Friday, January 30, 2015

Five Things Every High School Needs

As a principal of a middle school in a K-8 district, I receive many questions about the transition of high school from our 8th grade parents. What will high school be like? Should we go to private school instead of our local high school? Should we be worried about the next four years? What can I do to give my son/daughter the best shot of a future?

As a huge believer in the public school system, I consistently tell parents to give the local high school a shot. Be part of the change. Be a part of the improvement. If only more of our top students chose to go to the local high school, many of the often ill-conceived notions of the local high school would dissipate. We have a graduating class of over 300 students at our school. If the 20-40 8th grade students applying to private school instead chose to attend their local public high school, there would now exist a tipping point of high achievement and increased opportunity in advanced placement classes.

But these students end up applying for and attending private schools instead.

So how can we change this trend? What does our local high school need to do to convince these students to choose their local neighborhood high school?

Here's how to fix the problem in five easy steps:

1) Hire more guidance counselors

I realize I am biased as a husband of a middle school counselor, but a good school counselor is the best thing a school can have. In high school, many of the guidance counselors are college and career counselors. While I completely value the purpose and mission of these individuals, many of our high school students need Licensed Clinical Social Workers and Mental Health Professionals to help guide them through their high school years. So many students don't find a connection in high school; having additional guidance counselors who have an emphasis in supporting the emotional needs of our students would benefit all students. More caring adults on a high school campus is a good thing.

2) Highlight your successes

So many good things are happening at the local high school... and yet, we hear very little. It is the job of every educator at the school site to promote their success. Tweet it. Blog about it. Find a local news reporter to share it. Every high school is going to deal with a bit of bad press. There will be good kids making bad decisions who end up in the local papers and your local gossip columns. To counteract any bad press, you need to highlight the amazing things taking place every single day on your school campus. Send our updates. Celebrate during lunch time activities. So much goodness happens on the local high school campus that we never hear or know about. Share. Tweet. Let your community know.

3) More opportunities for your top students

There is a perception that the high level course offerings available at our local private schools do not exist at the nearby public high school. There aren't high level AP courses. There isn't the opportunity to advance their learning in math and science. Even the extracurricular activities like athletics and band come into question. There is a saying that if you build it, they will come. I would encourage our local high school to increase the options for all students, especially their GATE students. Create a culture of opportunity for your students. Build it.

4) Increase STEAM opportunities

And building upon having more opportunities for your top students, consider an increase in STEAM options for all students. Our local high school does have a Project Lead The Way pathway. Do they offer Minecraft? Do they offer Design Thinking? How can they increase their course offerings in all things STEAM? Yes, there may be credentialing issues with certain classes, but that shouldn't stop these pathways. Create the classes that will encourage the future private school students to reconsider their decision. Convince them through STEAM opportunities to choose different.

5)  Hire a full time College and Career Counselor

My years as an administrator at the high school level, one of the best parts of our school campus was a dedicated space for our college and career center, supported by a full time College and Career Counselor. If you want to create a sense of a college going campus, you need to have an individual on your campus who spends their days promoting this option in a full time capacity. Provide the students an opportunity to venture into the College and Career Center during their prep periods. Create a college-going practice on your campus. One of the main reasons our 8th grade students venture to private schools is to ensure the best option for college. Having a College and Career Counselor will give all students a better shot at finding the best college for them.

I'm a huge fan of our local public high school. There is much opportunity to inspire and encourage our students to join the positive improvements they're making. I would love for all of our graduating 8th graders to be a part of the change and help guide our local high school to the heights it belongs. I'm hopeful that the local high school will continue to build upon their recent successes and continue on the right path to provide a top notch education for all students. Let's be a part of the solution and make it happen. Go Longhorns.

Friday, January 9, 2015

My One Word for 2015

Across the Twitterverse, there is a challenge to choose one word that will inspire you in our classroom or school in 2015...

To be fair, I've struggled with my selection of my word for 2015. I've thought about the idea of choosing the word "sprint" because of how fast it feels we're moving as a middle school. Conversely, I've thought about choosing the word "slow" as we often need to shift down during our days and appreciate the blessings of being able to work with kids (and people who work with the kids!). Ultimately, I've chosen the word "perfect".

But not "perfect" as a noun... instead, "perfect" as a verb, specifically: "make something complete, free from faults or defects, or as close to such a condition as possible."

At Union Middle School, I feel we are in the "sweet spot" of education. We have possibly the most innovative CTO in the entire county in Mr. Andrew Schwab... We have an incredibly supportive district office and parent community... And perhaps most importantly, we have one of the best school staffs in the state of California. 

Union Middle School already offers so many incredible opportunities for our students. We have Project Lead The Way, Design Thinking, Minecraft, and more. There is a flourishing music program with an incredibly supportive band boosters behind it. 97% of our kids have reported that they have not been bullied due to an academic or social disability. And perhaps most telling, over half of our staff has been hired at Union Middle within the last five years, including yours truly.

So my one word  for the upcoming year is the verb form of "perfect".

My goal is that we begin to improve and perfect everything we're already doing. 

I don't want to add more electives to our staff. I don't think we need to switch how we experience our days with our students. We already have so many opportunities for our students, staff, and parent community to become involved at our school. What we can best improve upon is perfecting everything we're already doing... or as close to such a condition as possible.

How do we do this?

1) Time - Provide as much time as possible for our staff. Time to prepare for the Next Generation Science Standards. Time for our Tech 2 staff members to assist their peers in improving their classroom experience. Time for our leadership team to meet with students, with parents, and with teachers to hear feedback and augment what we're already best providing.

2) Experience - The best gift in the teaching profession is experience and it's only something that we can receive through walking through our daily lives in and out of the classroom, learning from our own mistakes. We are on our third year of Project Lead The Way, our second year of Champions, and our first year of Design Thinking and Minecraft. The gift of experience provides confidence and a reassurance that we're providing the best curriculum and school experience possible for our students.

3) Reflection - I'm not going to assume that everything we're doing is the best way to accomplish our goals. As you've possibly heard before, the phrase "because we've always done it this way" has become our enemy mantra. We need to evaluate our administrative choices and determine how we can best serve our students and best propel (or perfect) our school educators to achieve greatness. We will reflect on our current practices to best improve future performance. 

So the one word I'm going to focus on is perfect as in how to take the amazing work we're already doing to the next level and how to support our staff therein. Here's to an exciting 2015.

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