William Hughes, educational consultant and superintendent of the Greendale Wisconsin School District, is a regular contributor to the Special Olympics Project UNIFY blog. Below he details he experience with three Wisconsin School District as they exhibit positive school environments.
Several weeks ago the McCormick Foundation team studying civic mission of schools visited the Greendale School District, outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Greendale Schools are known for their exemplary commitment to “school climate.” When I tried to write a blog on unified sports in metro districts, I discovered Milwaukee area school districts were knowingly or unknowingly engaged in activities that used the principals of Project Unify.
In my opinion this is because of the positive school climate that is created by Project Unify.
According to the No Excuses report, a positive school climate is characterized by a clean, welcoming environment with visual reminders of the school’s mission; teachers and administrators who serve as role models, students who have the skills, confidence and opportunities to make a difference in their schools and communities, and policies, practices and infrastructure to support one another.
Good schools and school districts have a positive school climate and out achieve similar schools or districts. Savvy school leaders know this and build on the disposition for positive school climate.
- The Hamilton Sussex School District, led by Dr. Kathleen Cooke has an after school program that links youth with intellectual disabilities with peer students. This is unique because the Hamilton School District provides an after school activities bus so more kids can participate and more importantly, the students conceived, developed and lead the program. (Watch for a future blog on this program after I interview the staff advisor and some students. This is a school district worth watching!)
- Students at Franklin School District are leading a campaign to end the R-Word. Read more about the student’s campaign. Walking through the halls of Greendale High School last week, I glanced at school store window – a real store, operated and run by GHS students. Front and center for sale and selling, a t-shirt from the Greendale Schools Best Buddies Club.
What is the secret of Greendale and Hamilton’s success?
I think it is because both districts hire student-centered school leaders and staff with a commitment to civic learning. They engage in ongoing professional development, attending and presenting at conferences and sharing their learning with peers back in the district.
Building principals know each student by name, and students have an authentic voice in school governance. Faculty focuses on the development of the whole child via district-wide character education initiatives and inclusive education is embedded in the curriculum, and student autonomy and ownership are central to the design and implementation of our work in schools. Hamilton Superintendent Kathleen Cooke told me about the project in her district and gave the credit to the students and advisor. This is another example of positive school climate and shared values.
This is important because a primary role of schools is to promote student achievement and citizenship. Good schools with strong positive school climates find work like Project Unify. The leaders and faculty as well as students have the disposition for the work. Once, they find it, the rest comes along on its own.