Monday, June 09, 2014

What robotic PR sounds like in Montclair

Did you read the PR document on the schools created by the Supe's office? Here it is:http://www.montclair.k12.nj.us/WebPageFiles/2173/140530pop.pdf.

It gets to the heart of the problem: it is a soul-less description of what we do, that makes us sound like a million other school systems. It has no real description of who we are! If this was a personal statement of our school system, with the assignment of capturing what is unique and special about our schools, it would be a D-.

The document:

*Lists MHS as one of 1000 Best High Schools in America (not a huge accomplishment) in Newsweek, a dubious list from Jay Matthews that rates schools by AP participation (not performance) and was boycotted by 38 high schools from 5 states, yes, including Montclair High:http://www.examiner.com/article/newsweek-s-high-school-rankings-ignite-dissent-from-winners.

*Of the six of the "over 100" highlighted activities, Ultimate Frisbee is listed, something that has not run at the high school since I last ran it, over 5 years ago

*Lists SVPA as a small learning community, something that has not existed since I started there in 1991.

*Does not distinguish Fed Challenge, which has had the best success of any of their competitors in the nation, from Model UN and Model Congress, which have had modest success.

*Throws together the STEM academy, a slap dash effort that is ill defined and directed, with CGI and CSJ, programs which are national models emulated by schools across the country.

*Says nothing about the accomplishments of individual teachers and students.

*Says not ONE WORD about what distinguishes Montclair culturally and educationally that could not be said about hundreds of high schools.

*Throws out terms like a "creating connections" magnate school, something that means nothing to an outsider reading this.

So, here, Dr. MacCormack, are some things you MAY want to consider in this document:

*Get lists of accomplishments that individual students and teachers have achieved and list them. We have many more than other schools and need to highlight them.
*Get quotes from students about their best teachers. We have amazing teachers who give their lives to the students (I wouldn't bother with quotes about administrators...don't think that would go so well).
*Think about what truly distinguished the district. Here are a few that I directly know of, but I'm sure it would be much larger if you did some research:

*Fed Challenge team that has won the national championships multiple times and has been to the National Finals almost every year since its inception. Give the college profile of where the FC presenters have attended college over the past 5 years and how many students participate each year.
*A math program where almost 50 students each year take BC Calculus as juniors each year and over 95% over the past decade have gotten a perfect score (5) on the AP test.
*A performing arts program at Glenfield that is simply amazing. I don't know what awards they have gotten, but it must be pretty impressive. Their instrumental program is like nothing I have ever seen at a middle school.
*Creative programs at the high school which are highly rigorous alternatives to the AP program, including hundreds of students taking courses like High Honors Humanities and Philosophy.
*A Writers Room (it is coming back, isn't it) that is a national model to aid students in writing.
*A unique partnership with IMANI to give students of color access to evening and weekend programs to improve college access and performance.

Whenever I read college essays, I ask students to write things that only they could say. This document is a slap dash listing of things that we do, something that does almost nothing to promote what we do really well and to give a sense of how we are different. That is a difficult thing that requires a nuanced understanding of the schools, the students and the town. It can't be put put together with measurements, rubrics, and numbers. Time to go back to the drawing board and actually write something meaningful.

Perhaps, Dr. MacCormack, some of the volunteers in the Writers' Room could help you with this. 

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