Recently, I was driving around with my daughter and we came across a high school. She asked me if that school was a “bad” school.
I asked her what she meant by “bad” school. She identified “bad schools” as ones that are rife with violence, where kids cannot learn, students do not graduate or attend school consistently, and teachers do not teach.
I could not answer her question about that particular high school right away, but our discourse reminded me of some very familiar discussions I have had, and continue to have, with parents, friends, and colleagues about schools, in particular my school.
If you follow the editorial pages, you know I am the principal of Thornton Fractional North High School in Calumet City. I have had the fortunate pleasure of serving as principal of TF North for 10 years. Therefore, this discussion on “good and bad” schools is one I take to heart.
Unfortunately, we often characterize good or bad schools by our perception based on socioeconomic class, race or test scores. Just because a school is in a working class or urban community does not make it a good or bad school. Just because minorities are the majority at a school does not lessen its ability to be a good school.
In addition, just because a school does not have outstanding state test scores does not mean its students do not have the ability to be successful citizens. Yet, at times, it seems we use these lenses to characterize the worth or quality of these types of schools.
Unfortunately, I live in the constant state of misperception. As principal of what some have called a “bad school,” I constantly remind people of who we are and what we do.
I start this discussion by simply asking why they think we are a bad school. More times than not, they start off by saying, “I hear.” That is when I say to them not to simply believe in what you hear, someone’s perception, but try to find out what is really going on in our school.
I say to them, “Do you know we have a 90 percent graduation rate, a 92 percent attendance rate and over 80 percent college acceptance rate? Did you know that from the 2013 graduating class, TF North graduates will attend University of Illinois, Northwestern, Notre Dame and more than 30 different colleges and universities?”
When asked about our test scores, I say to them we do not simply judge students by their test scores. We develop and treat students based on their potential.
We establish a sense of hope and belief in them that they can be whatever they want with the right amount of effort and work. We give them examples of past graduates, like Jose Olivarez, class of 2006, who graduated from Harvard; Arianna Bradley, class of 2009, who graduated from Cornell; and Iesha Coleman, class of 2006, who scored a 14 on her ACT, graduated from Eastern Illinois, and was recently accepted into medical school.
I say we are a good school that expects students to strive toward their potential.
Finally, I tell them, we have teachers who care about their students’ lives outside of school and in the classrooms. Students should feel comfortable with their school and recognize their school as a safe place to be. The school facilities should be well-kept and amiable to all (students, parents, and teachers).
Good schools are ones that give students good opportunities and resources that allow them to reach their full potential. Good schools are more than just test scores.
Education is so important and influenced by so many different people with different interests and different strengths and weaknesses. We should focus our energy on ensuring that every school is a good school that should provide far more than a test score.
Finally, I say those who ask about our school or any other schools’ worth, “Don’t be so quick to judge a school solely based on a perception or test scores. There are many good schools in our communities that are misrepresented as bad schools because of misperceptions about their worth and support of student learning.”