoma CareerTech system someone of Bob Sommers’ vision and proven track record of improving student performance,” said Janet Barresi, State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The community will have a chance to meet Sommers during a reception from 5-6:30 p.m. May 8 at Meridian Technology Center’s Business & Industry Training Center, 1312 S. Sangre Rd.

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