May 10, 2019
Like many public schools in the country, Gateway is a hidden gem with multiple facets of excellence that too few recognize on a regular basis. All too often, the general public fixates on standardized test scores, which are easy to access, easy to compare, and unfortunately, easy to misunderstand and are only minimally related to the world we all have to face as adults. So while Gateway students, like so many of our rural counterparts, do an outstanding job of taking a standardized test and meeting the state’s requirements to graduate and attend state colleges (although more and more of the elite colleges/ universities no longer make standardized tests part of the admissions decision), this doesn’t address the fundamental skills needed to succeed in real life.
Please don’t misinterpret these statements; standardized tests have some limited value, particularly when used to help identify specific areas where students need some remediation in understanding and using skills and knowledge in writing and mathematics. Unfortunately, developing tests to compare students across schools—not by how much they know and can do but rather by their relative performance against each other—is much easier and less expensive than truly determining what students know and can do. Massachusetts students’ test scores are celebrated as being among the best in the world, which doesn’t necessarily mean our educational system is the best in all aspects of preparing students for adult life.
While we can debate testing, the idea of diverting funds from our traditional public schools to charter schools (and in some states, private schools), and the underfunding of public education (proven by the legislative report on Massachusetts’ broken funding formula), the reality is that the real gems in our midst are more difficult to identify, recognize, and support.
What brought this topic to mind was a recent realtor breakfast at Gateway where we hoped to bring local realtors up-to-date on some of the activities in the district, which was followed that night by an outstanding student concert. At the breakfast, we discussed some of Gateway’s intangible aspects (and by extension, of other public schools in the area), such as a positive school climate, of staff who retire but continue to teach part time, of administrators who with infinite patience improve student opportunities over time (and the opportunity to maintain those administrators for many years, despite the difficulties involved in those positions), of opportunities for students beyond academics such as athletics, clubs, field trips and volunteer options, and of the fact that a small school provides more students with opportunities to experience leadership, collaboration, communication and problem solving. And at Thursday evening’s concert I saw those intangibles demonstrated in force: a great concert, recognition of the music program’s success at a recent competition in New Jersey, of senior band members being honored at their last concert and consequently those students recognizing their teacher/band director, and ‘mom’ (in their words) for her work over the last six years, and of the respect, admiration, and shared goals between staff and students making those successes possible.
These are the memories that will live in our graduates over time, which will motivate them to reach out to others, will enhance their participation in public life, and will make them successful members of our society. Certainly knowledge and skills in the traditional 4 “R’s” are important and form a basis for success in learning but those are only part of the whole picture and we should all be thankful and supportive of our public schools that provide so much more than the state-required academic subjects and of our public school staff that make the education of the whole child possible.