The REAL Challenge Begins Now!

IgotuWhat happens when 100 adults and 500 teenagers “lower the waterline” and let others really know them?  What is the affect of bullies telling their victims they are sorry in front of a large crowd of their peers?  How do students react when they find out that many of their school peers have experienced some horrible emotional situations?  What is it like for students when their teachers, school administrators, school board members, and other community members share true stories about their lives and shed a tear or two?  What is the affect of six hours of laughing, dancing, listening, crying, hugging, and caring for people in ways you have never done before?  CULTURE CHANGE!  The building of empathy and understanding. The realization that we are all so much more alike than different.  The awareness of what we say, do with and to others has a major effect that can be both life affirming or devastating.  BUT, it will only happen if we care enough to carry through with it….and it all begins with YOU!

I have said before, many times, that our students don’t care what we know until they know we care.  We have tried very hard to build school community and trust here the past several years in an effort to improve school performance.  I think we may have really turned a corner this past week.  We shut down the bell system, slowed down the prescribed learning and perhaps learned the most important lesson of all; We all matter!  I hope what we have seen the past several days is a new normal.  That we can all continue to have each others’ back and be real with one another.  I know that initially this past week’s activities have made an impact.  You can see it and feel it in the hallways and classrooms.  Our new challenge is to keep this new “attitude” alive!  I know it is up to me and I am the change!  I hope you will join me and commit the same pledge.

The Road Forward

photo (10)Sometimes I get an idea in my head that will not go away.  Not all of these ideas are good ones but they make me feel like Richard Dreyfuss’ character in the Close Encounters of the Third Kind, (most of you will have to Google it), where he had to keep trying to shape things into Devil’s Tower. The following idea is one that continues to take shape in my mind and I am not sure where it is going (and like the linked clip, folks are probably looking at me kind of funny).  Using some funds from our vending machines, I bought a college pennant for every member of our staff.  The pennant represents either where the staff member went to school themselves or where their children attended college.  People are usually proud of their alma mater and are proud to talk about it.  I bought pennants with the idea that they would be talking points for teachers and students alike as the discuss education, both in the future tense and in the past tense.  A few weeks after the pennants showed up I got the idea about each faculty member telling their story in a short video.  This idea crystallized during a meeting I attended about community mentoring in schools.  We were discussing how hard it was to get people to come in during the school day and I mentioned the video idea to the group.  How adults could share their stories via video with the local students and they could connect using social media.  The idea morphed as I talked about it.  It came to me as I was speaking, that since the goal was to get students to contemplate their future, why not have students also make videos about their plans for the future and the action steps they need to do to get there.  The adult videos will be grouped into a genre called the “Road Followed” and the students’ work will be grouped together in a collection called “The Road Forward”.  Not sure if I know where this is going yet?  Or if I even am sure I want to pursue it?  But, in order to get others to think about the possibilities, I made a sample video about my “Road Followed”  The challenge was to try to make it informative yet short.  It may seem self serving, (and maybe it is) but I want to know if my idea has any merit….so, here is the video.  Any thoughts, ideas, or criticisms would be appreciated in the comments section!  If the video does not work, follow this link:

What Matters

I sit here on a Saturday morning in the middle of September collecting my thoughts about a school year that already seems to be moving too swiftly for my liking.  Tonight we are already culminating our week-long celebration of Homecoming with our annual dance.  It has been a great week! The student council has done a phenomenal job whipping up the spirit of our student body and staff.  I heard more than several times this week that our students have not demonstrated this kind of spirit in many years!  Class games and the Homecoming game yesterday proved that statement was a fact!  Both students and staff participated and enjoyed class games and the turn out of fans to see our football team finish victorious in their homecoming game last night was inspirational!  It is hard to put into words the feeling one has when the students and school community are “in the moment” and you can see the emotion and joy these kind of events create for our kids.  After all, is that not what matters?  That all the effort and hard work has a pay off that benefits the kids in our charge.  As long as we can look in the mirror and say I did my best today to make our school the best place it can be for our students, we have done what matters!  I feel the same way when I walk through the halls of our school and witness students and staff working together to create new understandings and develop new skills.  There is a lot of hard work being done by both the staff and student body in endeavoring to meet our mission.  The challenges we are providing for our students is paying off.  We had more students pass AP exams this past school year than we ever have before.  More than 65% of student who took Advanced Placement exams passed them!  Fifteen percent more than the national average!  Students, teachers, and parents worked very hard to make sure those students met the challenges to be prepared.  These are the thing that matter!  Achieving milestones such as these are not easy.  It takes a lot of hard work.  Many times what we ask of our students is not intended to be easy.  Easy work generally means little to no pay off.  We must remember that the entire school, students, staff, administration, and the wider community must be willing to sacrifice and face discomforts in order to grow.  When we look in that mirror and ask if we challenged ourselves today the answer should be a resounding yes.  I cannot say enough about how our community has stepped up to the plate to support us.  By passing referendums to fund the building of a new school, they have made their commitment educate generations of students for the community.  We have to commit ourselves to live up to their expectations!  If we continue to do what matters, we will not let them down!

