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Making Excellent Schools

Jessica Hahn

When I began teaching, I took part in an "Excellent School Visit." The excellent school we visited was a private, high-achieving school in a wealthy Phoenix community. I focused on the teaching. I believed that excellent teaching meant excellent results. Yet the teaching I saw was not what I would consider innovative or even excellent. So what made this school excellent? And what could make my school excellent?
Here are some thoughts:

1. Facilities and resources
In 2022, my school has a playground and a variety of recess materials. We have a huge library. We have a computer lab. Learning how to type and do research on computers is not optional but a mandatory part of our students' learning. Our middle school students have the opportunity to join the band or chorus. There are many after-school activities, such as debate and sports.

2. Lots of people
No student is ever denied access to the counselor or is on a waiting list because too many kids need to see her. Our school has an appropriate number of counselors based on the needs of the student body. Different learning styles and needs are met because we have a variety of services and the people to provide them. For example, if a child needs an inclusive classroom setting, we have it.

3. Access to the world
I was helping a couple of 8th graders prepare for the state test last year. While reading a passage I asked one what she thought the setting was. "A family is camping in the forest," she said. In fact, it was the site of an archaeological dig. But in her world, tents were used for camping and camping happened in the woods. She said she had never seen an archaeological site, not even in a book or a museum.

In 2022, our school provides our students and their families access to a variety of opportunities that would expand their horizons. Frequent in-school and after-school field trips are encouraged. Art, performance, music, and hands-on learning experiences are an integral part of the curriculum.

4. An experienced and great staff that stays year after year
In 2022, both the leadership team and teaching staff range from good to great and have many years of experience. Teachers stay year after year improving their craft and getting to know the community. Maybe we stay because of the small class sizes or the reasonable work hours. New staff training is no longer the focus. Because we have the same core group of teachers year after year, we focus our attention on the nuances of teaching. The result is better teaching, better learning, and ultimately higher student achievement.

Jessica Hahn has taught elementary grade children for six years in Phoenix and New York City.

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