Saturday, January 28, 2012

Consequential Conversations at Guthrie CSD

Consequential Conversations at Guthrie CSD
By Nelson Coulter

Guthrie, Texas, educators, the school board, parents, students, and community members have been engaging in interesting and meaningful conversations over the last few months.  With the underlying realities of a rapidly changing world, and the frustration of a government-imposed accountability system that seems to have trumped local communities, stakeholders of the Guthrie School have begun to regain control of the conversation about what is important for the future of our children.  Just one of those many conversations occurred in the form of a community/parent forum on Friday, January 27, 2012, in the Guthrie CSD Activity Center.

Parents and interested citizens heard a brief overview of the new Texas testing process (i.e., the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness – STAAR – and the End of Course exams).  Attendees learned of elements of the new tests, and their highly rigorous nature.  Stakeholders also heard a brief status report of the goings on of the Guthrie Virtual School, a “parallel” school being deployed by Guthrie CSD, which is now serving almost 360 students from all over the state of Texas with online learning in the subjects of math and Spanish.

The most important part of the evening was the dialogue regarding the hopes and aspirations of the Guthrie community for the futures of their children.  That conversation centered around the following essential questions:
1)     What are our highest aspirations for our students?
2)     With those aspirations in mind, what do we think a Guthrie graduate should “look like”?
        What should they know and be able to do?
3)     How well are we “aligned” to ensure our students succeed?
        What should we be doing to make that happen?
        What should we stop doing that inhibits our progress?
4)     How can/will we know if we’re fulfilling our dreams for our students?

The synthesis of the aspirations for our children that emerged from the various dialogues, to date, includes the following (in no particular order). 
We aspire for our children to be:
  • Prepared to succeed in college/work/life
  • Confident
  • Self-motivated and self-disciplined
  • Effective communicators
  • Accepting of diversity (all kinds: color, intellectual, cultural, socio-economic, etc.)
  • Compassionate
  • Emotionally secure and happy
  • Productive citizens and parents
  • Self-directed and enthusiastic learners
  • People of strong character and work ethic
  • Creative

With respect to those aspirations, what then do Guthrie students need to know or be able to do in order to achieve those aspirations?  Below are some of the elements that have surfaced in those conversations:
A Guthrie CSD graduate should be:
        Respectful of the time, property, and perspective of others
        Able to find and use information
        Well-rounded
        Able to communicate effectively
        Courteously assertive
        Able to learn independently
        Able to give and accept love maturely
        Academically proficient
        Independent thinkers
        Adaptable
        Selfless, compassionate, and service-oriented
        Accountable
        Disciplined
        Financially responsible
        Competitive
        Collaborative
        Curious, imaginative, and creative

While these lists are only in the draft phase, the conversations will continue.  We believe that the ultimate decisions about our children, the BIG picture things, belong to the local community, not a state or federal bureaucracy.  What we value for our children and their future cannot be measured with a pencil-and-paper test.  Another quick look at the two lists above confirms that few of those important concepts could ever be measured with a multiple choice test.  Yet, schools are judged and labeled on precious few of the elements you see listed above.  That is a travesty!

The first steps in re-taking control of the conversation about how best to educate our children, are those we take toward carefully considering and articulating what our aspirations are, what skills/knowledge we want our children to possess, and how we deliberately structure our school to make those outcomes the realities for each Guthrie graduate.

This is a process, not an event. In Guthrie, that process has begun…