Has School Reform Pushed Done a “Dirty Job” on Vocational Preparation?

“I believe we need a national PR campaign for skilled labor.” “A big one.” The nation needs younger workers to replace the many tradespeople over 55 who are retiring because “closing the skills gap doesn’t just benefit future tradesmen and the companies desperate to hire them. It benefits people like me, and anyone else who shares my addiction to paved roads, reliable bridges, heating, air conditioning, and indoor plumbing.–Mike Rowe”

During the past two months a group of folks that represent interests from local businesses to education to talk about how we can fill a large pool of open jobs in our community. It seems unfathomable in a country where the unemployment rate is above 8% that so many job opportunities remain unfilled! Our local industries will be looking to fill as many as 200 positions this coming spring and are very worried they might not find enough reliable labor to fill them. Could part of the problem be that we have bought into the belief that all high school students have to be college ready and have over dosed many of our students on “academic” pursuits? When school accountability is discussed, you never hear about measuring the effectiveness of vocational studies. Although it is not the sole mission of a high school to prepare students for post high school vocations, it is our mission to maximize the opportunities our students are exposed to during their studies here. Not exposing them to the trades and other vocational opportunities is certainly not taking into account the over all needs of the taxpayers who fund our schools. Paris Cooperative High School is undertaking several efforts to expose our students to ALL of their possible opportunities with the implementation of our Academy system this spring. We will also be sponsoring a job fair this April 24th in Eveland Gym. We want to be a partner with families and the local community to create multiple opportunities for our students.

A Cheerful Anecdote


Staff, The other day I was asked to present at one of the local service clubs about our proposed academy program for next year. When I was finished, I asked if there were any questions or comments. A parent stood (I was thinking oh no….here we go) and said, “Mr. Meister, I just want to say (and she paused for effect) that I am so pleased with how your teachers are so open and willing to help us!” “I have received more phone calls this year from your staff than I ever have and they have either been complimentary toward our (student) or very helpful.” “At open house, everyone was so friendly and all the teachers took the time to have a personal conversation with us.” “Staff was out in the hallways, smiling and very helpful while we tried to find our way around.” “We really appreciate what your staff has done to keep us informed and make us feel welcome.” “We also love the lessons and grades online.”

Needless to say, I was very proud to have this said in front of a large audience of community leaders and several of our Board members! We can win over students and their parents one conversation at a time. THANK YOU! and keep up the EXCELLENT work! Communication is so important!


Building a New PCHS

The current Paris High School was completed in 1909 with students and teachers occupying the new building in February of that year.  The building has served the Paris community well for over a 100 years.  Last spring, the Boards of Education in Paris asked their constituents for permission to sell $12,000,000 in bonds to finance a new high school.  Those funds, combined with a little over $24,000,000 in school construction funds from the Illinois Capital Development Board acquired by a grant written by Paris Community Unit School District No. 4, will be used to build a new school on 65 acres donated by the City of Paris.

We are currently in a holding pattern with this project waiting on the funding from the state to be released.  Detailed design will not begin until that money is release as the two Boards of Education have promised their constituents they would not sell bonds and raise taxes until the states portion of the cost is guaranteed.  Although we cannot begin the detailed planning, we can begin to think about the new building and the learning spaces it will contain.  There are so many decisions to made about the new learning environments.  A new building will help shape the experiences of our students for many years to come and no decision can be made in haste.  The past two weeks we have been viewing learning spaces the exist in our area.  Several videos have been made to detail what has been seen. Four of them are posted below: (all pictures and video taken with iPad II edited with iMovie)

Thank you to the officials of these schools for taking their valuable time to show us their facilities!

