Ted Dintersmith has spent his whole life as a venture capitalist, backing top entrepreneurs. He now spends his time advocating for education reform and, this week, will make stops across North Dakota showing a film he produced to encourage schools to become more innovative and better prepare students for college and careers.

On Tuesday, Dintersmith visited Legacy High School in Bismarck to host a discussion with Bismarck teachers about what's being done in schools here and to promote innovative education ideas, such as creativity and critical thinking, in the classrooms.

Dintersmith's film "Most Likely to Succeed" was shown Monday at the North Dakota Heritage Center, which was hosted by the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce, North Dakota United and the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction. The film follows students at an experimental school in San Diego.

The rate of innovation is creating an urgency to reform the education system, Dintersmith told teachers, administrators and organization leaders at Legacy today. 

In a book Dintersmith co-authored, which is a spin on the film, he talks about the biggest categories of jobs in the country today.

"All those jobs will be gone in 10 years," Dintersmith said.

More tech jobs will replace those jobs, and students need better training for those careers, and the education system needs to be improved, he said.

Dintersmith has traveled the country visiting innovative schools. His expectations were disproved, as he had thought the most innovative states would be Massachusetts, New York and California. The more innovative states were ones he hadn't thought of, including North Dakota.

“You guys are doing amazing things," Dintersmith said. “Almost in no other state in the country could you imagine something where the co-sponsors are the (Greater North Dakota) Chamber of Commerce and the teacher’s union.”

Tana Sukauskas attended Tuesday's discussion with Dintersmith to talk about a program called Advancement Via Individual Determination. At Bismarck High School, Sukauskas teaches two sections of AVID classes, which are offered in grades 6-12 in Bismarck schools. The classes allows students to work with universities, bring college students in, host guest speakers from the community once a month and require them to complete community service hours.

AVID is a good way to break the mold of traditional teaching, Sukauskas said.

Several teachers spoke about the benefits of career and tech education, as well as the importance of arts education in public schools to spur creativity.

“We want to give these kids career experience in the classroom," said Kim Hertz, who teaches the culinary arts program at Legacy.

Hertz spoke about a time when her cooking classroom was a mess, and she felt bad or like a failure when administrators came around to do a routine visit.

“But there’s good stuff happening," she said.

Arts are an important part of the conversation, too, said Rebecca Engelman, an arts in education director at the North Dakota Council on the Arts. Too often, arts are being underutilized in schools, she said.

The Council on the Arts has numerous grants available for teachers to promote more art in their classrooms, including a $600 teacher incentive grant for teachers who want to integrate art into their curriculum.

Ben Johnson, assistant superintendent for secondary schools in Bismarck, said more innovation needs to happen in not just one school or community, but in all. Schools across the state should share their ideas and be more open.

“My hope is that it becomes systemic," Johnson said.

Beth Larson-Steckler, a program administrator for the Department of Public Instruction, said the department wants more schools to share what they're doing and connect with other schools in North Dakota.

“We really want to say we know that there’s wonderful things taking place, and we want to highlight that and show that and have people reach out,” she said. “And from that, grow.”

DPI also will identify barriers schools face to being innovative, which will coincide with Dintersmith's statewide tour.

(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com)

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