Wednesday, September 12, 2012

One More

“What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance."
-Luke 15: 4 - 7
One of the criticisms against the success of Catholic education is that Catholic schools are inherently elitist. Catholic school students are more successful, the argument goes, because Catholic schools reject or weed out those students who have behavioral problems, academic weaknesses, or families with low incomes. It's easier to have higher test scores or fewer drop-outs or less behavioral problems when you only have the best, brightest and wealthiest students in your school.
While there may, in some cases, be some validity to this stance, I feel that it not only cuts against the original reason for Catholic schools in this country (to provide immigrant families a place of education that was affordable, rooted in their faith, and committed to maintaining their heritage) it also goes against the "univerisal" aspect of the word "Catholic". Catholic schools should be for all - regardless of race, religion, economic status, academic / artisitic / athletic ability or any other factor.
But, my point in writing this blog isn't to focus on Catholic schools' moral obligation to keep their education financially within the means of all families or for Catholic schools to open their doors to more than just the upper echelon of society. It is to say that too often, and maybe in defense of those who say Catholic schools are only successful because they keep the "bad" kids out or kick them out if they happen to slip in, Catholic educators expect that their jobs should be easy. We get frustrated with the unruly class, or the whiny student, or the emotional parent and behave as if these disturbances are beneath our time and talent.
We wouldn't have jobs if kids - or people for that matter - were perfect. Similarly, as Catholic educators we should believe that forming students entails "disciplining" them. In other words, what we do should involve making students into disciples of Christ.
Imagine if Jesus had a stringent admission policy. He probably wouldn't have had 12 apostles...or any. If He is our Model and Inspiration, we should be more forgiving of our students and we should try harder with those who are in most need of our help.
As a principal, I would be irrate if a teacher came to me and said, "I'm going to stop teaching the other 24 students in my class for the next week because Student Withnoname is completely lost and I need to help him." But, it is equally frustrating, and unfortunately so much more common, to hear that a student is unteachable, unreachable or so troubling that we just don't know how the rest of the class will be able to make it through the year.
Most of the students in our classes don't really need us to be successful. They are the 99 and while we still need to challenge and cater to them (or fool ourselves into thinking that we actually are challenging them), it is equally important to go that extra step to help that lost sheep in need of some extra tender loving care.
As educators, our jobs our difficult. As Catholic educators, we carry the extra burden of dealing with that which is eternal - the souls of our students. Most days it seems like we've already traveled a journey of 99 miles. We've already completed 99 different tasks (all before lunch!). We cared for 99 of our sheep. We've tried 99 different ways to reach that student who is unreachable.
Don't stop. Go one more.
Go one more.
Go one more.
Go one more. Go one more. Go one more.
It's just one more step for you, but it could mean everything for the one that, because of your efforts, you are able to reach.
One more.
Go one more.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Curriculum Night 2012 - 13

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every sin and burden that clings to us and run with perseverance the race marked out before us, while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of our faith.”
-Hebrew 12: 1-2

Incarnation Catholic School is off and running so far this year! In two weeks, there is a momentum and energy across our campus that is palpable. It’s tangible. There is an excitement in classrooms. There is a spirit in our worship. There is a different pace and feel to this year as compared to the previous ones.

We are off and running.

I think there are many reasons for the difference:

-Outstanding teachers
-New organizational structures and programs
-High support and involvement from parents
-Great kids

Let us unpack each of those.

Outstanding teachers: Our teachers are committed to continuous improvement. They have worked hard on course timelines, unit plans, incorporating the Common Core State Standards, assessment philosophies and practices and codifying policies and procedures across the campus. I am honored to work with such a dedicated group of educators. I have been especially impressed this year with how they have collaborated with each other – just today I stopped into the computer lab to see a joint Spanish / Technology class that had students absolutely buzzing about both Spanish and technology. Teachers have been innovative in helping to tweak the many programmatic changes we’ve made this year, from coming up with more efficient ways to supervise students after school to proposing interdisciplinary approaches to delivering the curriculum, similar to the Spanish / Technology joint venture I just mentioned.

We’re able to run because we have outstanding teachers. 

New organizational structures and programs: We revamped our entire school day. Small tweaks in our starting and stopping times as well as the amount of time in between classes have yielded, in my opinion, some huge dividends.

We are able to gather every day as a school community for what we are calling “Morning Gathering”. This is a time for us to celebrate birthdays, offer announcements and promote our school’s mission through a “Thought for the Day”. These short sessions allow me as the school’s leader to convey important information to our school community while at the same time keeping us focused on the purpose for our school – Jesus Christ.

Students in younger grades now have increased academic time for not only their Specials – PE, Art, Music, Media, Technology and Spanish – moving from 30 to 45 minutes, but they also have what would equate to 12 Language Arts periods each week (up from 10 last year) and 6 Math periods (up from 5). This emphasis on these core subjects allows us to lay a solid educational foundation for students during these early years.

Students in Grades 5 – 8 now have three Spanish classes each week (up from one last year). In addition, they have two periods of Technology each week, with a third coming as an interdisciplinary class with LA, Science or Spanish (this increase in Technology is also up from one class last year). We have also introduced a Health class to our PE program for grades 6 – 8, affording our Physical Education Department the opportunity to couple physical activity with sport specific, kinesthetic, and biological knowledge.

We’ve done all of this without costing ICS families any additional costs and without sacrificing times such as recess or lunch.

We’re running because we have great teachers and we have a strong plan.

High support from parents: I have talked with students many times throughout the course of this short year about how at ICS they are, as St. Paul says, “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses”. Part of this cloud entails our outstanding teachers. The other part is composed of their outstanding parents. Parents are the primary educators of their children. We are so honored that parents have partnered with us to help them in the formation of their student(s). It is a responsibility that we take seriously – we understand that we are writing on the souls of children. There isn’t a more important job that any of us could be doing. We thank our parents for running with us at ICS.

We have great teachers, a strong plan, supportive parents, and we have outstanding kids.

ICS students continue to impress me with their love of learning and their love of God. They have a desire to be successful and they are good kids. They’re respectful, they’re hard working, they are committed to doing the right thing and helping others. The best parts of my day are when I get to interact with our students. It is my privilege to be their principal.

We are running. We have a great cloud of witnesses here at ICS. By reorganizing our structure and reimagining some of our programs we have rid ourselves of the burdens that clung to us in the past. We will do all that we can to stay focused on and committed to our wonderful mission of inspiring life-long learners, disciples of Christ and servants of all. We will do all that we can to stay focused on the reason for our school – Jesus Christ.

And this year, we will run with perseverance the race that is marked out before us.

We are off and running. Thank you for running with us.