“This is a most hopeful time for America’s public schools,” said keynoter Jamie Vollmer, who addressed principals during the Opening Session of NAESP’s National Leaders Conference. This is true, Vollmer maintains, despite the daunting challenge of educating all students to high levels in a manner no generation has ever been asked to do before.
The moral imperative to educate all students to their full potential has become a matter of practical concern as well, Vollmer said. According to him, assuring the future prosperity and well-being of our communities requires that schools succeed in their mission to meet the needs of all students. This is a ripe opportunity for schools to leverage their communities to support education and systemic changes needed to support student success.
Vollmer suggests that increased public support for public schools and awareness of the work they do is critical for increasing student success. He outlined what he calls the Four Pre-requisites for Student Success, a hierarchical list of priorities for school systems:
1. Community Understanding
2. Community Trust
3. Community Support
4. Community Permission (for change)
Vollmer recommends a course of action designed to promote public support for our schools, and urged principals to work with school staff (including custodians, bus drivers, and kitchen staff) to adopt the “Four S” approach:
Stop bad-mouthing schools. When people hear school employees tell negative stories about their schools, it fuels community disregard and lack of confidence in schools.
Shift your attention from the negative to the positive. Vollmer asserts that we need to focus our attention on the positive aspects of our work and our schools. Noting that “You get more of what you pay attention to,” this shift improves school climate and in turn, influences the greater community as well.
Share something positive. School staff should find opportunities to share positive anecdotes and stories with people whenever they can. These stories need not be dramatic to be powerful. Putting positive stories into the community in this fashion helps to build positive regard for schools.
Sustain the efforts. Vollmer encourages school staff to take a few minutes weekly to assess their efforts. Make a commitment to increase the number of positive contacts and stories about schools each week.
This is a simple process that schools can begin immediately to build public support for education and schools. According to Vollmer, “Now is the time.”
—Ayesha Farag-Davis, Principal, Bruce M. Whittier Middle School, Poland, Maine