A few years ago, I did a series for The News that looked at elementary schools in the region that were doing the best job getting kids to do well on the state tests, taking into consideration the percentage of students in poverty.
I had the privilege of spending a few hours at each of the nine elementary and five middle schools I profiled for those series as the schools doing the best job helping their students achieve. I learned a whole lot about what makes a school good by spending time in those buildings -- observing teachers in their classrooms, watching principals in action, talking to kids -- in the suburbs, in urban settings, and in rural areas.
Years later, one thing remains ingrained in my memory: Almost without exception, the principals in those schools stationed themselves near the front door of the school every morning, greeting children and parents by name as they came into the building. One principal after another emphasized to me the importance of troubleshooting from the very first minutes of the day -- if you recognize a potential problem right away, you can prevent the explosion.
The principals in each of those schools knew just about all their students by name -- and they knew which girl's father just lost his job, and which boy's father just started chemo treatments, and which kid comes to school exhausted because he spends the evenings taking care of younger siblings while his mother works a second job.
Those principals spent most of their time out in the building, talking to people, trouble-shooting, and problem-solving. They did not spend much time sitting at a desk in the office.
That's just one observation that cropped up, time and time again, as I visited the schools that dealt effectively with the challenges facing their students. It comes to mind often when I hear the latest debate on school reform, or read the latest study on the elements of effective schools.
We're always hearing from national experts about what they think makes for a good school. But I don't think we get to hear enough from the real experts -- those of you who are in the schools every day.
So here's your chance.
What makes your school great?
If you're a teacher, a parent, a principal, an aide, a student -- anybody who's intimately involved in a school -- we want to hear from you.
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and share one factor, large or small, that contributes to the success of your school. Please remember to provide the name of the school, so we can give credit where it's due. We'll print some of the most interesting responses here at the School Zone blog next week.
- Mary Pasciak