Laurie Kimbrel

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

by Laurie Kimbrel as an educator and parent

As educators, why do we spend so much of our time preparing our high school students for college? As parents, why do we send our students to college? Is it solely because it will prepare them for a great job some day? Is it so that they earn the most amazing grades possible so that they can get into the most competitive law or medical school? Or is there something else, something bigger and more significant?

When I picked up my own daughter after her first year at one of the most rigorous and academically demanding universities in the country, I wondered what metrics I wanted to use to measure her success. I wondered how to share with her that I care about her as a whole person, not just a scholar. Don’t get me wrong, I care about her grades, and I suppose that I’m lucky because they are excellent. But as I reflect on the reason that I sent her to the other side of the country and pay exorbitant tuition bills, it isn’t so she can spend every day in the library with a book or in a lab doing research. I want my daughter to understand that success in college and life is much bigger than classes, academics and straight A’s.

Here are the questions I really wanted to ask about her first year:

  1. Have you learned that you are in charge of your own destiny?

It’s not high school anymore. You can choose to go to class – or not. No one is going to call home or even ask you about it. It’s all up to you and the consequences of this decision are also all yours. No one will get you out of bed and no one will have your breakfast waiting for you. Have you figured out how to make it where you need to be on your own? You can also choose to join a club, participate in community service or help others. These decisions are no longer for a college application. Have you learned to participate or to help others for the pure joy of doing so? For how it feeds your soul rather than for an external reward?

Have you experienced colossal failure and bounced back?

Failure is part of life. We all experience it and we all deal with it differently. As parents we spend time trying to protect our children from failure, but as adults we are faced with big and small failures regularly. I hope my daughter chooses boldly, goes out on a limb and experiences bold and difficult failure. In fact, I hope she experiences frustration and uncertainty. It is only through experience that we learn to hold our head high, move on, and to try again. In fact, I hope she learns to continue to make bold decisions, with awareness that failure may be the outcome but that it is only through these failures that world changing breakthroughs happen.

Have you made unexpected friends?

College is a time to meet new people with backgrounds so very different from our own. I want to ask my daughter, have you given someone different from you a chance to learn who you are? Have you reached out to someone you would have never known in high school? Have you learned that diversity adds depth to friendship? Have you made sure that someone who is alone knows that you are there for them? Do you have a wide variety of friends but are you working to develop a few life-long friends who will be with you though the ups and downs of your life, career and family?

Have you discovered your passion or ruled out what is not?

Just paging through the university course catalog gives me goose bumps. There is so much variety and so much depth and I wouldn’t even know how to start to choose classes. I wonder if my daughter has taken a class that ignites her passion in something that she never even considered. I wonder if she took a class that she thought she would love and found it dull and boring. I want to tell her that success is finding what you love and pursuing it. I want her to know that a career pursuing what someone else thinks is a good idea is a waste of a life.

Have you learned that your family members are your roots but that we want nothing more than for you to discover you have wings?

During her first year at college, my daughter experienced what its like to be 3,000 miles away from home while she was sick, alone during spring break and hungry because the cafeteria food was almost inedible. It would have been easier if she were home. I would have fed her, taken her to her own doctor and kept her company. In fact, I want her to know that she can always get those things at home but I’m so proud that now she knows how to work though it on her own as well. I want her to know that success is having a solid set of values and an understanding of who you are but that those things are only useful if you use they to grow, learn and become the person you are meant to be. I want her to learn to fly on her own, to be her own person, to make the lives of others better through her actions.

 

I’m sad for the parents, educators or anyone else who thinks college is only about the grades earned. I’m sad for the undue stress it causes our children and the sometimes-tragic consequences that ensue. College is about learning to be responsible, self-motivated, passionate, and caring. College should ignite a love of learning, a love of oneself, and a love of others. As a parent, I’m most proud of the healthy, happy, passionate person that I can see my daughter becoming. I’ll happily send her back across the country for three more years.

 

 

 

 

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by Laurie Kimbrel, Ed.D.

 

If we stand still in a rapidly changing world, we will be quickly passed by. As educators, we must be aware that our role is to prepare our students to enter an increasingly competitive job market and college application process. If we accept the status quo when other schools and districts are making improvements, our students will be denied the highest quality education possible.

 

Continuous improvement is imperative and must be driven by a robust statement of mission and corresponding strategic plan. A strategic plan charts a course for a specific future by setting goals designed to move the organization towards its aspirational mission.

 

In comparing district leadership and student achievement, Waters and Marzano (2006) identified five specific district leadership responsibilities that positively correlated with student achievement:

  • Establishing a collaborative process to set goals;
  • Establishing “non-negotiable goals” (that is, goals all staff must act upon once set by the board) in at least two areas: student achievement and classroom instruction;
  • Having the board align with and support district goals;
  • Monitoring goals for achievement and instruction;
  • Using resources to support achievement and instruction goals.

