Tuesday, June 19, 2007

an open letter to Nancy Faaren

Dear Nancy,

You are about to join a team of expert educators, from teachers to counselors to para-educators to custodians to coaches, all Cougars, all proud of their school's tradition of uniqueness and excellence in the classroom, on the field, and in the wider world.

So, no pressure.

Since you've asked the faculty to fill out a little questionnaire, and since this is the twenty-first century, I've decided to share my thoughts not just with you, but with my blogging audience: fellow teachers, savvy district officials, union chiefs, media tycoons, and random passers-by. Hope you don't mind.

What do you see as three of Capital's strengths?
It's tough to narrow the list to only three. I start with our staff, a professional, committed, and outspoken group. WASL scores and graduation rates don't tell the whole story of our success, but they give an indication that, for the most part, we're doing a bang-up job. We're not perfect--we'll have our moments of sharp disagreement, our lapses of bickering, our times of tension--but as a whole, and to the core, we are passionate about what we do, and we stand up for what we believe.

Our students are also meritorious. They churn out papers and projects, produce plays, win awards and collect trophies, but, more important, they make their mark on our school, on our town, on our world. I see this firsthand as a debate coach: real growth, real passion, from students who dare me to be better than I am.

Structurally we're solid. We've established a rigorous and diverse selection of courses, extracurricular activities, clubs, sports, volunteer groups, and organizations. We have a fantastic facility, and, with fresh levy money, new technology on the way--laptops, smart boards, projectors, and more.

I'm going to cheat and mention parents, our fourth strength. Our Parent Organization and booster clubs raise thousands of dollars to promote and expand activities. Also, each year they reward teachers with a celebratory luncheon including some darn good shellfish. Much like the students they belong to, they're gregarious and candid. They're on our side, and we're grateful.

What are three areas that you think we should work on to improve student learning?
First, we have to protect our electives, vocational opportunities, and rigorous and unique academic programs. The push for standardization is one of the greatest forces influencing education today, threatening the unique culture we've created here at CHS. For years we have offered practical and relevant courses in all academic and vocational areas. Though we recognize that college and the working world place specific demands on graduates, we also have larger aims in mind: democracy, civility, respect, tolerance. These don't arise from a narrow, testing-driven, prepackaged curriculum.

Second, we need better communication between teachers, counselors, and administrators when it comes to catching students at risk of dropping out. The Navigation 101 initiative is designed to address this, but it will take time and training, and will never work without a strong commitment to coordinate action on all fronts.

Third... well, I don't know. I feel pretty good about my department, and I won't pretend to speak for those outside it. If I'm gushing about CHS, so be it. It's worth the gushing.

Are there other things you would like me to know?
As a heads-up, we'll need administrative support as we open up our grading to parental monitoring via Skyward. Though I'm personally ready for the shift, having spent a couple years getting used to the online program and its foibles, others aren't quite there--and I'm not sure anyone's truly prepared for a barrage of emails and phone calls when parents can keep up-to-the-minute track of their students' performance. Long term, I think it will help foster communication and parental involvement, but for the short term it could be a bumpy ride.

Speaking of communication, a while back our outgoing principal began a weekly email called "Monday News." It's a good idea, and I suggest you continue it, or something like it.

The building security code is--no, kidding. Ask Mr. Walsh for that one.

All this is to say: Welcome to Capital High School! I look forward to meeting you this Thursday.


Jim Anderson
CHS English / Debate

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