No Student is Worth Less

I have decided to focus this entry on the topic of “Placement Prestige.”  If you haven’t heard of the term – don’t worry.  I think I made it up.  It refers to a disturbing cultural habit I have observed, that infers  there are some schools that are more prestigious; that some staffing appointments are more important than others because of the location – or even grade level –  of those appointments.

I would assert that in education,  staffing appointments and career trajectories that align with a concerted effort to organize and deploy talent, skill and background to meet the identified needs of students and school communities are the exception, rather than the rule. 

Administrators, support staff and teachers often aspire to work in schools that may be considered by the larger community as more prestigious – for a number of reasons.  The unintended consequence, of course, is that many schools become known as “starter” schools – places for those “in transit” to their other career aspirations – or, sadly,  as schools that are less desireable.

The notion of a career trajectory that includes promotion and validation of experience and excellence isn’t lost on me.  I understand that there is a balance of being employed in the service of our students, and the desire and hope to build a career.  My concern is that in the field of education we are using the wrong indicators and factors to determine promotion.  The focus on students becomes blurred.

 As an example, the size of a school is often considered by the larger community as a determinant of “promotion.”  When an administrative vacancy is created at a smaller school, it is very rare that experienced administrators from larger school communities would express interest in the opportunity.  A typical career trajectory would be to assume responsibilities at larger and larger schools.  When an administrator moves to a smaller school, it is often seen by the larger community as a demotion – rather than an acknowledgement of the significant skill and background an experienced administrator could take to a school community.  Congratulatory messages would be very rare in many Districts for administrators who move from a larger school – to a smaller one.  Unfortunately, in most districts, the community would wonder what that person had done wrong.  How shortsighted and discriminatory!

Some smaller school communities, then, never benefit from the opportunity of leadership by an individual with experience.  I am NOT saying that inexperienced administrators are ineffective.  I AM saying that some school communities would benefit at different times in their history from the confidence, skill and background of an experienced administrator with a specific skill set that aligns with the identified needs of the school and its students.  Placement Prestige, at least among administrators, is further propagated by ineffective pay grids that reward administrators financially for working in larger schools, rather than for successfully working with particular identified challenges and opportunities that have been identified for that school.  This, too, needs to change.

There is an underlying message – intentional or not – that some students are worth less to us; that they are not worth aspiring to support throughout our careers because they go to that school or because they attend a smaller school.

It is time we turned this notion around in education.  We need to be more conscientious in our staffing processes to ensure that we understand the needs of a school community – and the background, skills, knowledge and capacity of our staff members.  Our staff are hired as employees of a DISTRICT – not of a school.  With a great deal of thought and planning we can bring intentionality to our staffing processes by aligning the expertise of our staff members with the identified needs of our students and school communities.  Nobody is great at everything.  However we are all great at something.  We need to acknowledge the shifting needs of students in our schools, and align our human resources purposefully to meet those needs.  No Student is Worth Less.

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2 Responses to No Student is Worth Less

  1. Dianne Larcombe says:

    Hi there, as this is my last day at SD8, I will comment – not because I can but because I feel the need to. You comments on why people choose schools has hit the nail on the head. Why people do things is sometimes difficult to see. For most of us, hindsight is always 20/20. I remember feeling that Jewett would be my starting school and that I would work my way to a bigger school, all the while not realizing that my true gifts were in working with these little primary schools. I loved Jewett in hindsight and should have stayed there, and then I realized that working at Rosemont was also using my talents of being able to bridge the ways of people who didn’t want to change with people who did. You do not have to work in a big school to have a big influence, and I am proud to say I got to work in two of the best little primary schools in the district!

  2. Andy Leathwood says:

    Thank you for the thoughtful post, Jeff. I agree wholeheartedly. Since no student or community is worth less, why would we not expect that the every school, no matter the size, should have the staff with the skillset that best meets the needs of that school and community.

    Bigger is definitely not better, and why would we not want to set up a system where every school is seen as a great placement for experienced teachers and principals/vice principals?

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