When superintendent David Aderhold’s letter was posted to the district website, the school was abuzz with discussion and intense debate—but for no more than a few days. It isn’t hard to see why, since most of the changes mentioned in the letter hardly impact high school students at all.
While statistics in the letter show that high schoolers are clearly the most stressed of all groups surveyed, with sixty-eight percent of high school students reporting that they are stressed always or most of the time, the changes don’t seem to affect high school students.
At North, No Homework Nights are deftly avoided by teachers who struggle to fit an entire AP curriculum into the months before the test. Despite their elimination, midterms and finals are fluidly replaced by common assessments and cumulative exams. The audience may be the stressed, high-achieving high schoolers, but high school students are not reaping the fruits of these new policies.
This is not to say that elementary and middle schoolers do not have enough stress of their own to deal with. The learning environment in WW-P is inundated with a competitive, academic-driven atmosphere from the moment kindergartners step into their classrooms. Even though they are so many years away from college, they find themselves pouring over textbooks and homework, determined to be the best. Chamber Orchestra and the A & E program generate new kinds of pressure—and intellectual stratification. This feeling of superiority coming from these programs lends itself to intellectual bullying, which has consequences just as detrimental as, if not more than, those of cyber, social, and physical bullying in this school district.
The contradictions between the ideals the school district upholds and support listed for different changes to be implemented are strikingly easy to spot. Aderhold explains that by maintaining “grades at the expense of deep and meaningful learning,” the school district has been failing the students, or, in other words, grades should not be a measure of learning and academic achievement. However, he goes on to validate the implementation of prerequisites for honors and AP classes with none other than students’ higher grades.
And where are the teachers in this conversation of policy change? Who else but these teachers who have seen years of children come and go to understand curriculum changes the best? Yes, upper administration definitely has an adequate knowledge of what goes on in the classroom, but expert opinions should come from teachers who understand exactly how to run classes successfully. By consulting teachers before making any definitive changes to the class curriculum or policies, the administration will be able to make more educated decisions about what the students in WW-P really need to learn well.
But the underlying question remains: can policy changes truly alter the culture of an entire school district? After all, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for educational reform. The school district needs to be able to accommodate the needs of each individual grade level. For example, high schoolers are looking for ways to reduce stress while being able to do well both in academics and extracurriculars. The administration should focus their lens and make small, lasting changes for each demographic instead of each trying to create a broad, vague cure-all solution.
Dr. Aderhold has the right idea—something needs to change. But WW-P is a perpetually over-stressed school district, and a culture like ours will take more than a few modifications and a letter to truly transform.