The overly large school district for which I work continues to grow, although at a slower pace than in the past decade. As a result, we will be opening a brand new overly-large secondary (grades 7-12) school in the fall. It’s been interesting watching the process, from picking the name to the always amusing fight over the attendence boundaries, one of the most contentous decisions our school board gets to make.
Also interesting, however, is the effect all this is having on another secondary school right around the corner from here. The new building is designed to relieve over crowding in the old school and reduce the distance students need to travel. As a result, they will be losing around 1500 students (making them only big, not overly-large) and a corresponding number of teachers and staff, most NOT going to the new school.*
As you might imagine, this has been very a traumatic spring for the school and the community, as everyone tries to cope with all the changes, plus the accompanying rumors. Many of the staff and students see the whole thing as a negative – but it doesn’t have to be. A major upheaval like this offers some great opportunities to change and improve the school, if the leadership wants to see it that way.
If I was running the school (and you’ll never see the title Principal in front of my name :-), I’d start by getting the staff together and telling them that we will be opening as a new school in the fall. Any and all ideas for improving teaching and learning would be considered. Most of the staff probably feel as if they have little control over the situation, so step one should be to give them some.
Although the district rules would restrict some changes, there are many small alterations that could make some big differences to improve teaching and learning. For example, what would happen if classroom assignments were rearranged so that English and social studies teachers taught next to each other? Mix in the foreign language classrooms. Teach some math classes in an art room. What a great way to foster communications between teachers who now never speak to each other.
Despite this major chance to make some big changes, I doubt teaching and learning at the old school will change much next fall. Everything will look exactly the same, other than having fewer kids coming through the door. But it’s not the administrator’s fault. Our district doesn’t hire people for leadership positions based on their skills in school reform. High school administrators are largely building managers, not educators.
Oh, but they have distributed some new bumper stickers. Under the name of the school it says "The Best Is Yet To Come". Maybe, but more likely they will miss this tremendous opportunity to make that happen.
* As you might expect there’s no reduction in administration.