Vail Daily column: Good to great schools
August 21, 2015
School starts this week for kids across our community, but the teachers, administrators and support staffs of Eagle County Schools have already been on the job getting ready — many of them for weeks.
At one of our community schools, Gypsum Elementary, the staff took an unusual tack on the work of returning to school. While there was plenty to do around scheduling, coordinating and planning for teaching — the staff at Gypsum took to the streets to ask their community a simple question — "What makes a good school?"
In recognition to all of our staff, I'm sharing my column space this week with the staff from Gypsum Elementary, as they tell what they learned from this conversation with our community.
The staff at Gypsum Elementary writes:
Interestingly, no one mentioned test scores or any special school labels or programs.
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What makes a good school?
As a way of strengthening and building up our connection with the community, the staff at GES went beyond our school campus to find answers to this important question; a question that started on our first day back with our principal, Mitch Forsberg.
Mr. Forsberg prompted the staff with this question to hone the focus for the 2015-16 school year. In his words, "You can't move from good to great if you haven't yet defined what good means."
Teachers formed teams and visited the local neighborhoods to find answers to this all-important question. Community members, parents and children were all on the list to ask. Our stops included places like the post office, community playgrounds, the recreation center, Town Council offices and the high school in search of understandings and perspectives to the question, "What makes a good school?"
Within an hour, we connected with nearly 100 members of the community.
So, what makes a good school? With this many people responding, you might imagine a lot of different answers. However, we mostly found the same themes from the people with whom we talked.
The staff at Gypsum Elementary heard a lot about the importance of teachers, and that a good school has:
• Teachers who have high expectations and challenge students, but are also caring and fun.
• Teachers who motivate, but also support students and help them dream big dreams.
• Teachers who deeply respect and love children and their families.
We also heard some specific things about the school culture. Our community told us a good school was one which:
• Treats and respects all kids as family.
• Teaches kids a love of learning.
• Genuinely involves families in their child's education.
• Makes communications with families a two-way street: School to parents and (equally) parents to school.
Interestingly, no one mentioned test scores or any special school labels or programs. While student results are certainly important and we're proud and supportive of all the options available to families in our community, the people we talked with didn't mention these areas.
Instead, their definition of a good school had more to do with the qualities of their teachers and a culture of respect and learning in the school.
For those we talked with, the relational aspects of the school trumped all: caring, challenging, nurturing, fun teachers and the interdependence of school and community — working together through mutual involvement and communication.
So what makes a good school? Who owns that definition and opinion?
As we learned, teachers matter. Relationships matter. And, our community matters.
As the children arrive through the Gypsum Elementary School doors and into our classrooms this week, we embrace the community's ideals and weave them into our daily work. We are grateful for the opportunity to serve our community's children and to be a part of the social fabric that makes up this wonderful place we call home.
We invite you to stop by anytime and share this journey with us, to exemplify the fact that GES is not just a good school, but a great one.
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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