Happy New Year! I hope that the holiday break provided all of our students and staff with a much-needed opportunity to rest and recharge. I know that I enjoyed my time spent with family and friends and hope you did the same. And although I typically don’t tend to make resolutions, I do appreciate the opportunity for reflection that a new year provides, and I like to use this time to look ahead toward my goals for the coming year.
One goal is to continue to engage in critical conversations with our students. It’s clear to me and should be clear to any educational leader, that we have to connect directly with the students we serve.
While I meet regularly with student groups including our Student Council Association, I wanted to extend that type of connection to a broader cross-section of our students. So, to wrap up 2019, I embarked on my first Superintendent’s Student Voices Tour. That’s a fancy title for a simple idea. I wanted to hear directly from our students about their educational experiences. I wanted to know what we are doing right and where we might have fallen short in our efforts. I wanted to give them an opportunity to ask me anything. Trust me, they had a lot of thought-provoking questions.
My visits this time took me to all seven of our high schools where I met with students from all grade-levels. The groups I visited included student leaders, athletes, and our students who, for whatever reason, are not fully engaged in school. I also heard the voices of our EL students, our students with disabilities, and both our college-bound and career-ready students.
If one thing became clear from the collective voices of these groups, it’s that our students are thoughtful and articulate. They are ready to meet the expectations we, as educators, set for them. They provided powerful feedback and some validation that we are on the right track in many of our efforts, including expanding one-to-one technology and providing more online learning opportunities. Students also shared their concerns about mental health resources and offered suggestions for ways to get more students involved in creating a positive school culture.
And while each school and community is unique, some common threads emerged. In every school, students shared stories about their favorite teachers – the teacher that made the extra effort to support them during a difficult time in their lives, or the teacher whose energy alone made a first-block math class the best of the day.
I look forward to sharing more of the ideas generated from the Student Voices Tour over the next few weeks and months. While we can act quickly on some of their concerns, others will take more research, funding and time. I’m extremely grateful to the students who took time out of their schedules to meet with me, and for the opportunity to work with these amazing students to enact positive change in the coming year.