It is with this preface that I give you some random thoughts from last week. First, it was a great first week. I have had nine school openings as Superintendent and this year was by far the smoothest. One would think that each school year should be easier the more years someone has under their belt, but the field of education is different than others in that respect. Each year presents itself with different challenges that need to be navigated by everyone involved and this year was no different. It takes a team to make things successful here, and I would like to thank the students, parents, faculty, and staff for coming together and helping us to get our school year off on the right foot.
I am particularly excited for this year because along with maintaining the outstanding academic achievement we have grown to expect, we are also going to focus in a couple of areas that have needed some additional attention. First, is in the area of Special Education. Last year we made huge strides in identifying what services we offer our children with disabilities and how those services are delivered. We also began a strong partnership with parents who formed a Special Education Parent Teacher Student Association (SEPTSA) which will open a line of communication with all regarding students with disabilities.
This year I plan on visiting and observing all of our out of District placements, as well as schools who have begun initiatives to provide “fully” inclusive special education programs. The goal by the end of the year will be to understand if we are providing the least restrictive environment for our children and if not what programming changes would need to be made to accomplish the task. My guess is that what I am hearing and what I will see will be different, so I will hold judgment of other programs until I have a chance to see everything with my own two eyes.
Second, we will be taking a closer look at how to help students who are at-risk of not completing school. At-risk, by my definition, is a child who has had significant changes in their grades, attendance, or behavior. These changes usually mean that something either at home, school, or work is causing them stress. This stress can turn into grade, attendance, and behavior issues that when left unchecked can cause a child to give up. This is unacceptable, and you would be surprised how many children at one point or another are “at-risk”; even in our community.
The fix to this challenge is to provide more counseling support K-12, and also to provide ways for children to earn course credit outside of the traditional classroom setting. The question to ask yourself is to imagine how you would feel if you finished your ninth grade year knowing that you do not have enough credits to graduate High School even if you packed your schedule the next three years and passed everything. You would feel stress. Some keep that stress inside. Others fight, or do drugs, or stop attending school, or become class clowns and take time away from those who are not in the same predicament.
Through the Federal Stimulus Funding we are adding counseling support at the K-5, 6-8, and 9-12 levels and are also launching a credit accrual program called NovaNet so that students can try to get caught up while being counseled back to the right path to success.
To me and especially in our community where we are afforded the resources that are necessary, completing school is an expectation that should be available to all. My challenge is to renew a sense of wonder and dreaming. Ask your children, no matter how old, what they want to do when they grow up. Get them thinking beyond graduating. Get them thinking at as young an age as possible about how they will some day impact all of us by displaying their talents and skills to the world.
Have a great week and I promise a shorter post soon!