I wasn’t allowed to write on this subject until today. Today was the day it was announced in The Mighty Signal that five of our Newhall District schools had just attained their Distinguished School status. One of the reasons my school’s principal wanted to wait until it was formally announced was because he was sure that our school wasn’t going to be the only school to achieve the prestigious award. He was holding hands with his fellow schools, while I, the selfish curmudgeon, was betting on just my own at the time.
See, I wasn’t present at the other school’s site visits from the judges, I only got invited to my own because Eddie and I are current Site Council members. And even with that, Eddie, as my fellow council member and formal watcher of all that comes-out-of-Eve’s-mouth, was worried that our school would not, like the hundreds that had applied, make the final cut. (I secretly wondered if I would get the blame for this later.)
Let me go back a little to enlighten you as to the process from a lame, uh I mean lay, person’s point of view. Several months ago our principal explained that it was time to re-apply for our school’s Distinguished School Status. He asked for our input. He even prepared a questionnaire to pick our brains of what programs, in our view, set our school apart. Eventually, after he met with his teachers and staff many times as well, he presented our council with a lengthy single-spaced two-sided copy. The next step, we learnt, was editing the document to meet the criteria while keeping the words below a specified maximum.
We then heard that the application was accepted. A bit later we saw the school get a little touch up painting done. The next step was going to be a school tour. Different representatives from our student body would lead the tours. Our site council was invited to the luncheon. That pretty much brings us up to date. Now onto the meal!
I harassed our school’s office manager to provide other than what I assumed would be the fare: breaded fish sticks with just a tiny stripe of dried ketchup, steamed bean burritos, crust-on grilled cheese sandwiches and rubber-like Jell-O cubes. (Okay, I know I’m showing my age here because the kids nowadays get “fast food”.) She laughed and promised that everyone else would enjoy a catered meal but that she would microwave something unrecognizable just for me. To feel at home.
The fellow site council members showed in full force. So did members of the PTA and representatives from College of the Canyons, Title One, our after school program managed by the city, our district’s counselor, our English Language Learners parents and other parents that had children in these various programs.
During the meal there were several informal “getting to know your school” type conversations at three tables in the school’s library. (I was grateful that they had enough “adult-sized” chairs to meet our needs.) Afterwards, the “judges” congregated at the center table and asked to hear, more formally, from each representative. Although we were all a bit nervous, especially since our principal had left the forum, we got over it fairly quick realizing the importance of our answers and attitudes.
They asked if we understood the new reporting standards. Well, lucky for me, as secretary of the council, we had just covered this in our meeting the day before and felt confident, because I had also just transcribed my notes, in answering this one question. I said we understood it and looked forward to soon seeing more specific accounting of our student’s progress. I still buffered my shins with my napkin from a swift kick from Eddie, but because he hadn’t read my notes yet he left me amazingly unharmed.
A couple of parents, ones I had met before, were very convincing. One parent had recently moved to our school from another city. She was concerned that her daughter wasn’t doing well and decided to repeat a grade. She voiced her concern with her daughter’s teacher and administrators at the time. They, in turn, told her “not to worry” that they had been “successful with this before”. This mother was now smiling from ear to ear because of the progress she was now seeing in her child.
Another parent explained the hardships that she expected to encounter with her children having different “special needs”. While one was in G.A.T.E. another was in the Title One program. I had heard her speak on this before and knew how strongly she felt that our school was fulfilling the needs of all of their students.
Still another parent was almost in tears when she discussed her own experiences in other districts. But I was hard pressed not to be moved the most by the English Language Learner parents through their interpreter. The interpreter, who is also the head of that group, couldn’t help but add her comments to that of her parents making them that much more heartfelt and sincere. She also had the strongest showing of parent members present. (Heck, the joke of the day was in telling our principal later that this particular staffer practically did cartwheels to get us chosen.)
They gave us a little feedback that day by complementing the students that gave the tours in knowing so much about their school. But we still didn’t know by their gestures where we stood. Predictably the last words, when they were rapping up, was the question, “Does anyone else have anything left to add?” And once again, it was a parent with the help of her interpreter once again, that gave the final comments for the day. I think she spoke for us all in the district when she told of how happy she was in general with the school, the staff and the programs she didn’t expect to find in place for her children. We were all smiles.
And now that I see so many schools in the newspaper that had to have just as many involved parents, teachers and staff I can’t help but be proud. We are involved in the education of all of our children. What the heck can beat that? Except, of course, a well executioned cartwheel.