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Monday, March 24, 2014

Excellence, Rigor & a Focus on Our Students' Futures

Over the course of the school year, I have written a variety of articles for this blog about the work underway at the Tamalpais Union High School District, and I sincerely appreciate that many of you have read them and have responded with ideas, questions, and comments.  This blog has been a venue for facts, ideas, and my own opinions as a mother of two high school students in our district, as well as an educator with over 25 years of experience.  Recently, there have been a series of biased and slanted articles and letters about the district; unfortunately, they have moved the dialog to a non-productive place.  Today, I would like to turn our conversation back to where it belongs:  the pursuit of excellence and rigor in our schools and for our children.
There are many reasons to live in Marin, but many of us chose to move here because of the reputation of the schools.  As parents, we quite appropriately expect that our children will experience rigorous and engaging instruction that challenges them to work at the very highest levels.  We expect that our schools will have structures in place and instruction that enables our children to grow both in the areas where they excel as well as the areas in which they struggle.  We willingly paid high prices for our homes knowing that the benefit was a school system that does right by our children.  The status quo isn't enough for us as parents, and so we choose to live in a place where the status quo isn't good enough for our schools either.  As parents and educators, we know that if we truly want world-class schools, we need to advocate and support continuous improvement, even when it is difficult.
I have previously written about the new "Common Core" standards, which call for building understanding of the ideas behind the concepts and application of content to real world problems.  In order to achieve the outcomes required by the common core, it will no longer be enough to cover material quickly, to focus on facts and figures, and to only provide practice that drills concepts without application.  Beginning in spring 2015, the new state tests will assess a student's ability to think critically and to solve unique, real world problems.  Our courses and instruction must adapt if we want our students to be ready to perform well.
However, our reason for continuous improvement goes well beyond test performance.  The Tamalpais Union High School District is dedicated to preparing our students for success in the globally competitive and collaborative world.  Many of the careers our students will have are ones that don't exist today because they will support products and services that have yet to be invented.  Even if our students don't experience a multitude of career changes, they need to be prepared for their own career evolution.  As new technology is created, the demands in even existing industries will change the face of almost every job.  In order to prepare our students, we must train them to be innovative and creative.  Moreover, upon graduation, our students should also be ready for active citizenship in the 21st century.  This means that our children need to read with a critical eye, look for evidence to support claims, and always consider the source.
Administrators and the Board of Trustees keep students at the forefront of decision-making.  Some decisions are very complex, difficult, and possibly contentious, yet the question continuously asked is, "Will this be in the best long-term interest of our students?"  Our communities expect and deserve that our schools will challenge students and push them to their highest levels of academic achievement while supporting their emotional growth.  This level of excellence requires that we hold the highest expectations for every individual in our organization and that we are willing to adjust our direction when it will benefit our students.
I am proud to work with an amazing group of trustees, administrators, teachers, and staff who care deeply about students and are willing to make tough calls when necessary.  As parents of TUHSD high school students, we should expect no less.