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Russell Lofthus, Elementary Principal
Russell Lofthus, Elementary Principal
In Celebration of Public Education
submitted by Russell Lofthus
Adrian Elementary Principal
Each year I have an opportunity to write an article during American Education Week. American Education Week is a time to celebrate the institution of public education in America. The concept of teaching and learning is of vital importance in our society as well as societies around the world. At Adrian Elementary, we work with children from birth through the fifth grade. The focus of my article will pertain to educational issues impacting this age range of children.
Early childhood education is receiving a lot of attention nationwide. Many states have what is called universal preschool for children, which means that the state funds preschool education. In Minnesota, we have a variety of early childhood programs, but we do not have universal preschool. Parents sending their children to preschool in Minnesota pay tuition to support these programs. There are several advocacy groups working within the state to improve funding for universal preschool as well as full funding for kindergarten education. A prominent group working on these issues in Minnesota is called Ready-4 -K (www.ready4k.org). Groups like this are conducting a lot of research and are working hard to get the message out to policy makers, parents, corporate leaders and the general public that investing in quality early childhood programs will in fact provide an excellent return on the investment over time.
As a new administration moves into the White House, there will most likely be changes made to our current federal education policy called No Child Left Behind. Personally speaking, there are changes that need to be made to improve this legislation. The concept of every child achieving at grade level in reading and math by the year 2014 is a lofty goal, but it does not take into account the realities of our society. There are children that struggle to learn how to read or do math, and our work with them is geared towards helping them acquire the skills they are capable of achieving. To say that a school has failed if every third grade student is not reading or doing math at grade level by the year 2014 is unrealistic, and most schools, under the current law, will fall into the failing category. Our goal at Adrian Public Schools is to provide the best education we can to every student. No Child Left Behind has provided a framework to improve achievement that focuses too much on being punitive and takes away resources from schools that are placed in the Needs Improvement status. Quality schools understand the need to focus on achievement, and work hard to improve education for every child using a continuous improvement model to meet the needs of children. Perhaps we will see revisions to NCLB that will provide the necessary resources for schools to meet the educational needs of children in the 21st century.
Quality schools look beyond the test scores and academic rankings to determine if a school is helping young people be the best they can be. I want to again stress the importance a positive school culture has on academic success. At Adrian Elementary, we continue to use the Responsive Classroom model in our daily work with children. Responsive classrooms have certain elements embedded in them that allow children to learn and develop based on a set of common beliefs or practices. The Responsive Classroom approach is informed by the work of educational theorists and the experiences of exemplary classroom teachers. Seven principles guide this approach: (1) The social curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum. (2) How children learn is as important as what they learn. Process and content go hand in hand. (3) The greatest cognitive growth occurs through social interaction. (4) To be successful academically and socially, children need a set of social skills, including cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy, and self-control. (5) Knowing the children we teachт individually, culturally, and developmentallyт is as important as knowing the content we teach. (6) Knowing the families of the children we teach and working with them as partners is essential to childrenтs education. (7) How the adults at school work together is as important as their individual competence: Lasting change begins with the adult community.
In closing, when I visit with students about school, I hear them tell me they like school, enjoy their classmates, and appreciate the staff. We are fortunate to have a great group of people at AES that make school enjoyable and challenging. We are also fortunate to have great kids and families. I believe our success is possible because of the cooperation, support, and the efforts of everyone involved.