Ben’s open house was last night. It was surprisingly emotional for me. Ben is entering the Cooperative Middle School, the same school where I spent 10 important years of my professional life. It’s also the first year CMS will operate without it’s long time Principal, and close personal friend of mine, Tom O’Malley, who moved on to other opportunities in his home state of Maine. I’m sure that the new principal, Mr. Furbush, is a fine man, but last night I couldn’t help but feel a sense of loss as I walked into CMS for the first time as a middle school parent.
So, in honor of Tom O’Malley, I’m invoking one of his favorite sayings
It’s like rearranging the chairs on the Titanic.
Unfortunately, CMS has been a victim of the No Child Left Behind. Despite providing a high quality education for students and even winning the NH Middle School of the Year Award in 1998, it has continued to remain on the “School in Need of Improvement” list as defined by NCLB and the New Hampshire Department of Education. As a result, it needed to develop a “Restructuring Plan.” I’ve written about this before, but this post is not about “the plan”. It’s about many of the comments I heard last night as folks walked around the school.
What drew the ire of so many last night was the part of the plan that included the development of houses within which students will move through their three years in middle school. The idea is to make CMS, a huge middle school of nearly 1,400 students, into smaller learning communities by keeping the kids together in houses of approximately 120 students. The devil is in the details of course, but there was a lot of grumbling. In short, most people did not like the fact that the kids would stay together for three years and that the kids “wouldn’t be prepared for high school”. There was also a sort of a what-if-my-kid-is-stuck-with-that-kid-for-3-years air about the whole thing, as if your kid couldn’t possibly be “that” kid.
Look, I understand the fear that change can bring and there is a grieving process involved with any change, but we’re worrying about the wrong thing. If you believe your school needs to be transformed, then true transformation takes place in the classrooms. It takes place in the increased professionalism of the teachers. It takes place in the relationships that teachers build with their students. It takes place in the design of learning opportunities that empower students.
The house system is a great attempt at making a very large school into smaller learning communities and so, I support that. But Ben is going to be prepared for high school because his teachers are going to push his thinking. They are not going to accept so-so work. They are going to ask him to collaborate. They are going to make him identify and solve problems.
And, you know what, there are going to be times when Ben is “that” kid.