(This article was featured in Authority Magazine on Feb. 3, 2022 – An interview with Penny Bauder) As a part of my interview series about the things that should be done to improve the US educational system I had the pleasure to interview…Dr. Tim Schigur.
Dr. Tim Schigur is currently Director of Procurement for Diamond Assets, where he collaborates with schools and districts on technology sustainability planning and leadership consulting in the areas of teamwork and communication. Dr. Schigur taught middle school history and social studies, was an elementary and middle school principal, and led two school systems in the role of superintendent. Dr. Schigur grew up in a suburb of Milwaukee, Wis., earned his BA from Marquette University (1992) and Educational Doctorate (Ed. D) from Edgewood College. He is married with three children.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory” behind what brought you to this particular career path?
I’ve always had a passion for learning and I entered the education field with a desire to make learning enjoyable for kids.
Over my years in education, I realized the potential for utilizing technology as an educational tool. I implemented use of first-generation iPads and later launched a one-to-one device program throughout my district. I even wrote my dissertation on the topic of the impact on reading achievement through iPads in middle school students.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I worked as a middle school principal, I had some kids who were sent to my office time and again. One of those students was a boy I stayed in touch with over the years as I became superintendent and he moved on to an alternative high school in the district. I attended his high school graduation party, just before he left to join the Marines.
Those kids had matured in the years since they were sent to my office. The system had a better fit for them. As educators, we need to care and stay connected. Every interaction matters. There is value in understanding that you have to keep watering even when you can’t see the growth.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m currently the Director of Procurement for Diamond Assets, where I partner with school districts throughout the Midwest. We focus on communication and teamwork improvements throughout the districts, along with creating sustainable financial pathways for instructional technology.
I’m particularly excited now to be a board member of Ignite Academy, a Wisconsin charter school launching for the purpose of helping students in the prison pipeline find new paths.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are authority in the education field?
I began my career 26 years ago as a middle school social studies teacher. I’ve been an educational leader at the building and district level, for both public and private schools. I worked as an elementary school principal, middle school principal and eventually superintendent for two school districts.
At present, I travel to other districts and host staff trainings as a way of passing along the expertise I’ve gained over the years.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. From your point of view, how would you rate the results of the US education system?
If you were to Google a picture of a classroom in 1907 and a classroom today, they wouldn’t look much different. There have been pockets of innovation in the US education system, but overall, it has not evolved much over the past century. Our system is one that’s based on slow growth.
Look at the way toddlers learn: They constantly explore. But school doesn’t do that. School is structured and prescribed. It’s based on compliance, not on learning. Education is politicized and teachers are held to standardized guidelines rather than having the freedom to act in the best interest of their students.
Change will come through innovation and creativity, when our system ceases to teach to the middle and instead thinks of ways to engage all learners. Teachers tend to teach the way they were taught — and that’s using one model. But we know that no two children learn in the same way, so it’s up to us to reach every child.
Can you identify 5 areas of the US education system that are going really great?
- Content. Our curriculum has solid information that is key for student development.
- Care. Most US educators are truly passionate about helping their students succeed.
- Holistic. There’s been an increased push in recent years to educate the whole child.
- Innovations. Educators have begun to think of new avenues, such as magnet schools, technology programs and collaborations.
- Choices. There are many options for today’s students, from college prep to trade training.
Can you identify the 5 key areas of the US education system that should be prioritized for improvement? Can you explain why those are so critical?
- Funding. We still exist in a system of have and have nots. There is inequity in funding between districts, so we need to be more creative and collaborative with funding models.
- Early Childhood/Reading. When you can’t read, everything is frustrating. Resources need to be available for ALL schools at 4K-3 level. If we put all of our resources into helping every kid read, we could really move the needle.
- Updated teacher prep programming. Higher education and K-12 employers should partner to better prepare teachers for the classroom.
