Sunday, June 26, 2011

Farewell, Mansfield...

Thursday marks the end of my tenure as principal of Mansfield High School.  Per usual, I still feel like I have a zillion things on my "to do" list before I leave.  I guess the more things change...

I leave this school community with a sense of gratitude for serving as its principal.  There is a strong sense of pride over so many programs- and there should be.  I am proud that I worked with an outstanding professional and support staff.  The past few years have been so challenging, with increased enrollment and numerous staff cuts.  Nonetheless, our students still have received a high-quality education and have achieved at the highest levels.  MHS' teachers are the heart and soul this school and that will never change.

I also appreciated the support of parents who pushed me to be a better principal. I had the pleasure of working with bright, personable individuals who strived to stay abreast of current research and best practices in education so MHS could continuously improve.  For that, I was blessed.

I thank my administrative team, assistant principals Mike Connolly, Dave Farinella, and Dawn Stockwell for their support and collegiality. Having a cohesive team is integral to having a smooth running school, and these three have always shown nothing but professionalism and loyalty to MHS.  I am a richer person for working with them.

Most of all, I will miss the students of MHS.  It's not exactly a military secret that being a high school principal can, at times, be a stressful job.  The times that always brought a smile to my face were when I was in a "kid's world," i.e., sitting in a class, watching any of our music groups perform, or being at an athletic event.  There was no stress here- only joy.  I will miss MHS students and their character and passion they bring to just about all things in our school.

So I leave.... a little nervous but also with excitement as I take on my new professional challenge as the Superintendent of Schools of the Mendon Upton Regional School District.  I invite you to stay in touch, as I will continue blogging, this time reporting the news of a new district but also commenting on other larger (dare I say relevant?) topics affecting schools.

Perhaps I should not say "farewell" here.  Instead, let me close borrowing a phrase I learned earlier this year... À Bientôt, mes amis.

See you soon, my friends...

Monday, June 20, 2011

What Happens When the "Everyone Gets a Trophy" Generation Fails?

As I have been coaching both of my daughters in softball for the past nine years, it invariably happens every game. A girl will strike out by weakly waving at a pitch two feet over her head... and then I'll hear it... Out of the stands or even from another coach, "Nice try! Way to go! Good job!" with the gratuitous clap.

I stand next to the dugout and think to myself, "Um. No.... that wasn't a good job."

Now don't get me wrong. I believe in giving praise to kids in my role as a parent, educator, and coach. To my girls who strike out or botch a play, sometimes I like to give them give perspective that this is only a game, and I'll usually remark, "Let's get 'em next time."

But false praise in the face of failure? Never.

As a coach, I stress the same things that I do as a teacher, namely: Learn from your mistakes. Effort = Achievement, so practice and you'll get better. Hard work makes all of the difference.

To be sure, those lessons were taught to me by my parents and my teachers. It was an era that was less politically correct, one where there was less emphasis on cultivating a child's self esteem and more on teaching life's lessons- where there are winners and losers and natural consequences.

This point is driven home in the cover story of the July-August 2011 issue of The Atlantic. This captivating piece, entitled, "How to Land Your Kid in Therapy," details the repercussions of what is becoming more commonplace: parents' obsession with their children's happiness. The author, psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb, traces how the generation of young people in their late teens and twenties (commonly referred to as "millenials") are increasingly unable to handle adversity in life due to over-parenting. The end results are young adults who are anxious, withdrawn, and/or depressed while seemingly having all of the external trappings (e.g., great job, good salary, positive relationships, etc.) of a successful life.

The article describes some disturbing trends. First, college professors and administrators at competitive schools now refer to some freshmen students as "teacups" because without their hovering parents to ward off the pressures of school, they are very fragile and crack under the slightest pressure. Second, Gottlieb describes (see video below) an increasing phenomenon that today's employers cite. Twenty-something aged employees report that they feel "unappreciated" and devalued because they are not receiving praise from their bosses when they do a good job... over things that are in their job description!

As Gottlieb points out, sometimes failure for children is a very good thing, as it is part of the natural growth process. However, helicopter parenting does not allow this to take place.

Will the pendulum ever swing back the other way? From my perspective as a principal for the past 13 years, I see it getting worse. I have dealt with many cases throughout the years- from ones of discipline to academic integrity- where parents will "go to bat" for their child at all costs fully knowing that their child is in the wrong. With increasing regularity I hear appeals of administrative decisions for that very reason.

I also wonder if in K-12 public education we are part of the problem vis-a-vis "everyone getting a trophy"? In an era of grade inflation at all levels, do we feed the beast as evidenced by practices that lead to endless honor rolls and too many awards for kids?

All kids should- and can- achieve rigorous content and performance standards, but are they achieving them to the degree that we say they are? Nationally, the follow-up data tells a mixed story when looking at measures such as the number of freshmen in remediation courses and college graduation rates.

Are we all that parent in the stands, clapping and yelling "Good job!" for something less than that?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Congrats and Godspeed, Class of 2011!

To be sure, last Friday night was special. Our annual commencement exercises for the Class of 2011 resonated as a memorable ceremony, one where there was a positive energy and flow to the evening. It was a fit conclusion to a class that has achieved so much during some of the most challenging economic times.

I am very proud of all of our student speakers. Bridget Davis, the class president for all four years, (pictured above)started the program by reflecting on the accomplishments of the class. She concluded, "we can take prided in the fact that we've excelled in the classroom, in music and the arts, and on the playing field throughout our high school career."

Salutatorian Amanda Zieselman (pictured above), battling laryngitis, worked her speech around the famed Dr. Seuss work, Oh the Places You'll Go! Her reflection on the class took a longer view (the K-12 one), as she remarked, "Bottom line is we care about each other- we've laughed together and cried together, worked together and procrastinated together... and being in school for a grand total of 2,340 days or 14,040 hours we've become a family."

Valedictorian Walter Xu (pictured below) struck a cerebral tone with his speech, painting a wonderful metaphor around our feet and the steps we must take in life's journey. He spoke of two separate journeys he had recently taken- one to a clifftop in Nice and the other to the top of the Empire State Building (using the elevator to get to the top). The one to Nice was much more satisfying, as he could reflect on where he had been. "Though the steps may be fatiguing, enjoy every moment as it is the steps that will comprise most of your life," he surmised.

Per usual, the music selections were spot-on. Hats off to graduate Allison Passanisi (pictured below) for arranging and conducting the senior choir presentation of "Footprints in the Sand." Simply outstanding! The band's rendition of "Pirates of the Caribbean" and the orchestra's presentation of "Zooster's Breakout" were equally strong.

Good luck, Class of 2011!! You have served Mansfield High School well. I wish you nothing but the absolute best!

Above: Graduate Katie MacLeod performs "Pirates of the Carri bean" with the MHS Concert Band.
Above: Grad Ellie Farrell shows her joy at being presented her diploma by Mansfield School Committee Chair Mike Trowbridge.