Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Great End To The Year

I have spent a little time reflecting as graduation is about twenty-four hours away on a couple of recent events that have taken place. The funny thing about it is that they are actually two of my least favorite events/activities associated with being a high school principal. Before you read any further, I would ask that no one takes offense and remember that what I have to say is my opinion (though I know it is shared by a number of other high school principals through conversations we have every year!). Prom and Awards Night. Just mention of those words tend to bring sighs and grimaces to the faces of high school principals. Read on and I will tell you why, and also share how this year my stance has somewhat softened.

Prom is a four-letter word, lumped in with all of those other negative four-letter words. Prom reeks of excess, over-indulgence, misplaced values, and cheesiness reinforced by 1980’s teen movies. I have never liked prom, even as student, yet I have been to at least 16 of them over the years! The amount of money that is spent is way out of whack. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see a problem with kids getting all gussied up and having that kind of an opportunity, but when one looks at the cost, it is ridiculous! And, try to get 16- or 17-year-old girls to focus on anything other than dress styles, hair decisions, and size of heels after the end of February! And boy, I don’t even want to get into what is going on in the minds of the boys!

Awards Night has traditionally been that evening for me that has equal parts happiness and hard feelings. For every student that receives a major award, there are two or three that believe they were slighted. Adults in the audience keep a scorecard updated with number of wins and total dollars. Certain kids don’t show up because they do not think that they are going to get anything, or worse yet, because they don’t care. Understand that these are general observations and not necessarily indicative of any one experience. However, more often than not, I have seen things like this happens and at least from my standpoint, it taints what should otherwise be an evening that celebrates the efforts of a group of students that are grouped together as a class.

I will not say that I have changed my mind completely, but after experiencing both events for the first time at North Fayette, I have tempered my opinions and in some respects, I see hope! Or at least, I feel that there is some perspective. Starting with Prom, for the past twelve years, I have often wondered whom Prom is really for: the students or the moms. Seriously! It has seemed that a lot of moms have been more engaged than the daughters, and for the last nine years, parents were constantly hovering -- some years even watching kids eat! – during an evening that was originally considered a coming out for high school students. People spent more time talking about what so-and-so’s dress cost than they did taking joy in the often overlooked young lady who dressed up so beautifully. But I saw little of that here. More important, I saw a lot of kids having a lot of fun, which is what it is all about. They truly seemed to enjoy each other’s company and were absolutely no trouble at all! The faculty gave the kids some space and was treated respectfully in return. It was refreshing! I still have a problem with sophomores and 9th graders attending, but that is for another day! It was a very enjoyable evening and a wonderful process to be part of this year.

Awards night was incredible! Yes, there were a few pencils working out there tallying up numbers, and I am sure that there were some questions as to why someone won a particular award and someone else did not. But, the outpouring of support from the community through Dollars for Scholars is most likely unequalled for a school this size. Support was spread throughout the class, but when I watched the students go up and accept, in most instances I thought that folks got it right. You know, the kids that work hard and achieve should be awarded for their efforts and excellence. We don’t give everyone a gold medal regardless of where they finish a race on the track, nor should anyone expect something different when honoring those for what they do in the classroom.

The end of the school year is by nature stressful, but I am enjoying the last few weeks of the 2009-2010 here at North Fayette. Give me a few months to recharge my batteries this summer and we’ll be ready to get going again in August.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Does Anyone Else Think The Way I Do?

From time to time I tend to have rambling thoughts and questions that I ponder. I don’t know if other people ever consider some of the same things, and if so, perhaps someone can provide answers to some of these questions. So, from a mind that wanders, here are some of those thoughts that run through my mind.

Is there are good reason that in youth sports today kids play 45 softball games a season, play seven volleyball matches in a day, or wrestle a 100 matches throughout the year other than for their parents to be able to say that they played that many games? Or because parents pay so much money into these programs that they believe they have to get a return on their investment?

Whatever happened to politicians being public servants that take their turn rather than making a career out of holding office and seeking ways that are in their best interest to stay in power at the expense of those who elected them? Our government comes to a virtual stop because these folks need to campaign to get re-elected, and with the fact that campaigns start earlier and earlier, do they ever just govern?

When an Iowa State fan claims they cheer for Iowa except when they play the Cyclones, or when an Iowa fan claims they cheer for Iowa State except when they play the Hawks, are they truly a fan of their team? In my opinion, a true Cyclone never cheers for the Hawkeyes and vice versa.

No offense to any particular schools, but I am now aware of two schools that refer to their girl’s athletic team as Lady Pirates. Does this sound right? Aren’t lady pirates wenches? From an English teacher perspective wouldn’t ‘lady pirate’ be an oxymoron? I never liked the sound of it. Can’t they just be Pirates?

