At the end of the day, what does the word Excellence really mean? And, how do schools really and truly demonstrate and exemplify Educational Excellence, let alone when claiming to “celebrate” Excellence?
There is an age-old phrase, “if you say something enough times, over an extended period of time, even if it’s not true, people will believe it”. This statement may be true, but not when it pertains to educational excellence. Why? Because educational excellent is measurable, quantifiable and transparent. It’s not a catch-phrase or a buzz term. It cannot be spun or fabricated. It’s real, tangible and factual.
Several weeks ago, our school sponsored its Gala Dinner. It was an elegant evening with outstanding honorees, inspiring speeches, an impressive venue, and of-course, the food was over-the-top. But more important than all of these trappings (except for the honorees) was the theme of the evening – “Celebrating Excellence”.
As Principal of our School’s General Studies Program, I take tremendous pride in being part of a school leadership team that is passionately committed to excellence, irrespective of our continuous struggle for financial viability and stability. But, I often wonder how many of our parents, supporters and community constituents truly share our understanding and definition of Educational Excellence – let alone “celebrate” it. How many of our parents and constituents truly understand that Excellence is not only about cutting-edge technology, state-of-the-art curricula and curriculum materials, a modern facility, inspiring leadership, attractive PR material and website platforms. Yes, these are all critical components which support the effectiveness, vitality and viability of our school. But, in reality, a school can have all of these physical and tangible components and trappings and yet fall short of being considered a school of excellence. So what does make a school Excellent? The answer may be obvious, but not always understood – ITS OUR TEACHERS!
In addition to educational leadership, the quality of teachers is probably the single most important indicator of school excellence. Great teachers create and teach in great schools; and, great schools attract, retain and promote great teachers. Plain and simple. You cannot have a school of excellence in the absence of excellent pedagogy and teaching. This symbiotic relationship is indisputable.
There are schools that unfortunately take outstanding teaching and teaching staff for granted…..as if there are a surplus of great teachers in our community standing in line just waiting to be hired. As we so often hear, “if our students are not happy with a particular teacher, let’s just find one who can do a better job”. Unfortunately, many of these judgments are not based on any real performance assessments or criteria, but rather upon how a parent “feels” or what a parent “hears” about a teacher’s style, personality; and at times, the manner in which the teacher interacts with their child. Yes, for better or for worst, perception is reality, especially in a school. Having said that, there will always be cases where teachers require an extra dose of guidance and supervision, and as we know, there will always be those teachers, and hopefully very few (as in any industry) who regardless of supervision, fail to perform in accordance with best teaching practice.
Here at the Hebrew Academy Community School, “celebrating excellence” really means celebrating our teachers and their impact on our students. Excellent teaching is the foundation upon which we build schools of excellence that enrich and inspire students. The Hebrew Academy is truly blessed with a cadre of outstanding Judaic and General Studies teachers who are passionately committed to their craft and who continuously exhibit tremendous skill as well as unswerving devotion and dedication to the children they are empowered to teach. They are the primary reason why we at HACS have the moral authority and right to celebrate excellence. Yes, simply put – it’s all about our faculty.
Having led several significant day schools in a variety of capacities, I can say with pride and confidence that HACS does have the best; and, when we don’t, we strive to recruit and engage the best.
So, the next time a parent, a donor, or a member of our community is truly interested in drilling down a bit deeper regarding the quality of our teachers, or the next time they desire to witness excellence through teaching greatness in real time, I invite them to meet with me or, better yet, join me in a visit to our classrooms. Celebrating educational excellence is a shared endeavor, not a single act of myopic self-interest, promotion or marketing. As they say, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint”.
Seeing and experiencing high quality and impactful teaching is always better than just hearing about it. You owe it to yourself, to our school, to your children and above all to our excellent teachers.
The rest is commentary……
Dr. Chaim Y. Botwinick