School Effectiveness

Here are my undergraduate students’ unedited exam descriptions of how their schools compared to “effective schools” on the criteria of (a) strong leadership, (b) a clear school mission, (c) a safe and orderly environment, (d) monitoring student progress, and (e) high expectations.  All of them left high school just a few years ago.

Male Student — I believe that yes my school was an effective school. The school had great leadership in the office and in the classrooms. They constantly pushed you to do your best in any subject and would be more than willing to help you out too. Which brings me to the fact that my school did expect a lot out of their students, they even had a school motto to help push you which I guess you could use as a mission statement too. But on top of this you could go to school and feel safe during the day! The environment was great and the teachers really tried to help you.

My school was full of leaders; it wasn’t just the principle that would take charge. Yes there was a system of leadership or what you could call a chain of command but the teachers where not afraid to speak up either. For example, my music director would make sure her classes were taken care of. If the principle decided something that was not best for the music classes she would, in a polite manner go up to him and tell him. We also had very few teachers that would not take control of their classrooms. If you misbehaved they would not tolerate it. The principal rarely made decisions that would affect parts of the school in a negative way, he tried to always find the right answer or the best answer.

Which brings me to the mission statement; however this statement really wasn’t the official mission statement it worked just the same. “Shoot for the stars and you will land somewhere in them”. We all knew by this statement what the schools administrations goal was and at the same time we were not bored reading it on the school handbook, where some schools have those long mission statements that no one reads but the parents because they were boring the administration made one that we would pay attention to as students. So even we knew what they expected of us.

The great thing about this statement it meant that we knew coming into this high school that the teachers would expect a lot out of us. The staff would push us to succeed through all odds even when we felt we would fail. I remember my calculus teacher in particular, he was not easily impressed with what you got right but he was determined to make sure everyone understood what he was talking about. In class at the beginning of that year I was a senior and did not really pay attention in the class because it was in the morning first thing. So when December rolled around and we were half way through the class (it being a yearlong class) he started to push me to start paying attention and to do all my work. I believe if there had been any other teacher that was teaching that class I would not have do as well because he had the expectation for every student in that room to pass and we did. Because he kept such a close eye on my progress and others progress he knew where we stood and what our weakness were. He would find those weaknesses and help us even if it meant meeting on a Saturday, which he did a few times.

The final part I want to talk about is how safe the school was or at least felt. Even though the school was not tight on rules people knew what to and not to do. Everyone was like family so we watched out for one another. There was rarely any fights for the simple fact that everyone in the school would get punished if there was. We were given the task of making sure fights did not break out or if they did we were asked to try and break them up. So where as other schools may have students crowd around the fight to watch we as a student body would crowd around to grab each person and get them away from each other. You would think that this would put other students in danger of getting hurt but when the students that were fighting got grabbed they would know what was going on and they would not hit anyone else, however they may try to get away so they could continue to fight with the other student.

So yes I thought of my school as being effective. We learned a lot academically but not only that but also we learned some life lessons. We were a close knit school because of the teachers and administrations views and policies. We all tried to strive for the stars and those who missed still landed in the sky!

Female Student — I feel like the only schools that I went to with really strong leadership were the ones I attended while living in Illinois. I don’t know what it was, but I felt like I was in better hands with them. Especially my elementary school principal, he is the only principal that I ever recall having a conversation with besides in the case of me doing something wrong. He was always in and out of classroom and I remember he was very responsive to parents and teachers problems. On the contrary, my High School administrators seemed to be focused on the bad. They only wanted to be involved if there was an issue and it was never in a positive way.

All of my schools have had a clear mission, but most of my schools weren’t extremely effective in carrying them out. When my high school started implementing the smaller learning communities, I remember they had all these great goals but not really any effective way of reaching them. It seemed like there was a lot of disconnect between the different administrators of the different schools and I personally think this was one of the main reason it wasn’t as effective as they thought it was going to be.

I never felt threatened or unsafe at any of the schools I went to, even my high school which had the occasional fights and bomb threats. They did regular searches and sometimes they would put metal detectors at the front of the school. They also had security guards roaming the halls. I think all of this contributed to the feeling of security for the school.

Every single one of my schools has monitored student progress closely, but it wasn’t really discussed or evaluated, at least what I can remember. If we didn’t do well on the test, the response was just that we needed to do better on the test. No one tried to figure out why it was that some students weren’t succeeding, it was just blamed on the teacher or that the student wasn’t smart.

Some of my teachers had very high expectations and other didn’t. Although I don’t specifically remember experiencing this personally, I remember more than a couple instances where unconscious prejudice came into play. I also remember that although it annoyed me at the time, I responded more and did better in classes of teachers who said things like “Mary (pseudonym), I know you can do better than this.”

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