From The Superintendent

Dear Families,

Welcome to the 2019-2020 school year! This summer we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, during which American astronauts became the first humans to set foot on the moon. This great feat represented the culmination of a decade of research, experimentation, collaboration, and preparation that began with President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to the nation: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

At the time that Kennedy announced that the US would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade, there were many who said it couldn’t be done and others who said it shouldn’t be done. Throughout most of its duration, fewer than 50 percent of Americans supported continued funding for the Apollo project. Former President Dwight Eisenhower called his successor’s plan “nuts” and a prominent MIT scientist invented the term “moondoggle” to express his dim view of the program.

Yet here we are 50 years later celebrating what many have listed among humankind’s greatest accomplishments and reflecting upon the vision, passion, and ambition of the 400,000 people who collaborated to put an astronaut on the moon in just nine years. I’m sure that, like me, many of you spent time this summer reflecting on the “can-do” attitude and vision that got us there.

As I consider the coming school year and the district’s areas of focus I can’t help drawing comparisons to the situation in which America found itself in the early 1960’s: healthy and prosperous but nervous about gathering storm clouds on the horizon. In Edgemont we have many accomplishments to celebrate at the same time that we commit to rise to our challenges. We continue to revise and improve our curriculum and instructional program to meet the evolving needs of 21st (and 22nd!) century colleges and workplaces. A marked upward trend in enrollment has left all three schools with absolutely no room to grow and forecasts indicate that this trend will continue in the coming years. At the same time, the buildings themselves are aging and becoming increasingly expensive and difficult to maintain and repair. We are poised and ready for these challenges.

Since Edgemont High School and Greenville Elementary School were constructed in the 1950’s, all three buildings have undergone major expansions, renovations, and reconfigurations. These include constructing a new library, cafeteria, and classroom spaces at Seely Place School, adding a new gymnasium, music room, classrooms, and library at Greenville, and erecting the D-building, E-building, the library/LGI, and a second gymnasium at EHS. As the needs of Edgemont’s student population have evolved over the years, we have made a number of incremental improvements to the physical plant in an attempt to keep up.

In 1955 there was no internet, there was no STEAM, and there was no special education. The EHS website features a number of wonderful photos of EHS from the era when it was first built. The buildings themselves and the students in those photos reflect the culture that produced them. It gives me pause to think about how that culture has changed so much in the last 60 years yet the buildings have failed in many respects to keep pace.

Researcher and author Daniel Goleman reminds us that focus is indeed the hidden driver of excellence. We know that when our decisions are systemic and aligned k-12, they have the most positive impact on our students and their families. We know that when everyone in our organization is connected to this focus, whether faculty, staff, administrator or Board of Education member, we develop capacity and move forward in our ability to meet students’ current and future needs. Towards that end, we have developed three equally important areas of focus that will drive our work over the next three to five years with far-reaching impact over the next 50 years.

Our first area of focus is on capital improvements and bonding. An architectural and engineering study will be conducted in the fall to determine our construction needs. In a 2% tax cap environment, bonding is the main financial strategy for funding construction. With current debt rolling off in 2022, it is time to plan for Edgemont’s next fifty years. In collaboration with the faculty and community, we will examine how our current facilities meet the needs of a growing student population.

Our second area is “focused, purposeful instruction to deepen student learning.” Probably only the educators are interested in the details of this work, but for the non-educators, I describe it this way -- students can answer the question, “Why?” When I walk into a classroom and ask a student why they are learning what they are learning, each student will be able to answer meaningfully. According to research in the area of growth mindset, students learn better and more deeply when the learning is relevant to their lives and connected to a bigger purpose. Scholars such as Jo Boaler, Professor of Mathematics at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, are providing the framework for teachers to follow in their curricular planning in the areas of purpose and relevance.

Our third area is a focus on the “social, emotional, and academic behaviors that promote learning and well-being for all students.” Behaviors such as: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making form the foundation for success in academic learning, especially in these times when we are preparing students for jobs and careers that do not yet exist. Surveys of employers continue to show that the skills they most want to see in new hires include the ability to communicate clearly, collaborate effectively with others, and persist in the face of challenges. Likewise, the latest educational research shows that when schools actively work to develop these skills in students, they have a multiplicative effect on academic achievement.

In all of these areas, we find ourselves asking the same question: how do we continue to provide a relevant, engaging experience for our students that prepares them for a world that is unpredictable and rapidly changing? It is tempting to consider “band-aids” that can temporarily address some of these problems. We can continue to make incremental improvements as necessary and try to keep up. Yet I feel that Edgemont is at somewhat of a crossroads where we need to come together and consider the district’s needs from not just the perspective of next year’s budget or a five-year strategic plan but in terms of how to position our schools for the next 50 years. This year, there will be opportunities for members of the community to discuss how we want to address the challenges we face. I hope you will add your voice to that discussion.

Most historians will argue that the origins of the Apollo project can be found not in a president’s ambition or in the musings of a scientist but in the situation in which the country found itself at the time. The Soviets were beating us in the space race and many worried that America was losing its relevance. It was how we chose to react to those pressing circumstances that demonstrated America’s ingenuity, drive, and ambition. We chose a path that, in the end, absolutely knocked everyone’s socks off, re-established American leadership among the nations of the world, and propelled us into the technology-rich world of the 21st century.

Following the speech, Kennedy later commented, “If we are to go only half way, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgment, it would be better not to go at all.” As we move forward in the 2019-2020 school year, we are going to need to consider profound questions about what the bridge to Edgemont’s future will look like and I encourage you to be a part of the conversation.

I look forward to "focusing forward" together,