The beginning of any school year marks the chance to start over… students who wish to earn good grades and actually learn something; teachers who desire to be masters at their craft; administrators who aspire to be more innovative, transformative and supportive; parents who seek to be on top of their kids and their children’s teachers… the first day in September means that all parties have an opportunity to get it right for the school year. The new school year also marks the absence of certain individuals who have left and the presence of certain individuals who are new arrivals… some of those departures and arrivals are for the better and others, not so much. The dawning of a new school year also rolls over previous problems and rolls in new problems.
This is my fourth year at my school – I feel like the grizzled veteran of the halls. Each year, at the beginning, we are hit with a trial or two that test our morale and ability to be effective: 3 years ago, our school created a new STEM program with a shotgun wedding curriculum in a building that didn’t fit all of the students; 2 years ago, still with no building built, the STEM students had to move miles from our school in a building slated to be demolished… and the school initiated an extended day (after school) program that was a disaster—the entire school had to stay until 5:30pm; last year, the new building for the STEM students wasn’t ready on the first day of school and when it was ready, all parties struggled to reconcile how such a beautiful building could be so non-conducive for a school. This year… it may be the beginning of a new year, yet there are still new school year problems.
Moment of the Week
So we’ve got two problems… one is a ‘pain in the butt’ problem and the other is a ‘we really need to fix this’ sort of problem. The ‘pain in the butt’ problem has to do with our school schedule. When I was in school many years ago, we picked our classes long before the school year ended, and we got our schedules with our classes, room numbers and teachers and we received it by the beginning of summer vacation in the mail. That usually doesn’t happen at my school and this year, it is worse than in years before. Our school leader decided to switch our scheduling, grading and attendance system from what we had to what she had in her prior job… whether or not our leader knows how to use it is another discussion, but the application of the new system is a disaster. Administrators have changed the schedules of the entire student body at least 4 times. They’ve had grade level meetings with students to discuss discipline; discipline isn’t even an issue at the school because kids don’t know if they are coming or going. Teachers have no idea what is going on and neither do some key ‘leaders.’ We have students and teachers traveling from building to building across the street – anyone can be in either building at any given time and the schedule isn’t clear as to where; needless to say there is a lot of confusion and frustration because of our lack of succinct scheduling.
That leads to our other problem – the ‘we really need to fix this’ problem. Years ago when the STEM program was created, our founder desired that it be a new school – a magnet within a charter. Whether or not she and the other leaders at the time realized it, she and the leadership positioned the school as the school for the ‘smart kids.’ For the first few years, the school grafted into it the students with the highest state test scores (NJASK) and so a culture was created within the district of the haves and the have nots. A nasty heir of elitism and subjugation has developed amongst teachers, students, parents and even some administrators and it has made our school lesser than. Our school leader desired to change that by merging the schools, which I applaud. She mandated that teachers and students to move from building to building for their classes… which sounds good. But the problem is that city government won’t allow our students to directly cross the street due to the traffic concerns. Students have to walk to the main intersection, which is a block and a half away from the schools – in groups of 40 to 60 at a time – cross the street, and walk to the other school and on days it rains or there is construction, they catch the bus and go around a few blocks to deliver kids across the street. Parents are pissed and so our students, especially the seniors who wish they could remain in their respective buildings as they did last year. There was a grade level meeting where seniors who are a part of the regular high school program were sitting in the lecture hall as the STEM high school seniors were walking in and they proceeded to boo them as they walked in. Although there is one prom scheduled, one senior trip scheduled and one graduation scheduled, it’s going to take, in the words of Floyd Joy Mayweather Jr., hard work and dedication, to make it there at the end of the year.
Lesson of the Week
We need to clean ourselves up… And whether you are a teacher, administrator or both, make sure that your ‘ish’ is together and take time to help with making sure your colleagues do the same. At stake isn’t the school year – the school year will come and go. At stake is your credibility – indeed your credibility or the lack thereof isn’t going to go anywhere.