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What makes your school great?

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.

Puzzle The following year, I did a series looking at middle schools in the same way.

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 mpasciak@buffnews.com, 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

E-mail me at mpasciak@buffnews.com or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter.

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

@denisejewellgee | djgee@buffnews.com


Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes | tlankes@buffnews.com


Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone | stan@buffnews.com


Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB | dswilliams@buffnews.com

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