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A final word….

April 11, 2010

Jim Mather at the Tartan Day Parade

Plane delays are the stuff of travel !    We were late leaving San Francisco (a new route for the journey was needed according to the pilot, as we sat at the end of the runway for 45 minutes) and even later leaving New York (with no explanation at all).    Jim Mather was on the flight, having spent a wonderful warm day at the Tartan Day Parade and Henry McLeish was on board as well, and of course he works very hard on building and extending American / Scottish understanding.

I made it home by about 10.30 this morning – a journey of 21 and a half hours and something just over 5000 miles.    During the five days in the USA and Canada (there was a day of travel at either end) I have had 29 meetings , visits , photocalls and receptions and met probably upwards of a thousand people.  According to the Sunday Mail I have travelled 12,000 miles in total, though the piece is really (once again) about an opposition attack on ministers being away during Scotland Week.

The facts should speak for themselves.   My 29 meetings I am sure was more than matched by Jim Mather and Fiona Hyslop.   So something like 9o occasions at which Scotland was promoted, business discussed, ideas exchanged and opportunities opened up.   And several thousand people drawn to modern Scotland and what it has to offer.

One final example.   This little project brings together the children of Manhattan and the children of Gigha – two island communities

Gigha

admittedly, but they could not be more different.   It speaks volumes about the desire for knowledge and the possibility of long term friendship.    It is typical of so much that does exist and of so much that could exist.    It makes all the journeys worthwhile !

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A Scottish clipper, some Scottish whisky and a Scottish saint !

April 11, 2010

A busy schedule on the final day of the trip. Firstly there was a photocall and viist,

The Superintendent of the Marine Park and his deputy on board the Balclutha

arranged to promote the new Glasgow Riverside Museum. It took place, appropriately enough, at the San Francisco Maritime Museum, an open air display of ships and boats which includes the  Glasgow built   Balclutha , a sister ship to the Glenlee which sits on the Clyde  and indeed the restored rigging of the Glenlee was done by someone who works in the San Francisco Museum !

I am always fascinated by historic ships and I would have happily spent the rest of the morning with the very knowledgeable senior staff of the Maritime National Historic Park.  Even better would have been to go with them on one of the voyages they arrange around the Bay – for which a group of school children was just preparing as we stood on the deck of the square rigged ship.  Instead I was whisked off to my next engagement, a meeting with the organiser of the Adventure Travel Association  at the British Consulate which is holding its world summit in Aviemore later this year.    Building and strengthening links with organisations such as this is vital to ensure that Scotland continues to reap the economic benefits of world tourism as it develops.   We had a good and detailed discussion about what help the Scottish Government could give to make the event even more successful and we also touched on making sure that culture  and climate change were  at the heart of what the delegates experienced, as those involved in adventure travel now want to make sure there is a broad and sustainable agenda for all their clients.

It was then off to another Visit Scotland photocall, this time to promote  Whisky Live in the USA.   This took place  in Union Square in the busy  heart of the city – a fair challenge when the photo call consists of two Highland Games athletes, each holding an enormous and very heavy whisky barrel alongside an elegant Scottish dancer, a good young  piper and two flags.    Adding in one of the iconic San Francisco trolley cars  as a backdrop

One of the famous trolley cars

turned out to be more difficult than anticipated, but I am sure that all those involved enjoyed the experience  – some of the most prominent Scots in the city Scottish associations had come along to have a chat and enjoy the sunshine !    After the pictures I briefly visited the Scottish Whisky shop in San Francisco which has a tremendous stock of things Scottish and which seems to be very popular.

Now it was time for my final school visit of the week – a  trip to the suburbs and to the  KIPP Bayview Academy.  KIPP stands for the Knowledge Is Power Programme and their schools across the USA work within the public system in each state but have chartered status.    The schools serve deprived areas , and in this case a largely African American population where there has traditionally been low school achievement.

