Changing our high schools

by Superintendent Art Rainwater
The purpose of high school is to ensure that all of our students leave ready for college, jobs and civic involvement. Our traditional, comprehensive high schools today look and feel much like they have for generations. However, the world our students will live and work in has changed dramatically.
The structure of high schools has served society well by preparing young people for the world they were entering. There were good, family supporting jobs that didn’t require a high school diploma. The type of classroom teaching strategies that were employed worked well for the post high school plans of our students.
It is becoming increasingly clear however, that not only four year colleges, but also any post secondary education or job training program requires a substantial background in mathematics, science, social studies and language arts.
We need to dramatically change our high schools. This is not a reflection of current high school teachers or their teaching methods. It is a reflection of a changing society. The needed reforms at high school have to be concentrated on making a high level of demanding coursework accessible to all students. To accomplish this goal requires that we change the way we relate to students and that we implement a wide variety of teaching strategies in every class.
The education world has not been oblivious to this need for change. There have been many efforts, across the country, to change high schools, including in our own district. However, high school reform has rarely addressed the underlying problem — the high school classroom.
To meet the needs of every student, the student, not the content of the course, must be at the center of our work. It’s obvious that the content is critical, for that is what will prepare students for adult success. But first, everything from our teaching methods to the way we inculcate positive behaviors must begin with the student and not the textbook. We have to use our knowledge of how children learn to create classroom strategies that connect with students’ own experiences and relate what we want them to learn to its use in the real world.
Regardless of how our high schools look there must always be three goals for our students: ensure that every student gains the knowledge and skills to be a successful adult, provide the opportunity for every student to grow academically and socially, and to learn to be an active participant in the society in which they live.
To reach these three goals we must continue to foster high academic achievement; we must close the achievement gap among different groups of students and we must promote civic and personal growth among our students.
We are beginning the journey of redesigning our high schools. This will take creativity, commitment and our best thinking. It will take all of us, collectively, having the will to find the way so that a diploma from our high schools can provide a ticket to the future for all of our students.