Sunday, November 27, 2011

Things That Don't Add Up, But in a Good Way

"Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts." (Sign hanging in Einstein's office at Princeton)

I like my data, no question. Anytime a new set comes out on BC K-12 Reporting I can happily spend a couple hours cruising around looking at what everybody did, then making a chart or updating one I’ve already made. Learning, results, and achievement should be at the forefront for any principal, especially at a lower SES school, and I am sure that having an idea where you are is crucial to improving the way you support learning in your building. The teachers are quick to razz me about my data (students too), as you can imagine, but the charts sure do go over a lot better when they trend upwards.

That being said, there are a lot of things about our school that I value that cannot be measured, and in the interest of balance, I would like to share this list.

School Sports – I love the energy and comradery that extra-curricular activities like volleyball bring to a school. This was a big part of my own school experience, and I believe the lessons that can be taught regarding teamwork, fair play, and commitment make these programs worth the effort. Like others, I do lament the overall downturn in sports participation over the last twenty years.

Lunchtime Floor Hockey – Two days a week our teachers face off against students in the school gym in an ongoing rivalry. This is a great work out (especially for the teachers) and certainly builds school culture and teacher-student relationships that carry over into our classrooms.

The Play’s the Thing – Our drama program is pretty modest, but it sure fills a niche for the kind of student that doesn’t like sports. It has a similar effect on culture and teaches many of the same lessons, too.

Guitar for Everybody – We were very fortunate to receive grant money a few years ago to purchase contemporary music equipment. All of our middle school students now learn the basics in their exploratory and I am still hopeful that this will eventually evolve into a School of Rock type of performance.

Locker Murals – After our renovation, the district painter came around and did the main halls and classrooms, which was great, but the lockers then looked dreadful in comparison. Our art teacher has taken this on as a project, and his senior class has completed a bank in each of the last three semesters. They look fantastic and I would highly recommend doing this in your school. (Tip: Get permission from the union first.)

Leadership Class – Hands down, adding this course as an option was the best change to the Graduation Program that I can imagine. What may start as a "soft" four credits for some, quickly turns into a great excuse to give service and develop the kind of skills that will matter in this century. Our students help with assemblies, set up for major events, organize dances and fun activities for the middle school students, and help support countless activities around the community. I cannot imagine what school would be like without all of the great work that they do, not to mention the positive public relations effect this program has had for teenagers in general.

The Environmental Program – After securing another grant, we have rebuilt our school greenhouse, built garden boxes for community use, and finished a caged composting center. Every middle school student now participates in a six-week exploratory class that not only teaches environmental awareness, but also has the students actually collect, weigh, and sort the school’s garbage daily. Recycling and composting has diverted much of our refuse away from the landfill, and the custodian now uses only 10 black garbage bags a day, down from 45, and the collected garbage usually fills less than 2 full bags, down from 10 bags. In addition to giving out cloth shopping bags and phasing out plastic cutlery, turning off lights and closing unused areas has dropped school power consumption from 1800 kw/h of power per day to less than 1400 kw/h per day!

That last part looks like more data. Well, I tried.

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