By John BernhardtTime flies. It doesn’t seem possible that the Andes Gazette has reached the mature age of ten. It’s also hard to imagine that my time as Superintendent at Andes Central School is drawing to an end. This is the last column I will write as the Superintendent of your school.
My career is a patchwork quilt. My Mom used to joke that I never let the grass grow under my feet. She is right. In a thirty-five year career in public school education I have worked for nine different institutions of learning. As a BOCES staff developer I have visited and provided teacher training in nearly one hundred more. That rich and varied experience has taught me much about school and schooling.
To my way of thinking, there is no other school quite like Andes Central School. I say that only with warm and positive emotions and respect. In some ways a throwback to another era, Andes Central School is a school with a family-like persona. At Andes, people care. Like members of extended families of past eras, the students and staff at ACS recognize each other’s needs and are always willing to reach out and offer one another a hand. “The Andes Way” is a direct contrast to the distant, sometimes faceless, human relationship patterns found in larger public institutions.
My years at Andes have reinforced a few life maxims I’d like to share.
1. Bigger IS Not Always Better
Last week I attended the end-of-year ONC BOCES library symposium. The guest speaker, was David Jakes, a former biology teacher and current Technology Director at a large high school in Illinois. David’s presentation challenged the audience to consider the types of schools where our children learn and the interface between their learning experiences inside the school walls with that they realize interacting with the greater world outside of schools.
During the presentation, David shared a YouTube video of a presentation made by Pattie Maers. Maers modeled the use of multiple technology tools (a tiny digital camera, a miniature projection device, a reflection mirror, her cell phone all on her person) providing integrated presentation capabilities that at one time were only available in the best- equipped presentation halls. Using these tools, at a cost of $350, a single consumer can perform portable presentation functions anywhere in the world. Clearly, in the world of technology, bigger is not better.
The same holds at ACS. Much is said of the fact that Andes struggles to field competitive sports teams in the Delaware League. This is true. More needs to be said about the fact that almost every high school student participates in athletics at Andes. Last year 87 percent of our high school students were a participants on at least one athletic team. Similar levels of participation are found in our clubs and activities. Over sixty-percent of Andes junior and senior high school students are members of the chorus, almost every senior performs in the senior play, and on and on and on.
2. When It Comes To Learning, Conditions Count
Robert Marzano’s Dimensions of Learning program identifies positive attitudes and perceptions as the first dimension of learning. According to Marzano, educational research speaks clearly, a positive learning climate has much to do with the attitudes and perceptions of the learners.
The small personal learning environment and positive climate at Andes is the perfect venue to learn. At Andes every student is a valued member of a learning community, not a number in a large diploma mill. The Andes staff knows the students they serve and shape personal, relevant learning experiences.
A movement is currently afoot across America to break down large suburban and urban schools into “Schools Within a School.” After decades of pushing consolidation, education policy makers are rediscovering what we have always known at Andes. Students learn more effectively in smaller, more personal learning settings, where adults have a more personal stake in your success.
3. The Sky Is Always the Limit
To many, size is equated with opportunity. Not so. Like people everywhere, the accomplishments of our students at Andes have as much to do with personal initiative and work ethic as the size of the school they attend. The classic example is Cheyenne Tait, a graduate of last year’s senior class who is doing well as a freshman at Princeton University. Certainly, Cheyenne is an exception, and we won’t be able to brag that Andes is the only school where 11 percent of their graduating seniors attend an Ivy League school for long, but students strive for higher ground at Andes all the time. Take Megan Peck, a current junior with her eye on possibly becoming a veterinarian someday. Megan is taking an on-line pre-veterinarian class this year and doing well. Her love of the subject content has spurned an independent study with an accelerated reading load. Or how about Montana Damone, a young aspiring actress at ACS, who recently had a role in the Orpheus Theater production of “Beauty and the Beast.” As Cheyenne, Meghan, and Monty prove, the only limits for ACS students are those they impose.
For me, my stay at ACS has been remarkable. I am continually impressed with the commitment and resilience of the people associated with our school. In fact, I think that can be said for all the folks of Andes. Thank you for your support of my work at Andes and for opening your hearts to me. It’s not often that folks can retire from their life’s work at the peak of their success. I feel that is the case for me in Andes. I am honored and thankful to have been provided the privilege of serving at your great school. I promise I won’t become a stranger. ~