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Principal’s Message 5/31

Date: May 30, 2011 Author: admin Categories: Principals Message

Follow up to Race To Nowhere

On March 14, our PTA sponsored a community screening of the documentary Race to Nowhere at Tierra Linda. The gym was full. In case you were unable to attend, RTN examines pressures faced by students, teachers, and parents in our high-stakes, high-pressure education system and culture. Interviews with families and educators reveal unhealthy results of stress including disengagement, depression, burnout, and a general lack of inspiration. An overriding theme is the need to rethink our narrow definitions of success—and support broader understandings of what it means to be successful in our culture.

Back in November, the two middle school PTAs screened RTN. This was followed by a community forum at Central Middle School for the two communities. Realizing that the scope of the issues included our families as well, BA PTA’s Lisa Miller determined to bring the film to the San Carlos K-4 community, resulting in the March 14 showing.


On April 4, BA held a community conversation around the themes of the film in our library. About a third of the 20 attendees were BA teachers; the others were parents of K-4 students at our school. Then on April 12 we used a BA staff meeting to further discuss the film, utilizing the same agenda to elicit focused viewpoints on the questions:

  • What best practices currently in place support BA students’ health, well-being, and achievement?
  • What current school practices might be changed or improved in order to better support student health, well-being, and achievement?
  • What family and community practices might be changed or improved in order to better support student health, well-being, and achievement?

Not surprisingly, the feedback collected at our two forums represented similar concerns. Families and staff both share the desire to redefine success to include children’s strengths and passions. Both groups want our educational system to work for students, teachers, and families. A summary of the collected commentary follows; you can read the complete list of addressed issues here.

What’s in Place at BA?

Both groups highlighted the same strengths at BA, noting supports for academic success, as well as strong programs emphasizing social and emotional learning. Strengths were noted in the areas of student leadership opportunities, recognition of efforts, health and wellness, parent leadership, and clear systems of communication. In both forums it was obvious stakeholders are proud of our school, and can point to many ways BA contributes to solutions for children and families.

Areas for Change/Improvement at BA

Again, both groups noted the same areas that might be improved, offering similar suggestions. Within the category of improving support for academic success, homework was an area that received lots of input. Suggestions included making sure homework is appropriate, follows our district’s homework policy, and consists only of what is essential. Another concern was class size and its influence on the nature of learning in classrooms, as was school size and its influence on the quality of daily staff/student interactions. Also, some parents expressed their wish that 5th grade was still housed here at Brittan Acres, rather than at the middle school.

Family/Community Areas for Change/Improvement

As with the other two questions, comments here were similar in both forums. Parents described challenges setting limits for scheduling of activities, budgeting family time, and determining priorities. Both groups suggested parent education opportunities would help families. Both groups expressed hopes to include children’s interests and passions in new definitions of success. Some parents shared the particular stress that comes from expecting children to achieve in ways that may be unrealistic, and staff suggested that it is essential we accept children for who they really are.

Next Steps

The first step is this communication back to our school community. If you have not seen the film and are interested in learning more, please visit Race to Nowhere. Meanwhile, this conversation is also occurring at the other San Carlos schools, as well as at our district Administrative Council meetings with Dr. Baker. The intention is to continue improving the ways we promote our students’ well-being and achievement.

I’m excited to share that here at Brittan Acres, Friendship Counselor Laura Macfarlane has obtained a Kellogg Foundation grant to support a parent/staff program including a book group and community meetings. Through this process, we hope to encourage the development of essential social and emotional lifeskills in both home and school environments. To learn more, please read Laura’s article in this issue of the Blast.

I look forward to this work with you.

John Triska