What Race are We Willing to Run?

Federal policy mandates as well as ed reform “pop culture” are quickly changing the educational landscape. What is the ultimate goal for the programs being pushed by these agendas? I have a few thoughts…..We let the Trojan horse in with NCLB. It was designed to erode confidence in our public education system. It has worked to that end wonderfully. It has also tricked our institutions in to the trap of chasing AYP by spending more time teaching to a broad but very shallow set of standards. We schedule the real learning for when the test has been taken. It is no wonder that people have lost confidence in public Ed. Today’s reform movement is just a different angle on the same principles, and the Obama Administration’s NCLB waivers and Race to The Top are just a magnification of past failed policy.  Its proponents aim to criticize schools and make them the scapegoat for all the societal problems the politicians can’t fix to get re-elected. They espouse expensive solutions so that there is lots of taxpayer money available for special interests to make a profit from the policy. What can we do about it? We must demonstrate our passion to the public. We must allow our students to pursue their passion and in turn make our school shine. Schools need to embrace the new world of learning that is available via changes in communication and adjust pedagogy to accommodate it. School leaders must energize their school communities to be involved in their school so that ownership of the local school builds confidence and pride in the jobs that are being done well. We as educators must fight the negativism at every chance and take the fight to those whose agenda is political or profit based. Most of us are products of the public education system. It helped make us what we are. We owe it this debt to fight to make it better and stronger and to continue the great American tradition of a public education system.


Photo Courtesy of the Burwash Calligrapher’s photostream on Flickr




Parents at School Night–Monday, September 26, 2011

One of my guiding themes for this school year is to try to involve as many parents in our school as possible.  We talk about involving parents, but do our actions really look welcoming to those on the outside?  I think both parents and teachers can be somewhat intimidated by each other and the lack of communication is a detriment to the learning environment.  When parents are involved, students are more likely to be successful.   In order to bring more parents into the school, we are going to have a series of Parents at School Nights this year.  Our first occasion will be on Monday, September 26, at 7:00pm in the Fenton English Library.  The topic: Using the Internet to Keep Up With Your Student’s Academic Progress.  We have been allowing parental access into our student information system for five years now, but I believe we can use this avenue of communication to open more dialogue on the learning activities that occur here on a daily basis.  The session will be short and informative.  I want parents to know that using the parent portal is more than just looking at student grades.  It gives you the information you need to ask questions and inquire about the daily happenings in your student’s school day.  If you have the time, come join us.  If you do not, keep checking back here and on our Facebook page for our next scheduled Parents at School Night.

They are Watching Us!

Photo Courtesy of Carol VanHook's photostream on Flickr

They have seen the best of us.  How we react on instinct to help our neighbors. That we are willing to give our last bit of energy, our last hour, or as demonstrated in tragedies we are memorializing this 9/11, willing to give our last breath to help one another.  The human spirit is capable of such amazing strength, courage, and selflessness.  Our children watch, they remember, and they imitate us.

They have also seen the worst of us.  They see how we turn our back on our neighbor because helping is inconvenient.  They see how we horde what we own, envy what we do not have and attack those who are different.  The human animal is capable of such indifference, uncaring, and outright cruelty.  Our children watch, they remember, and they immitate us.

Stop.  Look around you.  What message are you sending?  Are we doing what it takes to be that role model that can transcend the basic human needs and therfore able to personify what is best about the human spirit?

As I look in the mirror this Patriot Day, I am sure that I need to resolve to be better.  Whether I like it or not, as an educator I am in a position of influence and I must make sure I model what is best for my children, my family, and my school community.  I know that it is easy to be the critic.  To find fault and shine a light on what will not work is the easiest job in the world for it takes no true talent.  What takes talent and intelligence is to find ways to get things done, to bring people together, find common ground, procure resources, and build what did not exist before.  To me, this is the American Spirit.  The one I want my children and the students of my community to exemplify.  Let us resolve to build, not tear down; to find solutions, not find fault; to identify common ground and work toward a common goal.  We owe this to our children, to ourselves, and to the Americans who built this great nation.

Our children watch, they remember and they immitate us.