KIPP Bayview

KIPP specialises in very intense education – the hours are longer and the pupils are  more regimented than you would see in any Scottish state school (and perhaps even in some private ones).   When we were there one class of 8th graders was made to go back out of the building and come in again, in a crocodile and in perfect silence.  The pupils had not done it right the first time !!

The focus is on achievement and specifically on getting to, and graduating from, College.   I was very struck by the fact that in asking a class about what University they wanted to go to, every single one knew and also knew what they wanted to study.  This from children aged about 11.

Certainly the figures are impressive.  In other schools serving this population the  High School graduation rate would be below 40%  – here it is above 90.   Inspirational School leadership and high quality teaching is very much to the fore  and there is no denying that  children from the KIPP school consistently win good scholarships to further education.

With the KIPP Bayview School Principal

However most Scottish parents and most Scottish educators would find the formality and intensity of these schools  a little off putting  I think, and a little reminiscent of what much of Scottish education has spent a generation trying to get away from.    Our curriculum for Excellence is much more joined up and focussed on the individual.   But it works for some and clearly is vitally important for children who would otherwise become mired in low expectation and serial failure.   Food for thought, definitely.

It was early afternoon by the time we arrived back at the San Francisco Piers, where I had a late lunch with Ben Kycera of the Cyark Foundation and his wife Barbara.   I had met them in Glasgow last year at the World Digital Imaging Conference and have seen Ben twice since then, including at Mt Rushmore last July.    Historic Scotland  , the Glasgow School of Art and the Foundation are now deeply into the Scottish 10 programme and it was good to catch up with him and hear about progress in this fascinating area of  work.

The on to the final round of engagements – two events with the Sierra Club – the world’s oldest and probably largest environmental organisation –  to honour their founder, the great Scottish expatriate John Muir.  Muir – the saint or apostle of environmentalism according to most accounts – was from Dunbar but he is much much better known in the USA (where he founded the National Park movement and laid the foundations for the whole way in which America sees its outdoors) than in Scotland though that is changing and it was good to  convey to those at the tree planting a message from the curator of the Muir Birthplace in East Lothian , where the Council has in recent years started to promote the link with Muir.

Planting a tree for John Muir

The first part was a tree planting ceremony in the Presidio  National Park, which sits right next to the Golden Gate Bridge. I always enjoy being amongst trees given their vital importance to our climate change challenge and also because I loved my work with the Forestry Commission when I was Environment Minister so this was tailor made for me – and for the dozen or so children who did most of the hard work with spades !

The after a brief tour which included going over the Golden Gate Bridge and down to the lovely little community of  Sausalito ( about which over the last 24 hours no less than four of my friends had texted me or emailed me to tell me to visit )  it was time for a reception for Sierra Club Members at which Carl Pope, the President of the Club and I  made speeches about Global Warming.  There is huge interest everywhere  in what Scotland has done in its Climate Change Bill but even I was surprised at the warmth of my reception  here and the spontaneous applause at various stages of my account, including when I mentioned that the Scottish Government  was against new nuclear power plants.

The reception was held in a log cabin within the Park area, and it was a very pleasant way to end the week.   But by the time I got back to the hotel I was very conscious of the fact that I would be leaving again by 5.00am and I still had to pack my case.  So I left  this blog  until my journey home !

The Golden Gate from the Presidio

At Infinite Loop.

April 9, 2010

Given that there is a three hour time difference between Toronto and San Francisco, it felt later than it actually was when we arrived at our hotel in downtown San Francisco.   But the weather was pleasantly warm even at 10.00pm, and the bright sunshine in my hotel room when I woke up was all the encouragement I needed to get outside for a little bit before our first engagement of the day.

