Go R.O.G.U.E, that’s our motto. R.O.G.U.E. is an acronym that stands for Raising Our Goals and Uniting Everyone. It’s simple, it’s catchy, and it serves as a constant reminder that, together, we must surpass the status quo and find new solutions for old problems.
What made us shift our thinking and Go R.O.G.U.E.? It wasn’t one action or one person. It was a collection of actions and people who were brought together by great leadership.
In order for a school district to get to a point of transformation, honest answers have to be provided for difficult questions, and a clear plan must be developed to improve upon weaknesses. A plan, not excuses.
So let’s start with the questions…and the plan.
Does your school or district have a clear plan for the future?
No, not a lofty vision statement—a plan that is actionable, understandable, goal-oriented, and that was written specifically to fulfill the needs of your school or district, not the requirements of a grant. Nothing against those required plans, but, in my experience they are written out of obligation, forced into a difficult-to-understand template, and designed to collect lots of dust on the shelf.
We had plenty of those required plans, but we didn’t have our plan for the future. The first step in writing our Strategic Plan for Improvement was to identify people from the schools and the community who genuinely wanted to help our schools improve. Committees were formed and the committee members were the ones who identified focus areas and established time-bound goals. Each year, our superintendent releases a report on the status of our progress towards meeting those goals to the School Board and the public. This is a time when we take ownership of both our successful and not-so-successful endeavors. This is crucial because successes should ALWAYS be celebrated, and we have to be honest with ourselves and those around us for positive change to occur. If we don’t acknowledge our weaknesses, they grow and eventually become excuses that define us.
So what’s that one excuse that always stands in the way of change for your school or district? Student demographics? Geographical location? Salary?
For us, it’s salary.
Salary is one of the areas in our Strategic Plan for Improvement that is painful to discuss. Across the board, our salaries are below the state average. That gap gets even wider when we’re compared to neighboring school districts; the ones we actually compete with for teachers. On average, 25% of our teachers leave each year for higher paying jobs. As school and district leaders, we can’t increase salary (that’s a feat for the Board), but we can shower our teachers with appreciation and pray that this makes them stay! So that’s what we do.
Do your teachers KNOW they are valued?
John F. Kennedy once said that “the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” Saying you appreciate the work of your teachers is not the same as showing them.
After each district assessment cycle, our superintendent hand-delivers medals to the teachers whose classes showed significant growth or achieved high proficiency levels. Even though the students are the ones who took the assessment, we know that teachers are the driving force. The awards take a while to organize and entire days to hand out, but every second is time well spent! Not only does it build stronger relationships with our teachers, but we’ve also seen a rise in assessment scores. I honestly don’t know who finds this more rewarding—the teachers, the students, or our superintendent.
As you can imagine, our celebration for state assessments is even grander. Despite our struggles with high turnover, we have several loyal teachers who are absolute rock stars in the classroom. We even have several brand new teachers who shine just as bright. In the past, schools were only looked at as a whole when state test scores arrived, and pockets of excellence went unacknowledged. Not any longer. If you want to know who the rock star teachers are in Pointe Coupee, just visit our central office. Before you even make it to the receptionist, you will see our Teacher Wall of Fame. This is a wall that displays plaques with the portraits and accomplishments of an elite force of educators. In 2016, our inaugural year, eight teachers met the criteria for induction. In 2017, eighteen teachers were inducted! The criteria for induction have not changed. This is simple proof that people work harder when they are shown that their work is appreciated.