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Our Focus - by Dr. Pam Vogel, Superintendent

We have had a good beginning to our school year. Our administrative team is cohesive and forward thinking; our teachers and support staff understand that we seek excellence in our schools and that our boards and the administration will support them as they strive for this.

An important part of our story is sharing the news about what it is that our schools provide. Communication is everything- telling others about what exists, the wide variety of programs and opportunities, the caring environment, and, based on student needs, more that we anticipate needs to take place.

Over the past 15-20 years, we have seen significant differences in our student population and have gained more information about “what works” in education. There is a plethora of documentation that supports the characteristics that distinguish a high quality school.

Stakeholders often look primarily at test scores. However, test scores alone don’t tell us a tremendous amount about what students are learning. Research has demonstrated that school factors explain only about 20% of the results and about one-third of what student and family background characteristics explain.

Even if scores did fully reflect what students were learning in school, they’d still fail to address the range of what schools actually do to cultivate students. Standardized tests communicate nothing about school climate, student engagement, the development of citizenship skills, student social and emotional health, or critical thinking.1

We currently do communicate test score results; it is a requirement at state and federal levels and they do provide us some important information at the local level, but as we study student growth and performance, we are moving away from multiple-choice tests and going more towards curriculum-embedded projects and formative assessments designed and rated by educators.

Leaders in education need to continuously look at what it takes for students to succeed and help create schools to educate the students of today and tomorrow. Our focus is on personalized learning, knowing the needs and interests of each student, and cultivating this.

Children can be excited to go to school each day and are strongly attached to their current and former teachers. A child may read regularly and loves to do math. They may self-identify as a scientist, a mathematician, or an artist. They trust their classmates and respect their principal due to the care and oversight that exists. They are often excited about the additional activities built into the curriculum, such as physical education, music, drama, and Maker Space. But, none of these are currently measured by those purporting to gauge school quality through tests.

These characteristics make a school: 2

Students Want to be There:  Effective schools have a warm climate. Students feel welcome and know that the staff cares about them. Although there is pressure to perform, it comes in a way that promotes learning, with an expectation that students will excel and the support is provided to make it happen.

Highest Expectations For the School, Teachers and Students: Only the best is good enough. Quality is expected, and nothing less is acceptable. Passion for excellence is a driving force each and every day. A good school has an involved staff working together, pushing themselves and their students to be the best. Failure is not an option for the teacher or the students.

Dedicated Teachers: The best teachers work to improve their ability to teach. They read and explore the techniques used by others in a never-ending effort to better themselves and their skill. Effective teaching demands that the teacher be knowledgeable in the subject area. The teachers must have a detailed understanding of what is being taught.

Effective Discipline: Discipline should not be an issue. Students must respect others and failure to do so cannot be tolerated. Students must understand school and class rules and expectations, and adhere to them. When discipline is necessary, it is not vindictive, but just a consequence when a student does not do what is required.

There is a Variety of Instructional Techniques: No two classes or two students are identical. An effective school has teachers that understand this and differ instruction to best help students be the successful. Key concepts are presented in ways to enable visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners grasp it. Students are actively involved in learning with a variety of opportunities to grasp key concepts.

Individualized Instruction and Approaches to Students: Students’ abilities and needs are different. To effectively teach all students, the school staff must understand this. The teaching and interactions with students must reflect the needs of each, with the understanding of each as individual.

Leadership: The building principal must have the respect of students, parents, and staff with a vision, high expectations, and the ability to help others succeed. This person must be able understand people, and motivate them, creating a positive attitude throughout the building. Successful schools have a sense of trust built on the back of an honest and caring leader. And students perform better when the district school leaders collaborate and support and ensure high quality curriculum and instruction. The responsibilities of school board members focus on the outcomes of the school and support the leadership3.

Parental Participation: This partnership between the home and the school sends the message to students that the adults in their lives - both teachers and parents - believe in the importance of education and are willing to make time to support students' educational experiences and efforts.

We do not profess to have all of the pieces in place. We have not reached our highest levels, as we are continuously striving to go beyond the current state. What is taking place in our schools is designed to help students develop to their fullest. Much information is in this newsletter addresses the myriad of quality programs we offer. Take a close look to the programs we currently have and those we want to expand upon, to be certain we are addressing the learning and social-emotional needs of each and every child.

Let’s continue to work in partnership to offer high quality educational programs for the benefit of our students.

1 - Lynch, Matthew. "The Attributes of Successful Schools."  Education Futures:  Emerging Trends K-12.  Last Modified:  June 29, 2016.  http://www.theadvocate
2 - Schneider, Jack 2017. What Makes a Great School.  Harvard Graduate School of Education.  October 23, 2017.  https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/17/10/what-makes-great-school.
3 - Waters, Tim and Robert Marzano.  2006.  "School District Leadership that works:  The effect of Superintendent Leadership on Student Achievement."  Aurora, CO:  Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.