That engagement was at 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino

At Apple

an address which will be instantly familiar to all Mac devotees.  It is the world headquarters of Apple and my colleagues and I spent a very useful couple of hours there discussing Educational IT .   We were also introduced to the iPad, and I have to say that after half an hour of hands on exploration we were all completely converted (not that I wasn’t pre-disposed to be , anyway !).    The product does seem to have the potential to be, as Steve Jobs Apple’s famous CEO put it, a “game changer” – it is intuitive to use and feature rich.   iPhone apps , such as Evernote, which I use regularly, seem even better when ported to the device and new apps are already pointing to many innovative uses.   A European release date for the hardware is apparently imminent, as every Mac focussed website will tell you, though we got no inside info at all.

From the sunny Apple campus the group went on to  the world HQ of National Semi Conductor, where Don MacLeod – orginally from the Isle of Lewis –  is President and CEO.    NSC has been in Scotland  – there is a manufacturing plant in Greenock – for forty years and the long term relationship the company has had with Scottish Development International and Scottish Enterprise (and their predecessors) has been mutually advantageous.   I wanted to thank Don for the work he has done, and is doing, as a Global Scot , a network which is of great benefit to Scotland and our economy.

I met more Global Scots at the evening reception , but before travelling back to San Francisco I called at the magnificent campus of Stanford University at the town of Palo Alto where , in 1939

The Garage that spawned Silicon Valley

Hewlett Packard started the tech development activity that led to what is now called Silicon Valley.   The garage where it began is now a preserved historic monument !

Prior to the  meeting  my colleagues  and I snatched half an hour to sit  in the sun outside a little cafe in the main shopping street  and watch the Californian world go by .   It is a world which for many –  though not all, given the number of homeless one sees on the streets of San Francisco –  seems a very privileged and  pleasant  one of  some comfort.  No wonder they call this the Golden State – its climate is wonderful, and there are many , many opportunities to succeed.

At Stamford Professor Daniel Schwartz

Stanford University

talked to us about his research on , amongst other things, the idea of “Teachable Agents” and the use of technology to improve individual educational  outcomes.   It was an intriguing insight to some important research which will have an effect on my thinking about how the educational journey takes place for each young person and what we can do , in policy terms, to make it more successful.    It also touches on how we support teachers, which is a key issue.

Stanford is a good example of a world class American University which has raised very large sums from its alumni, amongst others, in order to achieve and maintain its high ranking.   Most of those we meet here are intrigued about our focus on free access to education and many who hail from Scotland  are strong in support of the opportunity it gives, and has given to them.  Our challenge  in Scotland is to make it work within a very competitive  contemporary higher education world.   I am sure we can do so.

It took about an hour to go from Stanford back into the centre of San Francisco, where the SDI Scotland Week  reception was being held.   It was jointly sponsored by the City of Edinburgh Council as their clipper ship, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital is presently in San Francisco , taking part in the round the world race having been sent on its way by the First Miniser lat August.      The reception was very well attended, and the crew seemed to be greatly enjoying their experience.   Edinburgh is getting a lot of publicity as a result and by co-inciding with Scotland week here  the effect is multiplied.

Jim Mather commemorating the Scots who fought at the Alamo

It is obvious that the momentum of Scotland week continues to build across North America.   There will always be those whose narrow perspective leads them to mutter about “junketing” but even a brief glance at the itinerary for my trip, and those of Fiona Hyslop and Jim Mather  (who was at the Alamo yesterday and will be in New York for the Tartan Day Parade on Saturday) will show that there is real traction being gained for Scotland – and particularly for tourism and business in Scotland – by every day that  a minister spends here (providing of course that the schedules are full and focussed).        If cities, other local authorities, trade associations and others also piggy back onto it, then the value is increased exponentially.

Eventually after talking to many of the guests – including

With Les Allan and the SDI's Calum Lancastle

Les Allen who is about to open the first Goals Soccer Centre here in America –  I finished up having dinner in a restaurant on the sea front, down at the  Fisherman’s Wharf. area.    But the long days are taking their toll so instead of writing up the blog when I had finished, I was in bed and asleep by 11.00pm.   Now I am paying the price – dawn is just breaking as I write this and prepare for another busy day ; and of course  it looks like another sunny one too !

