President’s Perspective: Some of the most important things in schools cannot be measuredAndrea Hartzell
by C. Patrick Woods
Topeka USD 501
Greetings fellow board members. I trust that you are all enjoying a well-deserved Spring respite from what has been a bruising winter. Spring flowers are in bloom and Kansas school kids can again enjoy outside recess.
As I write to you today, our districts are in the midst of testing season. This is no doubt a time of great importance for schools and the institution of public education in general.
Though its prominence in our decision-making processes is often maligned in the public discourse, we all acknowledge that testing has its place. In order to account for our efforts, we are required to demonstrate students’ acquisition of concepts and skills according to the standards established by the Kansas State Department of Education. This is because teaching and learning is at the heart of the mission for every single one of our districts. Our students demonstrate what they’ve learned and the skills that they’ve acquired through district and state assessments. For these obvious and basic reasons, testing is important.
However, for our district employees on the ground with our students, there is much more to our institution’s success than just teaching and learning. This fact was reinforced for me this week, as I visited an elementary school in my district. This is an elementary school not unlike any other school in Kansas: beautiful children streamed into their classrooms, backpacks in tote; teachers and staff there welcome students as they walked through the doors.
As I walked through the hall to the front office, I was struck by the sounds of a little girl crying. Now, as a father of an elementary school girl, I’ll admit that my senses are finely tuned to the cries of a little girl. But this crying was different; it was wrenching and guttural. As my paternal instincts pulled me over toward the situation, I discovered a beautiful third-grade girl – my daughter’s age – in tears. As I was making my way over to the student, I saw a teacher glide in to console her. Over a period of about 15 minutes, I watched as this teacher, the principal and the staff at the school consoled this student to the point where the crying had ceased, she had regained her composure, and she was then ready to return to the classroom to learn.
As it turns out, this student’s parents had recently split up and her family was in turmoil. Any semblance of stability in the life of this girl’s family had dissipated overnight. But for the care and dedication of the school staff, the family situation that this student brought to school with her would have inhibited her ability to learn.
While this was one particular instance, it is not a phenomenon unique to this one school. All over Kansas, our students are grappling with many real-life issues. What this instance clearly illustrates to me, as a decision maker whose work focuses on the institution at the macro-level, is that today’s education professionals must focus on more than just teaching and their students’ learning. In order to empower students to acquire the proper concepts and skills, teachers must tend to students’ social and emotional needs. While we all know this intuitively, this example of the third-grader preparing for testing season at a Topeka elementary school, offers a real-life example.
So, while we’re all focused on student achievement and the state assessments this spring, we should all take a moment to thank our employees for their daily work that we can’t measure. As a board member and a father, I cannot overstate my gratitude to our educators for all of the work they do – that which is demonstrable through state assessment results, as well as that which isn’t. On that early March day in a Topeka school, at least as far as this beautiful third-grade girl is concerned, it was the most important work undertaken.