Wednesday, June 21, 2017

EDITORIAL >> Make schools world-class

(An area teacher we know sent us this summertime analysis.)

“World-class” schools are what the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District is striving for. With their first year in the history books, how did they do?

Well, first one must define “world-class.”

Look up that term on Google and 500 million results pop up, immediately telling you that there is no valid, agreed-upon definition.

It seems, according to Merriam-Webster, that the term first came into use in the early 1950s and was used mostly in the sports arena.

So let’s look at what David Kirk, captain of a “world-class” rugby team thinks. Why Kirk? He is one of the experts, one of the world-class people interviewed for the book “What Makes a World-Class School and How We Can Get There.”

Kirk says, “If world-class teams can be recognized from the outside by a lack of mistakes, an ease of performance that leads to high margins of victory and a joy in going about their business, what is it about them internally that enables them to perform so well?”

It’s easy to spot a top-notch sports team, an outstanding business and even a whiz-bang school district. But the details that make them great are often harder to spot, understand and duplicate.

Kirk believes there are four pillars to a world-class organization: Vision, ability, divine discontent and discipline.

Vision, as Kirk sees it, is “something to believe in, something to achieve, something to become.” He said, “Visions must be rational, but they must also be emotional. They are often distant. They must excite and engage and frighten. They must be big.”

Take a look at the district’s vision: Jacksonville-North Pulaski will be a school district of choice that fosters student achievement and success.

Rational? Yes. Emotional? No. Exciting, engaging, frightening? No. Big? Yes.

When it comes to “world-class,” the ability of the team is essential. Paraphrasing Kirk, the district needs leaders, teachers and staff who exhibit ability – a mastery of skills. Equally crucial is complementarity – the ability to generate an energy and synergy that make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

Is the district hiring the masters? The district is rightly concerned about money, and so the focus has been more on hiring the best staff it can find within its budget, and it’s shaping up to be a fantastic team with an admirable gestalt.

Cynics may point to winning World Series and Super Bowl teams with high salaries that won it all thanks to too much money, but “Moneyball” strategies built the Golden State Warriors, ended the Red Sox curse and have saved many of the greatest baseball teams in America.

The Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District is still finding itself.

Discipline begins with developing a set of boundaries that define “what is acceptable and unacceptable.”

Why so many district expulsions this year? Maybe the boundaries weren’t clear or maybe they were clear but higher than what they were in the past. Those boundaries must be non-negotiable and not confusing.

The district is headed in the right direction. It’s important to remember that none of the expulsions were contested by parents or students.

Divine discontent is an area where all school districts suffer. It refers to highly analytical and self-critical behaviors. It’s about “What mistakes did I make? What mistakes did we make?”

It’s hard to get teachers, principals and administrators to admit they were wrong. Spewing over tons of data, the focus is what can we do to raise test scores and lower the discipline rate? Sometimes teachers should admit their mistakes. Yes, teachers do make them.

Divine discontent, according to Kirk, “is an attitude of learning and growth that is never satisfied with past achievements.”

The infant district has a lot to be proud of, but to rest on those laurels means the forward movement slows or stops. So let’s take a moment to celebrate the good as we move on to better…to world-class. Together we can do it!