- Support for educators. A lot of people making decisions about schools aren’t educators. We need to remove the politics in the education system and instead focus on improving the reality of what’s happening in schools day-to-day.
- Open choice. Charter school options have possibility, but they don’t help kids who don’t have the mobility to get there.
How is the US doing with regard to engaging young people in STEM? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?
When you focus on something, it naturally becomes better. By talking about STEM (STEAM) and having schools improve in those areas, students naturally are drawn into those careers. US schools can continue boosting STEM (STEAM) engagement in a few ways:
- Create awareness of what careers are available.
- Increase engagement by making the curriculum more relevant to the learner.
- Teach STEM (STEAM) starting at younger ages. For elementary students, that means incorporating hands-on or student-led learning.
Can you articulate to our readers why it’s so important to engage girls and women in STEM subjects?
It’s key to be purposeful and intentional when putting programming together. Inspiring all students is needed; however, traditional practices have favored boys over girls in STEM classes and careers.
We need to be intentional with marketing STEM areas to girls/women. That means identifying and showcasing careers and pathways to getting there.
How is the US doing with regard to engaging girls and women in STEM subjects? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?
- Start with the end in mind by marketing the countless job types that are available in STEM fields.
- Establish equity in programming in schools across the nation, regardless of location or demographic. Having programming access creates opportunities for students to explore careers for themselves — not just read or hear about it.
- Recognize that school doesn’t only happen during certain hours in a school building. Have internships available at younger ages. Bring professionals into the school and take younger students out for field trips to witness STEM/STEAM careers in action.
As an education professional, where do you stand in the debate whether there should be a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) or on STEAM (STEM plus the arts like humanities, language arts, dance, drama, music, visual arts, design and new media)? Can you explain why you feel the way you do?
All of the elements of STEAM need to be available in the U.S. school system. Anytime you exclude programs, you exclude kids. You need to have STEAM if you’re going to be honest about reaching all kids.
That said, it’s easy to slide directly into STEM. Those topics are more tangible and recordable. Arts, on the other hand, are more interpretive and naturally less moldable into the structured education system. So when budgets get cut, the arts tend to go first. That approach, however, ostracizes a large segment of students who value those subjects.
If you had the power to influence or change the entire US educational infrastructure what five things would you implement to improve and reform our education system? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Have educational leaders lead the system. Politicians who make educational policy don’t have classroom experience to truly understand the needs and demands of the system.
- Focus on whole student needs. We aren’t here for the adults in the education system. We do this for the kids. We need to account for their emotional, physical and intellectual needs together. To focus on simply one aspect is to fail the child.
- Equitable funding. There’s money available for all students, but it needs to be spent better. We can’t continue to accept a system that gives more opportunity to wealthy children while limiting access for impoverished children.
- Calendar and school day changes. Why are we still operating a school calendar that’s based on a farming calendar? Most kids don’t need summers off to work the family fields anymore. We could incorporate a balanced schedule and avoid so much of the summer slide that prevents kids from continuing to grow year-over-year. We also need to stop making educational decisions based on bus schedules, lunch schedules and sports schedules. Those things should not drive the structure of the learning process. Our school calendars should maximize educational opportunities instead.
- Base our education model on learning — not on accountability. The U.S. education system breeds compliance rather than innovation. We spend so much time focused on test scores and specific curriculum that we fail to inspire risk-taking. Accountability has taken over the love of learning. We need to reward educator creativity, rather than establishing performance robots.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
DO right, don’t BE right. There are many times as an educational leader when it would be justified to respond to an opinion/constituent/article/social media post. It might feel good in the moment, but taking the high road is the right path. My approach to leadership is that we are always modeling behavior for others. We need to do the right thing. If we do not, who will?
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Dwayne Wade: I graduated from Marquette University and watched Dwayne years later when he attended Marquette. I was inspired with how he worked hard to get into school while maintaining eligibility, and how he has assisted others now with their educational pathways.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!