Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Full Response to Magazine's Questions About Our School's Success

It is always interesting to see what a magazine or newspaper publishes when they are doing an article about a school, school system, or an educational issue. In my experience, authors tend to use about five to ten percent of what is discussed or written in response to their questions. It is with this in mind that I am sharing my full responses to SO RI Magazine's questions about East Greenwich High School.

1) It would be easy to infer that East Greenwich High School's achievements can be attributed to the affluence of the East Greenwich community; but your school department's per pupil spending is outmatched by several other towns in Rhode Island. To what do you attribute your school's success?

I believe that the success of EGHS is due to a variety of factors. However, there is one factor that many people outside of our school community don’t often get to see or hear about, because it cannot be measured through test scores or college acceptances.  It is our students' and educators' willingness to try different approaches, strategies and activities. Knowing that you will be supported when you take risks and venture out of your comfort zone is something that is an invaluable asset to our school community, as well as to our school’s culture. For educators this means knowing that you have the trust and autonomy to try a new project, to experiment with emerging technology, propose a new course for the program of studies, or create a new method of assessment that involves the community at large. For students, it means that you take advantage of the multitude of opportunities that are available here such as-- to create a new club, audition for the talent show, try a course you know very little about, propose an independent study, or tryout for a team in a sport you have never played before. The majority of our students and faculty are fearless in this way, and it is reflected in our school’s new mission statement, “EGHS Exists to Empower.”

2) Historically, East Greenwich has a strong school system.  That being said, what do you think are the reasons you advanced so dramatically in August's Newsweek rankings (from 283 to 186 in on school year)?

It is very difficult to know the precise reason. Each and every publication’s school rankings are generally comprised of different elements and variable weights that they assign to each category to evaluate and rank schools according to their metrics. The fact that the weighting and methodologies used also can vary from year to year makes it even more difficult to pinpoint why someone moves up or down in rankings. For example, one ranking strongly factors the student:teacher ratio, while another emphasizes student:counselor ratio. Another system only measures how many students take AP or IB exams, while another uses not only participation in those tests, but the quality of the students’ results as well. Some rankings even utilize data from different cohorts of students. For example, they may use the current percentage of students who score at or above proficient on a State test, while in the same formula, use data from AP Exams from a class that graduated three to four years ago.

Fortunately, as principal of East Greenwich High School I have amazingly talented students,  a dedicated faculty, and supportive parents and community, and through their efforts they allow me to focus on researching and advocating for programs and practices that will put our school in the best position to focus on teaching, learning and empowerment.

3) Are you observing other schools as models? And, in your opinion, can your school's success be replicated in other buildings?

We are constantly looking at what other schools are doing. Fortunately, in this area of connectedness we are more able than ever to hear and learn about innovative practices and reach out to educators and schools- locally, nationally and globally. That is the real reason that I encourage all educators, students and parents to harness the power of social media to enhance learning. In this day and age, we must take advantage of the experts and innovators who are just a click away.

As for the question of if EGHS successes can be replicated in other buildings, I believe that it can be as long as three criteria are met:

  1. Focus on Learning- I believe it was Audrey Watters who said, “In the end all learning is personal.” Even though she was discussing educational technology and learning, this pertains to the most important aspect of what schools need to focus on- learning. When schools are able to focus on learning, students’ passions are activated and educators ability to “personalize” occurs organically. Then, as a byproduct, the need for artificial and extrinsic rewards to compel learning is greatly reduced.
  2. Autonomy and Trust- Schools, educators and students must be given the ability and permission to create their own solutions to the unique issues and pressures that they face. When that happens, what people and groups resolve to do is usually a spot-on solution to their needs. Solutions created in this kind of environment also have the benefit of increased buy-in from stakeholders since they not only understand the relevance and origins of the problem and solution, but the moral imperative to act on them as well.
  3. Culture of “never done”-  I believe that the best schools constantly evolve. They are bastions to those who are fully committed to the pursuit of lifelong learning. They know that no matter how “successful” a school or person has been in the past, these past success will not dictate our, or our students’, success in the future. As a consequence we are constantly looking ahead to how can we best serve our students learning now and in the future. We might not always get it right, or create the perfect program, however there is tremendous value in giving efforts to the never ending search to improve and better serve our students.

4) Finally, what do you have planned for the 2015-2016 school year?

  • Guiding our professional work this year- As previously mentioned, we have just revised East Greenwich High School’s mission statement and our school wide learning expectations. We will be using this year to look at how our existing and future curriculum provides opportunities for students to be instructed and assessed with purposeful alignment to our new expectations.
  • We are very excited to once again offer students, teachers and community an opportunity to combine efforts to empower students, as we run #Choose2Matter 11/23 and 11/24. (Italics taken from Tim Chace’s blog post)
    • On those two days, EGHS will close down normal operations and we will provide our students with opportunities to work autonomously with expert mentors and decision makers to initiate organizations and projects centered on empowering them to make positive changes to their sphere of influence locally, nationally worldwide. Choose2Matter will allow our school community to continue to provide real world context to the learning that our students do in classrooms in an engaging and personally meaningful way that taps deeply into our student's passions and creativity.
    • In order to move beyond theoretical constructs, we bring in leaders, experts and decision makers from the community, the state and the country to act as sounding boards, facilitators, mentors and partners as our student’s and educator’s projects move from the realm of thought to action.  
    • Students will have opportunities to present their ideas to worldwide audiences, and will be recognized by international and business leaders, civic and industry partners.
    • In planning this experience for a November date, we hope to use the remainder of the school year to find more opportunities for our students to learn autonomously, to build and develop projects and organizations and products of personal significance.  
  • To support this work we are also pleased to announce that on Sunday 11/22 at 6 PM in the EGHS Auditorium, we will be hosting a screening of “Most Likely to Succeed” and a keynote address by Angela Maiers.  All donations from the screening and keynote will go towards funding student generated initiatives and organizations that occur as a result of Choose2Matter.
  • Moving forward from Choose2Matter this year, we will then be working as a faculty to design more systems, schedules and opportunities to make our student's learning more autonomous, more personal, learning that reinforces that their studies are important, and where they can apply what they are learning in complex and personally meaningful ways.

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