Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Student success: Two ends of one road

There are two significant ends of a continuum that as a Superintendent I have yet to understand how to embrace.

On one end of the continuum are the good things we do as a district. I want to promote these good things. I want to give our community confidence that we are helping students and that we are making a difference in their lives.

The most recent example comes to us courtesy of the just released Michigan Merit Exam scores. Novi High School has among the highest scores in the state. We should be proud of that fact. Many of our students demonstrate a high level of achievement and the majority of our students are in the advanced and proficient categories.

When results like these are released, districts send out press releases concentrating on the positives. Local newspapers promote these achievement like here and here and here and here. The state even gets into the act with press releases promoting the upward trends.

All this is done with the best of intent. We want the public to have confidence that schools are doing the job.

But there is an opposite end of that continuum. While the majority of the students in Novi do exceptionally well, the truth is there are students that we have yet to figure out how to help. We don't like to talk about it in public because it is uncomfortable, but it is true.

So, often, we hide behind composite scores and we talk about "as a group" or "on the whole" our students are doing well. That way we - the state and districts - can report that things are going well without having to embrace or publicly discuss the things that are not going well.

But for certain students in our districts and in our schools things are not going well.

So how can I - the Superintendent - embrace the two ends of this continuum?

First, celebrate success.

Honor the work that our teachers do and celebrate the success of our students.

Second, don't hide the fact that we have some students who struggle.

When we try to hide those numbers we unintentionally devalue the students in those positions. We need to communicate clearly that we honor those students as much as we honor those that achieve at a high level. Additionally, we need to communicate that we will find ways to support and help those students succeed.

Third, recognize that some of the success that we have in school districts can be traced not only to our staff but also to our parents and community. Many of our students are successful because our parents provide the environment and support they need to be successful. The scores that are reported reflect, in some way, the efforts of our parents and community. As a district we have to be humble and grateful for the support that we receive.

Finally, as a district we need to focus on each student. Every student - whether he or she is the student who excels or the student who struggles - deserves to be in a challenging instructional environment. We cannot let those students who are successful just coast because they already know the curriculum just as we cannot let the students who struggle sink because they take extra time and effort.

Every student is important and deserves to be challenged.

So, what is a Superintendent to do? How can I celebrate the good we do while at the same time clearly express that the students who struggle are important and that we have plans to help them succeed?  

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