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Monday, May 16, 2016

Here We Go

This is one piece of a continuing series of posts on school improvement reflecting my professional experience. I had prepared this manuscript for publication but time eluded me. The blog posts advance in time and concept in book-form beginning with the Blog post on March 21.

Identifying the Mission 
     I referred to the outline on the back of the envelope and started from there. It began with a phone call to a local billboard company. I decided to invest the meager activity account funds in publicizing our mission, “Aim HIGH at Horace Mann Junior High.” It took some convincing. The salesman thought it was a joke. He eventually came by and we agreed on four sites within the school’s attendance area. The school was located very close to the center of downtown. His marketing statistics boasted that 27,000 people traveled these busy intersections to and from work each day. Perhaps nobody could identify the names of all forty-seven Amarillo public schools but at least many of them would not only know our name but would also be able to recite our mission. Most importantly, the more public a mission is the more compelling it is for those charged with the responsibility of pursuing it. 
     Note: [After the first year success of the school I was contacted by the owner of the billboard company who apologetically informed me that he was a former student of the school. He went on to acknowledge that he had always been embarrassed to admit he went to Horace Mann. And now, after the success of the school, he was not only proud of having attended Mann but also volunteered to donate the use of the billboards the following year, when we added to the mission, “Aim HIGH, Expect Success at Horace Mann Junior High.”]    
     The instructional staff arrived for the standard day of staff development prior to the start of school. I was met with body language and facial expressions that broadcast a resigned acceptance of a sad fate. I didn’t blame them for their reservations. They had experienced an endless string of “new” administrators with hoops to jump through in a pattern of over promising and under delivering. I was brief in my remarks and conscious of avoiding anything that could be misconstrued as condescending or authoritative. Besides, this was not the crucial moment or the critical arena. That would be tomorrow. 
     I scheduled an address of the entire school. Every teenager was there, accompanied by their teachers and the non-instructional staff as well. I began the delivery slowly and then built it up to a crescendo that touted Aim HIGH and the 4 A’s. I started by acknowledging that the beginning of school coincided with another significant event in Texas, the first football game of the season. I pleaded ignorance and asked which school had the best football team in the city, knowing full well that Horace Mann, smallest of all eight junior high schools, had a tremendous sports history, particularly in football.  
     “WE DO!!” was the immediate response in boisterous unison.  
     “Who is number one?” I asked in raised voice.  
     “WE ARE!!” they shouted back. 
     “Have you ever seen those football fans on T.V. that hold up their index finger claiming to be number one?” 
     At once, almost six hundred heads nodded affirmatively.   
     “Wouldn’t it be funny if you saw a fan holding up eight fingers and yelling ‘We’re number eight?” I asked.  
     There was some cautious laughter as if they suspected I was up to something. I was. That’s when I sprung the trap. “We are number eight!” I shouted at them, pausing a bit for it to sink in. “We are number eight in attendance among all eight junior high schools. We are number eight in achievement among all eight junior high schools. And if discipline reports mean anything, we are number eight in attitude among all eight junior high schools.” 
     That was it. I simply stood there, alone on the stage, and swept the room with a face as serious as I could make. 
     “I understand that this school is very competitive. That’s great, but we need to compete in the classroom. It doesn’t help you to score touchdowns against the kids across town if you end up working for them ten years from now. It’s time we concentrated on beating them in learning, not just in sports. 
     “Besides, from what I’ve read once the report cards come out and the state’s “no pass, no play” rule comes into effect you lose so many athletes to grades that a team of elementary kids can beat you. If you plan on winning anything, you need to Aim HIGH!” 
     The auditorium now seemed like a balloon that had lost all of its air. 

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