Westward

April 8, 2010

Wednesday started with a visit to the most historic theatre – or rather theatres – in Ontario, and probably in Canada, the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres. These are unique “double decker” theatres, built in 1913 and almost lost for ever (the upper Winter Garden was closed off and forgotten for 60 years).   But a  loving and very thorough restoration has brought them back into use, and to their pristine glory, complete with real birch leaves in the remarkable celling of the Winter Garden.

I was there to launch a set of “visitor passes” for the coming season , being promoted by visitscotland.  These give very good value entry to a range of historic buildings and other events and one of the passes promotes the Edinburgh Festivals,

Promoting the new visitor passes at the Winter Garden, Toronto

so it was fitting that fringe performer Sharron Matthews joined Mike Cantley and I for the photocall.

Later in the morning I met with Iain Duffy of Royal Scottish Tours to hear first hand what he thought visitscotland should be providing to ambitious companies such as his, which want to sell as many packages as possible.   I also spoke with a journalist from the Canadian Traveller Magazine who was preparing a feature on Scotland as a tourist destination.

My last engagement in Toronto was a lunch hosted by the British Consul General at his residence to meet members of the Scottish diaspora.   In fact I had met many of them before, either last year during my visit or even before that for most of them were frequent visitors and keen to build Scottish links with their adopted country.    They included James Hunter of the Edinburgh University Club of Toronto who had given a breakfast for me last April and who I not only went to University with, but also went to school with at Marr College in Troon.

Across the American Continent

Then it was off to the airport for the five and a half hour flight to San Francisco.   The visibility was good for most of the journey and the landscape was spectacular.    It was also, in a word much used here, awesome – but the literal meaning is what is true on this occasion for the experience does inspire awe.  Awe at the courage and determination (and sheer physical stamina) of those who trekked this journey on horse or in wagons through a vast and geographically challenging country.  And awe at the scale and immensity of this nation, and its concomitant richness.

It was dark by the time we got out of the airport but the city , even at night, is also awesome.  I can just glimpse the Golden Gate Bridge from my hotel room, and the former  island prison of Alcatraz.   I look forward to seeing it in full daylight tomorrow.

Tartan Day

April 7, 2010

The 6th of April is of course the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath and has been designated  “Tartan Day” in some places for more than a decade.

Jim Mather in Boston

Around the day a “Scotland Week” has grown up in which there is intensive activity in a whole variety of places and this present Scottish Government (and our predecessors, to be fair) tries to ensure the maximum advantage from that focus –  in terms of tourism and business links  – in any way it can.   Both governments have sent groups of ministers to North America at this time of year , and this year Fiona Hyslop is in New

Fiona Hyslop with Alan Cumming in New York

York and Tenessee, whilst Jim Mather is in Boston and Houston, amongst other places.

Such visits are  also an opportunity to listen and learn about innovations in a range of policy areas  and I spent most of the day listening and learning about education.

The first three hours were spent at the Ontario Ministry of Education , where a series of officials, from the Deputy Minister, Kevin Constante,  down (the Minister was away on business in her constituency which is over 500 miles distant) made presentations to us about the curriculum, literacy and numeracy and teacher education.

Ontario – indeed   the whole of Canada –  performs  well  in international educational league tables and Ontario has been particularly successful in recent years in meeting its three key objectives – raising individual student achievement, closing the gap between the best and worst performing whilst raising overall achievement, and increasing public confidence in education.  The Provincial Premier believes passionately in education as a number one priority for his government and having been in office for 8 years there has been a very useful stability in policy that has allowed much intelligent and productive innovation.   Driving up  student performance  has been seen as a key  task for everyone involved  in education and the resulting consensus has been sustained by offering considerable support to teachers and individual schools – in fact the non judgemental  intervention on low performing schools has been crucial.