A question was posed in one of the classes I observed lately in regard to the existence of a double standard between males and females in our country. The students certainly agree that it does exist though there was a significant difference of opinion on the extent of the standard. What bothers me a great deal, especially being the father of a teenage daughter, is how so few girls recognize that at the root of the double standard is power. Why do so many young ladies, and for that matter so many women, give up their power to a male?

Is it safe to say that American patriotism really got it’s biggest shot in the arm as a result of the Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Olympics when the U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! chant first appeared? Did that victory over the Soviet Union lead to the eventual failure of the communist regime? Would a victory this year have toppled Canada?

Do I understand correctly that our representatives in Washington, specifically an ethics panel, have said that it is okay to steer special projects toward their financial contributors? So by today’s standard it is ethical to give government contracts to people that throw you a big sum of money to help get you elected. Wow! In my mind, that sure sounds like “bribery!” Ethics sure have changed!

A recent item in the newspaper shared theses results from ten years of research: students with high quality teachers learn more than those who do not have high quality teachers. No kidding! Another instance where we spend millions of dollars researching common sense!

Friday, May 7, 2010

We Need More School

About seven years ago, I went through a transformation in regard to my opinion about year-round school. From the time that I first understood the school calendar, summers had always been sacred to me. Certainly as a kid, I valued time off from school and all that went with the summer, swimming, baseball, picnics, vacation, time at grandparents. As a teacher, I saw summer as an opportunity to do two things: supplement my income and continue my education. I pursued both with zeal every summer of my teaching career. Once I became a principal, I also became a parent. Summer gave me a chance to finish those things up that I couldn’t get to during the school year, as well as to spend time with my kids. We have had some great vacations to wonderful places, as well as spent a lot of time watching ball games and other things our children have been involved in. But as I stated at the outset, my opinion has changed.

One reason that I have changed my mind has nothing to do with school. It is more from the perspective of what has changed in the American family. When I was in school, my mom was home every day in the summer and my dad had a work schedule where he was flexible enough to get to ball games in the evening. Each day we had work to do or 4-H projects to work on in the morning, and usually we hit the pool in the afternoon, at least until I was in high school and worked for area farmers. Today, many of our students are with a babysitter, or home alone. Some high school kids work, and perhaps here there are more that have the opportunity for some good, full-time summer jobs, but many do not. I was fortunate because I had a lot of quality family time in the summer, but times have changed. And due in part to that, I think that a lot of our students would be better served to be in school.

The other major “whys” are numerous. We need more time to teach students what they need to know. Looking at those that come into school, they are not as well equipped as they once were due to changes in the family structure. But once we get them, the expectations are much greater than they were when we were in school. What educators are being asked to teach, and what students are expected to be able to do when they graduate, is so much more than it was just fifteen years ago it is hard to comprehend. To be competitive in the global economy, our kids need to have a more solid foundation of content knowledge and skill development. In addition, we need to have a more serious approach to school. There was a time when that was not an issue, but today the value of an education has diminished in the eyes of many. If we are not careful, the America of the future will include an underclass similar to what we see in some of those overpopulated countries on television. Imagine the level of poverty seen in Mexico City and Mumbai!

So what if the powers-that-be made the decision to go in that direction? What is the fall out? A good friend of mine lives in Highlands Ranch, Colorado and when his boys were in middle school and elementary, one attended a school with a traditional schedule and the other went to a year-round school. His comment to me was that it just takes organization and scheduling. Both boys had some time off in the summer, so that is when they took vacation. Both boys had some time off in the winter, and they vacationed again! They did not see an issue with family time with one of their sons having going year-round that could not be overcome. And because some of the breaks were staggered for the boys, they got to spend some quality one-to-one time with each of them that was not possible before. I guess it’s one of those glass-half-full situations if you choose to have that perspective.

If at some point we go year-round, we need more school, not just spread the year out. My proposal would be 200 days for students and fifteen to twenty days of training for teachers. No early outs or late starts for professional development. That would all be taken care of with those 15 to 20 days of mandatory professional development for teachers. Let’s have more time for kids and more time for teachers to learn how to improve their craft. A consistent criticism of teachers is that they get the summer off. Okay, make them 12-month employees like everyone else and take that criticism away. But, make certain to compensate them accordingly and include adequate time for this to continue their growth through new learning. Great idea? It is not original! I stole it! But, it is an idea whose time has come.

Yes there are obstacles and conflicts that will have to be resolved. Being an old 4-H’er, I often wonder about how county fair will be possible if the kids are in school? Well, we may need to move fair dates to fit into a break. Or, perhaps activities involving school age kids will be in the evenings. Or maybe the fair becomes an educational activity that partners with the school in some capacity. While I may not have all of the answers, give me enough time and I will find them!

What I know is that the world has changed. We have to change to better prepare our kids for that world. We also need to drop some of the “protectionist” beliefs we have and the denial that exists. Folks, it ain’t going back to the way it used to be! The world is going to have an impact on the students that live in our communities. If they are to have any hope of living at the same standard of living you and I enjoy, we must look at change. Let’s start with more school!