Rural schools as community centers

A grassroots movement  in Canada is attempting to get the government to rethink the role of rural schools within their communities rather than to close schools and bus students to bigger schools.

An article in Nova Scotia’s Chronicle Herald today reports that a group called the Small Schools Delegation has asked the province to make schools the economic engines for their rural communities. The group says that in a rural landscape, education cannot be regarded as separate from health, economic development, or tourism.

They point out, for example, that doctors are not likely to want to settle in a community without a school at its center, nor are young adults likely to want to buy homes in a community without a local school.

Other posts on this blog about the relationship of schools and  local economic development are include one asking could schools grow a local economy  and another on communities as school revenue streams.

I’ve also written several posts about the importance of encouraging entrepreneurship as both an educational and an economic tool.

This School Grows Its Future Teachers

students in classroom

Teaching training programs are currently the focus of intense interest in the United States. Much of the discussion has focused on how to encourage “the brightest and best students” to go into teaching.

One of the most intriguing efforts to do something practical about the quality of prospective teachers is a high school program at North Middlesex Regional School District in Pepperell, MA, called the Future Educator’s Academy.

The two-course program allows students who think they might want to become teachers to find out what being a teacher really entails.

In Foundations in Education I, students research what the standards and frameworks are for the courses they would like to teach. The learn what hoops they would have to jump through to become a teacher, what work they’d do as a teacher, and what being a “good teacher” means. They follow that up with a short job shadowing experience.

Students who are still interested in teaching after the first course go to Foundations in Education II. They do an extended job shadowing while also studying topics like lesson planning, unit preparation, student assessment and classroom management.

In many teacher preparation programs, students would not get that kind of practical exposure until their junior year of college. By then, students might have too big a financial investment to feel they can change programs if they find out they hate teaching. And even students who are “born teachers” will have missed opportunities to see the hands-on applications of their academic study.

The Future Educator’s Academy strikes me as a practical—and highly replicable—for a public school to participate in shaping its future workforce and the future of education.

Photo credit: School by Minasi

Poor showing by local school districts

Annually since 1992 Business First, a Buffalo-based business publication, has examined raw data in the form of test scores compiled by the state Department of Education to determine the best performing schools in upstate New York. In the data released Oct. 27,  Pittsford Central School District in suburban Rochester earned the highest score among 431 upstate New York districts.

I was curious as to how schools in my predominately rural area performed. Only one district appeared in the top quarter of the list; most are in the bottom half.

According to the Business First list, these are the rankings for districts in Chenango, Delaware and Otsego counties:

Chenango County
84. Greene
248. Bainbridge-Guilford
249. Norwich 
333. Sherburne-Earlville
337. Georgetown-South Otselic
356. Unadilla Valley 
373. Oxford Academy
401. Afton

Otsego County
129. Oneonta
182. Milford
198. Worcester
182. Milford
198. Worcester
223. Gilbertsville-Mount Upton
261. Morris
279. Unatego
298. Laurens
299. Edmeston
318. Richfield Springs
319. Schenevus
346. Cherry Valley-Springfield

Delaware County
130. Delhi
240. Margaretville
252. Downsville
330. Stamford
362. Roxbury
377. Charlotte Valley
385. Hancock 
388. Sidney
409. Walton
(Franklin Central School District was not on the list.)

Superintendent interview panels meet

This afternoon was the meeting for panelists on teams to interview candidates for the superintendent’s job at Bainbridge-Guilford Central School District.

DCMO BOCES Superintendent William Tammaro began the session by telling us the BG board is interviewing six candidates this week, so we will not have information about the three finalists until next week.

Tammaro also said that he was instructed by the BG board to look for candidates that would come with the intent of staying five to 15 years. He said all six of the people the board is interviewing would come with the expectation of staying five or more years.

Tammaro gave us each packets of information that included a copy of the brochure used to recruit candidates for the job, which, as I reported earlier,  was not available from the school’s website or the BOCES website last week.

The advance memo about the meeting said we’d be given information on questioning techniques. What Tammaro provided was a standard list of questions that are illegal to ask during an interview, which can be downloaded from dozens of places on the web. A couple of people on the panel with me might have been helped by some general suggestions about formulating interview questions.

He said each panel would have “about an hour” to interview candidates. He suggested we leave 10 minutes for a candidate to ask questions. He said he recommended we have 20 questions to fill the rest of the time. All candidates are to be asked the same initial questions, though follow-up questions can vary.

After each candidate interview, each of the five interview panels (teachers, support staff, students, administrative committee, and community members) is to draft an immediate report to the board of education. Although Tammaro did not say so, the report form says the reaction is to  be unanimous. If it is not, a minority report can be attached to the majority report.

Each panel is to present its report in the form of a two-item questionnaire:

  1. What strengths do you believe this candidate has with regard to the Superintendency in Bainbridge-Guilford?
  2. To what extent do you see this candidate “fitting in” to the Superintendent’s position in Bainbridge-Guilford?

The panel of community members is scheduled to meet with candidates from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., and the report must be delivered to the board by 6 p.m. That 30-minute time frame does not permit a particularly thoughtful response, even if the questions were designed to elicit one.

Asking only about a candidate’s strengths strikes me as potentially dangerous.  A candidate may have several strengths that are canceled by serious weaknesses.

Moreover, I’m not sure that “fitting in” is what I want in a school leader. I don’t want someone who is going to make a religion of doing things differently. On the other hand, I don’t want a superintendent to fit in so well she or he disappears in the crowd.

Followers fit in.

People with low expectations fit in.

Superficial thinkers fit in.

Educators who don’t keep on learning fit in.

Administrators who don’t rock the boat fit in.

And folks who bring more than two dozen people to a two-hour meeting to do a handful of tasks that could have been accomplished online in a few minutes fit in best of all.