I am very struck by the fact that wherever you go, the issue of the highest standards in teaching – and how to achieve – them sits at the centre of succesfull innovation in education.  So does achieving stability in policy arising out of an agreed way forward.  Both those points were emphasised again over lunch, where I met with Dr Avis Glaze, the former Head of Student Achievement in Ontario, who was brought into that specially made role in order to mastermind the necessary changes.    She is an inspirational educator and much in demand internationally  and she thinks highly of the existing strengths of the Scottish system though has some suggestions for how we might want to tackle issues of excellence and equity, the two key watchwords in the Ontario system.

At the Arrowsmith School

Afer lunch I paid a visit to the Arrowsmith School.  I have a strong interest in learning difficulties and I had heard of the work that Barbara Arrowsmith Young was doing in Toronto.  It is an interesting  methodology, which has now been adopted by the Catholic School Board in Toronto and by a number of other schools throughout Canada.   Whilst there I launched a new website devoted to the links between Scotland and Canada and which is rich in content and features.

My final educational visit of the day was to the Council of Canadian Education Ministers. Education is a Provincial responsibility – and that situation is jealously guarded – and Canada is such a vast country that are are a range of different approaches.  But there are lots of common issues across the country and world wide and once again it is very instructive to hear new perspectives on them and to realise that we did somethings very well, but could learn how to do others a fair bit better.

Its not only ideas that get shared though.

The pile of documents - so far....

There are always a lot of brochures, booklets and files handed over .   They are all of interest but at certain stages you begin to wonder about how much the excess baggage costs are going to be for the return journey !

Before hosting the annual Tartan Day reception – jointly organised by the Scottish Government, Scottish Development International and visitscotland – I had a brief meeting with Doug Warrington, Director of Ultimate Golf Vacations a company that brings lots of Canadian golfers to the Scotland’s many great golf courses.   The current rate of exchange makes such trips every more affordable.

The reception was very well attended and I met a lot of people whom were also there last year from businesses which work in Scotland as well as Canada – for example in the energy sector and in bio medical – through to importers of Scottish goods .    Last year we were able to help Geoffrey Taylor from the Toronto Writers Festival  to feature Scottish writers in his world class event by dint of a partnership with the Edinburgh Book Festival and it was good to talk to him again about the plans for the coming year which once again will have Scottish authors promoting their work to Canadian audiences and vica versa.

The  entertainment  at the reception was provided by three very able students from the RSAMD who have been performing in New York for Scotland Week as well.    Kirsty MacKinnnon,

Kirsty MacKinnon performing for Scotland Week in New York.

the singer, is from Mull and she chose to feature  not only a lovely Gaelic song of emigration but also one of  Hamish Henderson’s outstanding compositions.

The final event of the day was a dinner organised by the British Vice Consul, Ashley Prime who has been a constant help to the Scottish Government in everything we have tried to do here.   Amongst those at the table were  Dr Kirsty Duncan, a Liberal MP in the Federal Parliament and a key supporter of all things Scottish (she did her PhD in Edinburgh ) , Jim Peterson a former Federal Minister of External Trade, Cheryl Misak the Provost of Toronto University and our own former First Minister Henry MacLeish, who happened to be in town.

It was after 11.00 when I got back to the hotel, and I took a rain check on the blog (sorry

Speaking at the Scotland Week Reception in Toronto

) as it had been a long day .   But I did get up before 6.00am to make sure the tartan day celebrations were recorded – and of course to check the news.  For any politician being three thousand miles away when an election is called is a little strange !

Today is a day for tourism and diaspora meetings and then I am off to San Francisco in the early evening.   I hope that the rain of Toronto melts into the sun of California !

A dog, a piper and a school.

