Giving the Greatest Gifts

This is one of the toughest times of the year for our high school staff. They are trying hard to finish up the final unit of the semester, preparing final exams as well as trying to catch up on the mountains grading. There is so much to do it can be downright overwhelming! Throw on top of all that the fact that all of the students are anticipating being away from school for two weeks and the effect of the Christmas rush and I believe that the faculty can feel as though it’s burden is unbearable. I, like all of the other staff, get immersed in my job and what I consider important and sometimes miss opportunities to help where help is needed. As Director of Paris High School I am very focused on our new building, data and PSAE results, school safety issues, staff evaluation, our interest based academy agenda, staff development, budget development and problem solving what seems like a million day to day questions from students, staff and parents. I spend a lot of my time thinking about how to integrate technology into instruction, how to motivate students and how involve the community in improving our program. I am always looking toward the future and trying to learn new things.

…..But it never fails, a situation will occur or a conversation will happen that causes me to take a step back and consider what is really important. Several years ago, around Christmas time, a student came into the office and asked for withdrawal papers and informed me she was going to drop and get a job. As always, whether it is me or the assistant principal, we try to take the time to discuss this decision with the student and try to reason them into considering all options rather than dropping out. At first the student did not want to discuss her decision with me. Her mind was made up. She was of the age that she did not have to have parental consent and she seemed determined to carry out a plan that did not include finishing high school. I knew this student fairly well because I had been her elementary principal and had developed a rapport with her to where we would talk to one another when we saw each other and tease each other about our favorite sports teams. On this day, however, she was not in any mood to talk to me and refused to tell me the reasoning that had led her to this decision. I knew this student had developed a good professional relationship with a teacher on staff, and as a last ditch effort I called this teacher in to talk with the student. What unfolded, as I witnessed it, was a remarkable conversation between a teacher who cared for her students and a student who both liked a respected her teacher. I could tell that their relationship had become one in which the teacher had a vested interest in the student and that the student felt cared for in her presence. I will not divulge the content of their conversation, but suffice it to say, the student remained enrolled, graduated, and went on to a two year technical school. Last I heard, she was married raising a child and gainfully employed in a good job!

Sometimes you will never know the affect you have had in the way that you deal with your students. Sometimes, just giving your time and caring is the greatest gift you can give. Even though this time of year can be very tough for us, it can be even tougher for our students for various reasons. Our staff does a great job of doing what is important….and that is keeping students our number one priority!

Photo courtesy of HaniAlYousif’s photostream of Flickr

Questions that rattle around in my head……

As I sat down to put into words some thoughts on education, only questions came to mind today. These are the same questions I am always searching for an anwer to and am wondering if any one else has some ideas? Pick one out…..give it your best shot and give your thoughts in a comment (try it, you might like it). There are no right or wrong answers and the only risk you take is becoming involved in the solution!

  1. What do we need to consider to make our school the best we can for our students?
  2. Can we realize the need to change without feeling as though what we do now is not valued?
  3. Will we acknowledge that today’s learners are different and the tools they use to manipulate their world have completely changed in the last ten years?
  4. Why are so many students choosing to leave high school before they finish (both here and everywhere else)?
  5. What does the perfect school look like?
  6. How can we best leverage resources to fund an adequate education for everyone?
  7. What does the most effective pedagogy (teaching) look like?
  8. How can we harness the community’s interest in education in a positive way, create solutions and make changes without making excuses and pointing fingers?

Too soon to say goodbye!

The other day I was talking to a student who had decided to withdraw from school. The student told me that he did not understand why he had to take certain subjects and that sitting in class after class, day after day, learning things he would never utilize was a waste of his time. He told me he was going to get a GED (I made him promise, although follow- through on promises like that from other students are rarely kept…in the short term anyway) and do the same thing his father does for a living. I always feel a sense of failure when a student walks away from school and does not finish. I know students have always dropped out, my own father never finished high school, but today it is critical for young men and women to get the proper instruction and master a core set of skills to become employable and remain employable in today’s global economy. We have too many students today simply walking out the school doors without a diploma. According to a study completed at Johns Hopkins University, one in ten American high schools is considered a drop out factory. Paris High School is not one of them, but still we lose too many. Why do we lose so many high school students nation wide? There are multiple reasons why a student decides to leave school. This article does a good job of detailing some causes. In summary:

Students drop out for complex reasons. On the surface, students seem to drop out because of poor grades or the need to work. In reality, students often leave because they haven’t connected at home, school or in the community to someone who can set higher standards and help them to achieve them.

What can we do? There is no easy answer, but I do know that we must look at this problem in depth and make solving our local drop out situation a high priority. For every student that drops out there a least two more that consider leaving but remain in school with very low levels of motivation. Nashville Tennessee has had some success through a wide coalition called Alignment Nashville. Although Paris is much smaller than Nashville and the local resources may be tighter, but we have no excuse for not trying. Our community has shown that when we come together to solve a problem, we can have success! The CAMA organization has shown that it is possible for the community to “throw in” from all corners of the county to solve a problem with deep “roots” We must realize that this is more than a school problem. It is a community problem and to solve it the solutions must come from both inside and outside the school walls.