Administrators at Wyoming’s Albany County School District #1 are building trust with students and parents by engaging them in important decisions about curriculum development and graduation requirements, among other issues.
ACSD #1 Superintendent Jubal Yennie explained how the district is using student voices and feedback from the community to inform the district’s strategic decision-making in a recent webinar for K12 Insight.
The education website’s blog, TrustED, outlined how the process is paying off, for both school leaders looking to improve academics as well as student and families in the district.
“One of the things we’ll be working on this year is the whole graduation requirement,” Yennie said. “We’re finding that students have a great deal to say in this conversation. One of the things that’s resonated really well at the high school is this whole notion of purpose, where they’re actually saying the choices they’re provided in their programs is driving their desire to learn.”
Yennie explained that one of his top priorities as superintendent is to build trust among students, parents, and staff, and a comprehensive school quality survey for all three groups is providing valuable feedback on things like academic support, school leadership, and safety and behavior.
“We picked up very early on that our community and our students and staff all felt that we were doing a good job,” Yennie said. “We certainly celebrated that. I think the metric we picked up out of that was nine out of 10 people said we were doing excellent or good.”
The survey also showed where local schools could do better, he said, including better connections between what students are learning in class and how they can apply it in the real world.
“I think there’s some opportunity here with the curriculum—with how we’re structuring teaching and learning in Albany County,” Yennie said. “From the survey instrument, we’ve spent a great deal of time over the past year developing a strategic plan that echoes a lot of these concerns we’re seeing here.”
By establishing trust with students, ACSD #1 is also offering a sense of purpose—an element University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter explains is crucial to developing good character.
“Implicit in the word character is a story. It is a story about living for a purpose that is greater than the self,” Hunter wrote in The Tragedy of Moral Education in America. “Though this purpose resides deeply within, its origins are outside the self, and so it beckons one forward, channeling one’s passions to mostly quiet acts of devotion, heroism, sacrifice, and achievement.”
In other words, student voice is important not as mere self-expression, but in connecting to a purpose that’s bigger than the self.
The Jubilee Centre offers a resource on connecting to a purpose in one’s life, asking students to imagine that they are looking back on their lives 70 or 80 years from now and to reflect on whether they have lived well.