Last Sunday I attended a forum with Clarke County School Superintendent Dr. Philip Lanoue at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens. Dr. Lanoue has so far impressed everyone with his ability to run our school district efficiently and effectively. Anyone who looks at our District Report Card can see that since his taking office in 2009, our test scores and graduation rates are on the rise.
Dr. Lanoue opened the forum by introducing himself and giving a concise personal history. He is from a tiny town in Vermont and was a biology teacher for several years before venturing into school administration. Despite not having proof that it makes a difference, I for one am always pleased to hear that an administrator has worked as a teacher. He actually admitted to us that he did not believe himself to be an effective teacher, and explained that his heavy reliance on testing is in part due to his self-perceived shortcomings. Dr. Lanoue is adamant that to be a good teacher, you have to know for sure that your students have learned something.
So here we are, at the great debate over testing. Is it good, is it bad, is it at all necessary? Those who are proponents of the Montessori method would cry a resounding “no.” There are many who argue that testing does nothing besides make those children who have done poorly on the test begin to see themselves, at a very young age, as inferior; tests provide us with numbers but can hardly begin to tell us the whole story of the child behind those numbers. Dr. Lanoue is not of this school of thought. He seems to believe at least that “testing has served us better than not.” He insists that each number reflects a child and, without a numerical value of their knowledge, we cannot effectively lead that child through their formative years. He says that the No Child Left Behind act, despite being bogged down by partisan politics, has helped us to measure our shortcomings, set a higher level of accountability, and thereby raise performance expectations overall.
Regardless of what we believe to be true about what learning is and how we do it, Dr. Lanoue has undoubtedly made some positive changes in the district. He was recently named a finalist for Georgia School Superintendent of the year. Before attending the forum, I did not know that the graduation rate has been steadily rising and knew very little of the new Career Academy. As a former student of Clarke Central High School, I remember the dropout rate being much higher than the graduation rate! Dr. Lanoue has used many strategies to keep kids in school and also make their time more worthwhile. The Career Academy is a joint effort between Athens Technical College and the Clarke County School District. Students can discover a trade or special skill they are interested in and pursue that skill at the college level. Dr. Lanoue told us that of the 89 students enrolled in the program last year, three of them graduated with both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree!
His closing statement was a request that we all attend an event at our neighborhood school, and see for ourselves what is being accomplished. What struck me most about Dr. Lanoue was his belief that the students in our public schools can be great. He seemed not only confident about the work he has already done but also excited to see what our community can achieve in the future. In public school, I think it is highly desirable to have a leader who really believes in the kids.
What do you think? Are you happy with Dr. Lanoue? Do you think he is addressing our most pressing issues? Are you and your children happy in Clarke County schools?These are all important questions and the only way we can answer yes to any of them is if we all participate in the education of our children. Some of you may feel you have nothing to offer; maybe you are working full-time or feel your budget is too tight to help with fundraisers. I think that if you at least attend the after-school programs and stay in contact with your child's teacher, your effort will go a long way towards making our schools work.
At Oglethorpe Ave. Elementary school, I am looking forward to the 2nd Grade Parent Breakfast next Friday. Last week I signed up to help with Fall Enrichment Clusters, and I am looking forward to Culture Night, Book Fair, and Octoberfest. I am definitely not the most involved parent at OAES, but I help out a little here and there because I know this to be true: the world is run by those who show up!