Editor’s Note: Mr. Winger is principal at Lyons Middle Senior. In addition to 24 years of experience in the St. Vrain Valley Schools, Winger is a former Longmont City Council member and longtime Longmont resident.How does a school go from good to outstanding?
The question is on the minds of many influential people these days: business leaders, our President, and even some extraordinarily wealthy philanthropists spending millions of dollars to test their theories. While no one’s asked me, I have enough experience as a teacher and administrator (more than 24 years combined) to have a reasonably informed opinion. Here’s what I think.
The single most important ingredient to an outstanding school is having a critical mass of highly engaged parents who value education. Parent engagement is so fundamentally important that if I had to manage a school with the benefit of only one key ingredient, my top choice would be highly engaged parents. Successful adults frequently overlook the impact that a caring parent had on their life. Engaged parents are invaluable!
The next ingredient is having students who come to school ready to learn. Students learn best when they’re rested, fed, prepared, and eager to open their mind to new ideas and experiences. And parents who routinely ask their student for updates about favorite classes, daily homework assignments, and weekly quizzes and tests are really preparing their student for a successful day of learning.
Next, an outstanding school is permeated by a palpable expectation for academic excellence. From the moment students walk through the school door, every adult they encounter—be it a receptionist, teacher, coach, or custodian—must have an unflagging expectation for student excellence with school work, co-curricular activities, comportment, and overall involvement in the school community.
Outstanding schools have enhanced facilities with modern technology and a rich selection of co-curricular opportunities. High performing students need instruments, laboratories, computers, and facilities that support a student’s growing ambition. Good facilities and modern technology motivate students.
Absolutely essential to success are highly qualified classroom teachers who are committed to student success. The attributes I’ve already mentioned transform a school from good to outstanding, but great teachers ensure that each student is challenged to rise to his or her highest level of academic proficiency and becomes an outstanding learner.
What I’m describing is exactly what I experience everyday at Lyons Middle Senior High School where I’m fortunate to serve as principal. We’re ranked among the top 3% of all schools in America by U.S. News & World Reports and among the top 10 best schools in Colorado. We also have one of the highest graduation rates in the state and 80% of our senior class receives college acceptance letters before completing their senior year.
At Lyons, students are heavily involved in co-curricular activities: over 85% participate in team sports and clubs and most are active in two or more. In fact, spectators at our athletic events commonly see athletes performing the National Anthem with the band then quickly stow their instruments, join their teammates and take to the field.
Other great activities at Lyons Middle Senior include a peer tutoring program, a Spanish club, a robotics team that has qualified for this year’s international competition, and the only mountain biking club in the district. Also, our school band was recently selected to perform at the Colorado Music Educators Conference, a very significant honor.
Our teachers are consummate professionals. Everyday I witness their dedication and compassion, volunteering for the after-school homework program, sacrificing precious planning time to tutor students in need of extra help, and showing up at night and on weekends to support kids at athletic games or club competitions such as MESA and Robotics. I cannot say enough about this inspiring group of educators.
Our parents are the school’s secret sauce. They volunteer hundreds of hours each month; facilitating committee meetings, assisting staff during CSAP week, raising funds through the Booster Club, and sharing academic knowledge and professional expertise with students and staff. Research studies link parent involvement to student achievement. Fortunately, at our school it’s a way of life.
Finally, Lyons Middle Senior is an outstanding school because it is part of the St. Vrain Valley School District. We are a district of outstanding schools and stakeholders would be hard pressed to find another public school district with the diversity of instructional programs and educational settings available here in St. Vrain.
With the backing of a stellar Board of Education, focused administrators, and supportive communities, I believe Lyons Middle Senior and all the amazing schools in St. Vrain will be outstanding for many years to come.