Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Jocelyn Rowley

Eric Rauschkolb’s European (working) vacation


October 6, 2018

Eric Rauschkolb’s European (working) vacation

For the much of the past two decades, students in Finland have been ranked at or near the top of an international study that compares the academic achievement of 15-year olds in reading, math and scientific literacy in 73 countries worldwide. So when Niwot High principal Eric Rauschkolb was offered the chance to travel to Helsinki over the summer for an in-depth review of the Scandinavian country’s educational system, he jumped at the chance.

“The educational company Education First, they offer a travel scholarship every summer to the person who was chosen as the Colorado Secondary Principal of the Year,” Rauschkolb said. He received that honor from the Colorado Association of School Executives in 2017. “It was amazing. It was very generous of them to do that.”

Rauschkolb made the trip in July with a group of 30 “diverse” educators from across the U.S., a group that included not just principals, but also teachers, superintendents, and technology directors. During their stay in the Finnish capital, they visited schools and interacted extensively with both teachers and students. They later visited the Ministry of Education and had an audience with a former Minister of Education.

Rauschkolb said he gained some valuable insights from the tour, not just about Finland, but also about Niwot and St. Vrain Valley Schools. He was impressed with both the Finnish educational system and Finnish culture, especially the “independence” afforded students, not just in the classroom, but also in wider society. He also praised their emphasis on team building and group projects over rote memorization.

“Teachers have a lot of autonomy about what they teach and how they teach it,” he said. “They are also very big as a country on project-based learning, which I thought was fantastic, because that’s something we do here in the St. Vrain Valley schools and quite a bit in Niwot.”

At the same time, he noted that cultural forces undergirding the Finnish educational approach make it difficult to replicate in the United States, especially when it comes to underperforming students.

“In Finland there’s almost zero poverty and it’s a very homogenous society,” he said. “So it’s just really different. We have a melting pot society, and that’s part of what makes the United States so special, and specifically what makes Niwot High so special, too.”

NHS Principal Eric Rauschkolb in front of the Finnish Ministry of Education, where he spent two days in July as part of an educational tour.

The group capped off their tour with a trip to Berlin for the two-day Global Leadership Summit, which explored the theme Influence of Technology on Society. There, they heard from “amazing” keynote speakers, including Randi Zuckerberg, and participated in a design challenge.

While Rauschkolb was grateful for the experience, he said the trip made him realize that high scores on standardized tests aren’t necessarily the best measure of an educational system.

“Embracing diversity is a good thing,” he said. “We open our doors to everybody, and we’re going to provide a great education to everybody who shows up. We don’t turn our backs on students who struggle or students who may be a little bit lower functioning. We try to meet everybody where they’re at and help them to achieve their goals, whether


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