Column: Listening to Our Students

  • Superintendent Joe Gothard speaks with students at Highland Park Senior High School Listening to adults is not the only way I’m learning about our district. I’ve been meeting and talking with some of our high school students: eager and thoughtful young people who have interesting, often predictable, and sometimes surprising or unsettling observations about their education.

    I will share more about some of these conversations in weeks to come, but today I want to focus on a message I’m hearing loud and clear in many contexts. Our high school kids focus deeply on extracurricular activities, clubs and advocacy work because they see them as ways to make a difference.

    Students strive to make these activities relevant to their lives -- far more so than traditional K-12 curriculum. Our kids want to be prepared for our rapidly changing world, and they want lessons that will help them.

    We have to find and choose relevancy in everything we do. While that’s happening in some places in our district, it’s not yet everywhere. And where it isn’t happening, students are feeling exceedingly stressed. In fact, stress among our high school students -- about which they speak candidly and without shame -- is an issue we definitely need to address.

    What our students say matters. We must listen and respond supportively. This doesn’t mean we can do everything we’re asked. But we must constantly reflect on our practices, relationships, and behaviors to make sure student success is our first priority.

    Along those lines, our district’s role in student success begins in pre-K, if not before. I look forward to attending my first SPPS School Choice Fair this Saturday in the Great Hall at Washington Secondary. Those of you who are responsible for creating attractive, interactive booths have resources to help you. Even if you don’t need to attend, you might want to consider paying a visit to the Fair. I’ve heard it’s one of the liveliest, most enjoyable events of our school year.

    Finally, a note on stress. The national news last week gave cause for sadness, anxiety and anger. We live and work in a stress-inducing world, and you know as well as I do that even our youngest students can be affected by it. I submit that the best way to manage our response to events we can’t control is to be more kind and patient, to reach out in love and gentleness, and to truly listen to one another.

    In partnership,

    Joe Gothard