The children of P.E.I. will soon be returning to school and hoping to create a better and brighter future for themselves.
Their parents want their kids to get an education that enables them to compete for the best jobs in an ever expanding global economy. Unfortunately, they are returning to the same building, the same teachers, the same bureaucracy, the same teaching methods and the same last place ranking.
Why has nothing changed? It is one of two reasons; either our politicians and educators do not have the 1) the ability or 2) the desire to improve. But why should they. They will get paid the same even though P.E.I. ranks dead last in Canada in scholastic achievement.
Believe me folks, things can be different. I have a friend who lives in New York, Karen Jacobsen. You might know her as the voice on your GPS, or the voice who tells you what floor you are at in an elevator. She has a son who attends a charter school called “Success Academy” (www.successacademies.org) and is thrilled at the system they have created.
Initially, this school was a very controversial proposition, mostly because of government and union opposition. Yet, they are redefining what’s possible in public education. Interestingly enough, the movement gained momentum because of a government initiative to close many of the small town schools.
Their dual mission is to:
A) Build exceptional, world-class public schools that prove all children from all backgrounds can succeed in college and life; and B) Serve as a catalyst and national model for education reform and help change the public policies that prevent so many children from having access to opportunity.
During the first six weeks of school they teach the teachers how to dress, how to sit at their desk, how to walk in the hallway, how to present and how to communicate with parents.
The mission of this school is to have children fall in love with learning and reading — and to teach them to be good citizens. Students are taught to be kind, respectful and do their best at whatever they chose to pursue. The school motto is “joyful rigor.”
Parents have the cell phone number of their children`s teachers and principal. They are actually encouraged to be in constant communication. They maintain a 24-hour return phone call policy.
There is a board of directors and fundraising is at the corporate level. Parents are not involved. In fact fundraising of any kind is not allowed at the school itself.
The seed money to open a new school is provided by foundations and from the work of the board of directors. Each school becomes self sufficient within a few years. The school can operate from the per student funding from the city and state by that time.
Teachers are non-union and are completely engaged and enthusiastic. There is teacher training every week! School hours are longer; 7:45 a.m. until 4 p.m.. Each Wednesday is a half day and the afternoon is for mandatory ‘teacher’ training.
Initially, parents were concerned about the long hours but it has not been an issue. Everyone is provided breakfast, lunch and healthy snacks. They learn chess, computers and have science every day.
There is a school uniform and stringent expectations around punctuality. Behavior is constantly monitored. Parents do learn to appreciate the accountability expected of students — and themselves.
For some this is difficult adjustment, so this model may not be for them. Some parents do not like being held accountable but parents who truly care about their child’s future love it.
Since the focus is on learning, this school has created a model to give both the teachers and students the best conditions for learning. To read more about this model, pick up the book by Joe and Carol Reich “Getting to Bartlett Street” — a must read for principals, teachers and parents who care. Or, watch the film “The Lottery”.
My question is for education leaders this week: “Do you have the courage, compassion, and craving to improve the state of our education system in P.E.I. ?”
Joseph Sherren, CSP, CSPGlobal, HoF, Canada’s Leadership Effectiveness Expert. He is on the Executive Development Faculty of York University`s Schulich School of Business and is part of the EMBA faculty at American Liberty University.