April 6, 2010

They say you should never work with children or animals but I’ve managed to break that rule on both counts today. Of course photocalls with children are nothing unusual in my current job but I’ve managed to avoid posing for pics with animals since I left the environment brief, although some of the creatures I met there were magnificent (the Golden Eagles and the Beavers spring to mind) .

But I couldn’t avoid the challenge today when I visited the very impressive Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. As the name suggests, the university has strong connections with Scotland and on arrival I was greeted by the Provost, Professor Mark Kamlet on a very fine campus who introduced me to a young piper and

Taking Maggie for a (reluctant) photocall

Maggie the Scotty dog – complete with tartan cap – which is the University Mascot and which was  donated to  them by none other than the comedian Bill Cosby.  Luckily she was a remarkably well-behaved (and actually rather disinterested) pooch – unmoved even by the very good piper, who studies the bagpipe course at the university.

I was also greeted by State Senator Mike Brubaker who proposed a resolution in the Pennsylvania State Senate last week which officially made April 6th Tartan Day in the state.

The Provost and the Senator with the Tartan Day Resolution

He presented me, and the university, with an official copy of the resolution and then stayed for lunch and the lecture.

The university is noted for it’s creativity, innovation and ambitions for the future but also has  a strong sense of its past, which dates back to 1900 when it was founded by Andrew Carnegie. The link between the past and the future was the theme for the speech I delivered at the university, where I provided the audience with a brief overview of Scotland’s constitutional history and then

Delivering the Lecture at Carnegie Mellon

outlined the choices facing our country in the years ahead. It seemed to be well received and there were a number of searching and interesting questions. Nobody seemed offended or put out, so perhaps that discounts some of the press coverage of the event which seems to have emerged in Scotland (and, it could be fairly observed, might have more to do with an impending election than reasoned comment).

Earlier in the day I met young people facing choices of a different kind about the future as they approach the end of their studies at the

At the CAPA School

Pittsburgh School of Creative and Performing Arts. These remarkably gifted musicians, artists and actors recognise that not all of them will be able to pursue their dreams of a successful career in the arts. But one of the school’s greatest achievements is the way it not only nurtures prodigious natural artistic talent (in every art form for we heard great jazz, fine musical theatre, some serious classical orchestral performance, and even rap but we also saw good painting and multi media and heard about fine writing – all from students) but also provides them with the academic skills needed for other careers. But whether the model – something akin to the “free schools” I saw in Sweden though run by the local city as part of its normal educational provision – is a viable one for elsewhere would be a moot point.

Yet it can’t be denied that the school is a truly inspirational place with first class facilities and technologies. None the less, although surrounded by some of the finest creations of his contemporaries, it was – for one of our student guides – our Education Director General’s  footwear that inspired most comment. “Awesome shoes” he suddenly said to her in the lift !

Between the school and the university I had the chance to meet and talk to the Pittsburgh School Superintendent,

Gerald Zahorchak and Mark Roosevelt

Mark Roosevelt (the great grandson of former American President Teddy Roosevelt) and the Pennsylvania State Secretary for Education Gerald Zahorchak. It was a fascinating chat, that went on beyond it allotted time, for there were so many common problems and so many ideas and potential solutions to discuss. Key to progress was, for both us, the quality of teaching and a curriculum that joined up the diverse parts of learning. Achieving that has many barriers in both places but the goal is worth striving for.

My final meeting of the day before leaving for Toronto was with Professor Indira Nair, Vice Provost for Education at Carnegie Mellon. We talked about getting women into science and again about cross curricular activity, two issues with which we are deeply engaged in both countries.

Then it was time to drive to the airport and after a quick chat in the hotel in Toronto with Mike Cantley,

Mike Cantley

the newly appointed Chair of Visit Scotland (whom I knew well when I was Environment Minister and he chaired the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Board) it was blog time and bed….a long day and another one in the offing tomorrow which includes the official Canadian Scotland Week reception.

Pics from Pittsburgh

April 5, 2010

Downtown Pittsburgh

Founding City for the AFL