 

Ultimately, the responsibility of strategic planning belongs to the School Board. According to the National School Board Association, One of the primary responsibilities of a school board is to set direction for a district. Boards should work with their communities to set a direction for the district through the creation of a mission statement and then development of specific goals intended to move the organization closer to realization of that mission.

 

The first step in the strategic planning process is usually to create a student focused mission statement. This statement should reflect the values of the community and be focused on the outcomes expected for students rather than the actions or behaviors of adults such as teachers, administrators or parents. The mission tells us what a graduate of our schools should know and be able to do. Mission statements are aspirational rather than a statement of what exists today.

 

Because public schools should be a reflection of the communities in which they exist, there should be a process of input from parents, students, staff and community members. Forums and surveys are typical data gathering processes. Before a mission is set, there must also be a thorough examination of data for all aspects of district functioning including student achievement, discipline, climate, district financial records and human resources records. It is the responsibility of the school board to create and approve the mission, but this should only be done after careful consideration of input and data.

 

After a mission has been created and approved, the Board of Education typically establishes priorities, which are the major areas that must be addressed in order to make progress toward the mission. All areas of school district operations should be at least considered when creating a comprehensive plan. Of course no plan is complete without priorities in the areas of curriculum and instruction but other areas of consideration may be finance, human resources, student services (counseling, discipline, wellness), community engagement, public relations/communications.

 

Once priority areas are determined, strategic goals should be set in each area. Again, each step of the process should involve opportunities for input and collaboration with staff, parents, students and community. Each strategic goal should clearly lead the organization towards achievement of the mission. School boards should closely monitor progress towards goals and amend the plan over time so that it stays relevant. Once a strategic plan is in place it must be updated regularly. Goals that are accomplished should be celebrated and new goals that lead to the mission should be added.

 

Overall, a strategic plan provides direction for staff. The role of administrators is to implement the strategic plan rather than to strike out on their own about what they independently believe to be the best course of action. In the simplest terms, the School Board determines the “what” and the staff uses their expertise to determine the “how”.   Neither the staff or board can work in isolation, they are a team and they need each other in order to truly engage in continuous improvement on behalf of students.

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by Laurie Kimbrel, Ed.D.

For many years there has been a national dialogue regarding the gap in achievement between low-income, minority students and their middle to upper income, white peers. As we compare standardized test scores, grade point averages and graduation rates, we can easily see a persistent gap between these groups. In fact, in many school systems, we can predict the outcomes for a student based on their zip code or the size of their parents’ paycheck.   Most educators find this gap unacceptable and many programs and ideas are introduced annually into schools in order to help reduce the gap. The research on the efficacy of these programs varies, but for the most part, despite the good intentions of educators and policy makers, the achievement gaps persist.

 

When we focus on the achievement gap, we consider the measurements of results. In other words, the focus in on an outcome or what a student is able to do after a semester or year of school. What if we were to change the conversation so that we focus on the experience of students rather than the measurements we use after the fact? Many educators have adjusted their language and their thinking on this issue and now focus on the opportunity gap rather than the achievement gap. The question that we should really be asking is about inputs, or the experience of the students. Do all students in the system have the same opportunity to experience success? When we consider the opportunity gap, we examine the differences between what courses and experiences are available to various groups of students.

 

When we take an honest look at schools, we often see very different experiences for low income and minority students. A few questions to consider:

  • Do all students have access to at least grade level instruction or are some students placed into remedial tracks with very little chance for advancement?
  • Are there research based, non-optional interventions available to all students who struggle academically and emotionally? Do these interventions allow students to stay in grade level courses? Do experts administer these interventions?
  • Are minority and low-income students proportionally represented in honors and Advanced Placement courses? If not, are their barriers to admission that prohibit students with the desire to challenge themselves?
  • Are minority and low-income students over represented in special education programs and courses? Statistically, these students are no more likely to be disabled than their peers.
  • Are minority and low-income students proportionally represented in specialty and niche programs such as International Baccalaureate, magnet schools or charter schools? If not, what barriers to admission or participation exist?

 

If we believe that our schools should prepare all students for college and career, then it is imperative to eliminate the gaps in opportunity that our students often experience. All students should receive at least grade level instruction and those who need extra assistance to function at grade level should have access a robust system of intervention and support. We should not be able to look in a classroom door and know that it’s below grade level, tracked class because of the color of the students’ skin. If we are fulfilling the promise of American education, gifted, honors, and Advanced Placement classrooms should be visually indistinguishable from grade level courses. The barriers to participation in rigorous programs must be eliminated. All students deserve access to the very best that every teacher and school have to offer.

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