Sunday, June 28, 2009

It takes a community to have a good school

First, my apologies. I took a small holiday and hoped that I could continue my blogging on the road as I went--but time and the use of an old fashion modem dictated other activities. My oh my is a modem slow when you've been using cable. Probably should have tried to find a Wifi spot every now and then.

But back to teachers and teaching. I've meet some wonderful teachers in my travels--many of them happy to take a summer breather from classroom duties. I met one teacher still going back to her classroom.....she told me that she was getting things ready for "next year" organizing the textbooks, designing and planning new bulletin boards and sorting and throwing out stuff. Not on the payroll for the summer but still she was working away to get her room ready for the next "batch of kids." I love teachers--they are a work of art.

The sad news is that many beginning teachers in the state are getting pink slips indicating they have no job next fall. Cut backs in budgets impose such happenings. I worry about them. Idealistic and excited to have done their first year with success, now they have to find another position. This will be tough.

But during the past few weeks, U.S. News and World Reports listed the top 100 high schools in the United States. I'm fascinated by this. How do you go about deciding which criteria is the most valuable. What makes a good high school? Many of the chosen schools were private--I'm not surprised. And a few I recognize from previous year's listings.

What I don't find as a surprise is that five of the top high schools in the State of Washington are from one school district. Bellevue. No other high schools in the state made the top 100 list. You wonder why. What is one school district doing to achieve this honor? What do their teachers do that other district teachers are not doing?

I have watched Bellevue grow from a small community to a major urban city in this state. It has always had the attitude that "we're good and going to get better." The citizens of the area have always wanted the best and schools were included in that arena. I can attest that I have been in many of their schools and everyone is well run. Their teachers are all excellent teachers who want to teach.

There was a time some years back when I was the president of a neighboring education association--a branch of the Washington Education Association. The presidents of the different educational association in the county would get together once a month to exchange ideas, have legislators speak and figure out ways to improve things for teachers. I became good friends with the president of the Bellevue Education Association and Boyd and I are still good friends after all these years. I saw him recently at the age of 85 and he is still passionate about teaching. I remember at one meeting where the majority of the local association presidents were wonder how to get pay raises for our districts and Boyd was asking "how can we improve our schools?" It was the way Bellevue was. They wanted to be the best. And have the best for their kids.

Over the years parents have continued to vote extra school bonds so that new programs could be started. Music and art were always a mainstay of the curriculum on the grounds that children who had music and art did better in other subjects. It appears they were correct in their thinking. Money does buy quality and that is what Bellevue schools have--quality. I'm tired of listening to politicians who want to reform our public schools but do not want to add taxes to pay for the reformatting of the schools. Bellevue doesn't need reformatting--it just continues to improve bit by bit, child by child. The goal is always for the better.

I would also like to add that Bellevue has also kept its school buildings in good shape. The environment in which children learn is important--it adds to the montage of learning. It is the framework in which learning takes place. It appears that the better the physical plant the better the overall learning that can be accomplished. Bellevue has done well with its schools and it shows. Well designed and well landscaped, they are all inviting to the learning community.

An interesting aside. I started my teaching career back in the fifties and in Rye, New York. Rye high school also made the list again this year of being one of the best 100 hundred high school lis. t Rye is another community that takes education seriously and they fund their school districts so that their schools are among the best in the nation. Before I could get into the school of education at my university I had to do a two week intro observation in a school during the fall opening. I applied at Rye High School and they were generous in letting me observe. This was in the early 1950s and this high school already had a reputation of being one of the best.

I remember going to the principals office to introduce myself and the principal made me feel quite welcomed. She also asked if I minded doing a task while I was there observing the classroom. It appears they had a young girl who could not attend classes but was bed ridden at home. However, the district had set up a microphone and speakers in her bedroom and had wired the high school with plug ins. I was to carry a small speaker around and plug Ann in in the classes she would be taking. Although I did not meet Ann in person we quickly became good friends. I would pick up the speaker in the office, first plugging her in and checking to see if she was "on." She always was. For a person who was handicapped she had a very cheerful manner and I enjoyed talking to her. Then off to a classroom where I would plug in the speaker in the front of the room and then check to see if she could hear me. If I heard her reply we knew the system was working both ways. Then I would go to back of the room to observe.

Most of the teachers if I remember correctly would welcome Ann and she would say hi to the class as well. Then teaching and learning would commence. If it was a discussion that was to take place in class the high school kids would raise their hand to enter the discussion. Every so often there would be an "ahem" and the kids would say, let Ann say something. She was always right on--very smart. As I mentioned I did this for two weeks and was truly sorry to have to leave Ann to others when I left.

This was back in the early fifties and this high school was already making adjustments to its student population. Rye high school will always be one of the best.

The question really ought to be...."why don't other communities in this state have high schools that rank in the top 100 list. I'm not sure why. You have to have a upper class majority that is willing to vote extra taxes beyond what the state allocates to the schools. Some districts just can't do that sort of thing. I know several school districts that are comprised of mostly farms and the farmers are barely holding on to their life styles as it is. Raising taxes in that sort of district just can't be done. The state is hard pressed in its budget. I really don't know the answer however, the problem exists.

But in any event, Bellevue deserves our applause. They know how to run top flight high schools for their children. Interesting.

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