By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Jamie Jauch, an Association of Placentia-Linda Educators member at Valencia High School.
After visiting schools for 15 years, I have enough visitor’s badges to wallpaper an entire floor of CTA’s headquarters in Burlingame. I have visited schools in the inner city and the suburbs, schools with enormous resources and ones on the verge of closing. I have been to schools in detention facilities and in areas so remote the school’s marquee had a message welcoming me in foot-tall letters.
Usually, within 20 minutes, I can pick up on a certain vibe within a school. I can tell the difference between schools where there’s joy in teaching and learning — because class sizes are reasonable, students are on task and their needs are being met — and schools where the teachers are overwhelmed and unsupported, with some students falling through the cracks.
As a parent of two children, now grown, I ask myself whether I would want them to attend that school if they were younger. I’ve answered yes to schools from diverse areas all across the state. Mostly, I consider whether students are engaged in critical thinking and real learning, rather than test prep and filling in the blanks — something that’s becoming all too common under current federal mandates. I consider whether the teachers bring the subject matter to life for the students. I consider whether those who work there seem happy and empowered, or nervous and oppressed.
I decided to ask other people the same question that I ask myself: What makes a good school?
An e-mail was sent out to association members asking them the question. Instead of e-mails trickling in, they poured in. Members were excited to give their opinions. They wanted to share their expertise with someone who’d listen.
CTA members are experts on good schools, because they see firsthand what works and what doesn’t. They see the advantage of using methods like collaborative teaching — where educators can share ways to be more creative and effective — and the importance of parental involvement. Nonetheless, today’s politicians insist that they know what’s best and make decisions about reform without the input of educators. This sad trend continues with President Obama’s latest blueprint for ESEA reauthorization, which is mistaken in the belief that when schools compete against one another, they improve. The stories in this feature show that when schools are divided into winners and losers, nobody really wins.
Perhaps so many members offered their opinions because the question struck a nerve. Public schools are under attack. They are underfunded and on the brink of getting new cuts so deep they may never recover. The things that make schools good are being threatened as never before. With so much at stake, there has never been a better time than now to treasure what is good about our schools.
In the following stories you’ll see some of your own school reflected in the outstanding schools showcased. And if you agree with this article about what makes a good school — or don’t agree — please feel free to send more e-mails. As we struggle with the issues of education reform, a good place to start the conversation is a simple question: What makes a good school?
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