Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Happy Homecoming (?)

We've been discussing the third of the Iowa Standards for School Leaders (ISSL) in class. Last night we revisited some of the vandalism and pranks that come with homecoming in a lot of places. After looking at some news video of last year's events in Knoxville, Iowa, I asked the group to envision themselves as a principal and me as a school board member who thought it best to pull the plug on the whole thing. Devil's Advocate, sort of...

I told them I felt it was a distraction to the learning environment. I told them it was ridiculous to spend time and money cleaning up the buildings and grounds after students were specifically told not to cross the line. Wearing my hypothetical board member's hat, I told them that with all of the focus on student achievement, many outdated traditions like this reinforce a nasty high school caste system and popularity contest on their best day and open the door to destruction of property and vandalism on their worst. I told them that, as a hypothetical board member, I planned to introduce a motion at Monday night's meeting to let the whole thing go away. And I asked them if, putting themselves in the position of a principal, they would support the motion.

It was a lively discussion. Some teetered on agreeing with me. Some advocated changes to the traditional homecoming, wanting to include some new emphasis on academics. Many others saw problems with ending an important school/community event, citing points in ISSL and other literature and research that they believe speak to the value of homecoming and other such school traditions. It was fun, at least from where I was sitting. I'm not a fun hating Grinch. And, ok, I was a member of the homecoming court back in the day. While I don't believe all of the things I said last night while posing as a board member, some of what I see is troubling. Quite a bit of it has lived its life.

This morning, I was sharing the experience with my colleague Dr. Dave Else, for whom I have great respect. He shared a recent conversation with a high school principal who complained she was getting a lot of calls from upset parents. When Dave asked what about, she explained that she had met with the juniors and seniors who informed her in no uncertain terms that they weren't interested in having a homecoming dance. If one was held, they weren't going to attend. Being the data driven leader she apparently is, the principal pulled the plug. And that's when the calls started coming from parents.

Isn't it interesting that, at least in one principal's school, the thing was not  a sacred event to the kids, but rather to the parents?

And so, who is all this really about, anyway?