When I first moved to Soldotna I drove past a house that was covered in Tyvek (a high density polyethylene house wrap) and assumed that the owner was getting ready to add siding. Six years later, nothing on the house has changed. I was reminded of this when thinking about how easy it is to make an assumption without knowing the full story. When we judge schools, we often make the same sort of shortsighted assumptions based on a small amount of information. While it is easy to do this, we all know that truly determining the quality of a school requires a comprehensive review. With this in mind, last year we identified 8 key performance indicators to help us gauge how well the district is doing. Two of these are tied to the students’ social and emotional well-being. The emphasis on testing students in reading and in math is legitimate, but we rarely consider how well students feel about themselves and school, when trying to understand these test results.
During the past couple of weeks out students in grades 5 and 10 took a short survey (Gallup Student Poll) to help us determine our students’ hope for the future, engagement with school and general well-being. The results of this survey are important. With more and more research on what helps students be successful after high school pointing to things such as grit, hope and a caring school environment, the survey will help us determine how our students feel about themselves in these areas. This research is finding that student GPA or ACT scores are less of an indicator of future success than are the items that we surveyed. This makes me think of the oft heard quote about students, “Kids don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” As we continue to work hard to help our students gain academic skills, let’s not lose sight of the need to pay attention to the non-academic side of school. Doing so helps tell the rest of the story.