This year, my school is a “turnaround school”. We are undergoing what BCPSS calls the Expanding Great Options process. What that meant for us is that they brought in a new principal, and replaced half of the teachers. And that’s about it: they seem to be relying on the enthusiasm of the new faculty to bring about the desired changes. While I am not privy to everything going on in my school, I can say that I personally haven’t seen much support from North Avenue being provided to us to help the school turn around.
While said enthusiasm and our in-house efforts have produced some good results (e.g. an amazing Community Fair at our Back-to-School Night; I’ll talk about the positive changes in another post), often it’s like we’re running in place.
‘Well, in our country,’ said Alice, still panting a little, ‘you’d generally get to somewhere else — if you ran very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.’
‘A slow sort of country!’ said the Queen. ‘Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!’
– Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
Sometimes it feels as if I’m running as fast as I can, working as hard as I can, but we’re still in the same place. Because the institutional support isn’t there. We’re trying three dozen good new ideas, but they overlap and conflict and leave us feeling overwhelmed. Moreover, each new idea is being built from scratch, instead of being part of an organized system, and so takes five times the effort that it would take if it were a routine part of a well-functioning school or district.
Take, for example, the flyer advertising our school’s recruitment fairs and open houses. At a planning meeting for our CTE recruitment team, I volunteered to be the one to create a flyer. Now I have no expertise nor any real experience in making flyers. But I volunteered to do my part. First we designed postcards, since their mailing needed to happen most urgently. A few days later, I opened Microsoft Publisher and tried to throw together the information into a visually-appealing flyer. I took it to some other people for advice. Then I brought it to administration for approval. Printing it took the longest (nearly a week), due to a variety of other issues I won’t go into here. Then I brought it to a colleague who had agreed to help distribute it to teachers. The idea being that teachers and/or students could bring it to local gathering places (convenience store, recreation center, etc.) and ask to hang it on their bulletin boards.
The result: It got distributed only 2-3 days before our recruitment fair today. Not enough time for a parent to be able to look at the flyer and make plans to visit. Now as far as I know there was no prior flyer in existence that could just have been adapted and handed out to teachers the same day (if there was, it may have been lost to our institutional memory with the staff cuts). So I created it from scratch. And the time it took to create, to revise, to print, and to distribute, was probably ten times longer than it would have been if the school were doing a routine flyer distribution for their open house that they did every year. Not to mention that the audience reached could have been much higher if the district were to pay for a radio or TV ad as part of our turnaround strategy (wishful thinking there, but still, we received no district support with this).
I’ve seen this problem reflected scores of times, with what I do and with what some of the other dedicated faculty are doing. Everything we try is well-intentioned, and some of it is effective, but much is hectic and last-minute. And it feels like we’re scrambling: because there is no pre-built ladder to support us, we are having to crawl up the face of the wall finding footholds as we go.
Some of this has always been there, working in a dysfunctional school system. But with the new staff, and with our wanting to do whatever it takes to improve our school, this year it can at times feel even more fruitless. All the running we can do, to keep in the same place.