By Brad Hughes
KSBA Director of Member Support/Communications Services
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
Regardless of whether this statement originated with Benjamin Franklin or Mark Twain or Albert Einstein, it’s solid advice. So let’s turn it around a bit:
As you prepare for opening day 2014, will your district be doing the same thing as last year…and the year before…and the year before that?
Many if not most Kentucky public school systems acknowledge the opening day in some form or another. In some districts, opening day is the first day for faculty and staff. In other places, it’s the first day of classes and the arrival of students.
In whatever way you mark the start of the new year, this is a great time to be asking, “What will we do on opening day to signal that great things are expected in the 2014-15 school year?”
In 2013, an Arizona district got some national media coverage when it had an opening day ribbon cutting at each of its schools. Arriving students were greeted by educators with a bright ribbon stretched outside the front doors, snipped with scissors as students walked up. The leaders of that district signaled “This is going to be a different kind of year here.”
All it takes is a little creative thinking and maybe the willingness to push a boundary or two.
All sorts of options available
Events such as opening day ceremonies can be transformed from dull to interesting by a single act, such as the arrival of the superintendent on a motorcycle, down a zip line or skydiving to a ball field. Relocating the traditional first day venue might mean a cookout at a local park.
But events shouldn’t be the only way to think outside the back-to-school box. Here are some others gleaned from a brief foray into the world of Google:
• Draw attention to what’s new in the library or the cafeteria or some process, such as how buses are routed and tracked in the runs to and from school.
• Create an online variation of Frequently Asked Questions with one entitled Frequently Confusing Issues, and share information that can help avoid common snafus on day one.
• Have greeter teams at each school that include board members, the mayor, county judge-executive, sheriff, manager of a major employer, or another prominent community leader.
• Invite the local radio station to broadcast live from a new or renovated school, or some other site with a new angle and story to be told.
• Assemble the students and faculty at the school that had the highest attendance last year, present them with a banner to hang in the lobby and challenge them to be No. 1 again.
Opening day visits by the superintendent and/or board members have been very popular. But as opening days often are quite hectic, how about making a “day two” visit? Wish students and staff a great year in a PA system announcement. Take a fruit basket to the faculty lounge or the bus garage. Dish up meals in the cafeteria or clean tables – and be sure to have a large bright name sticker with your title to draw attention to who you are and why you are there.
News media outlets regularly do back to school stories. Do some advance planning on your message about what’s new, what’s exciting and what’s important about lifting student learning as the new year begins.
The Last Word
Many years ago, I was invited to work with a Kentucky district to come up with different ways to make a case to the community about the importance district personnel put on student success. One of the ideas we came up with was a simple summertime message on the marquees outside of the elementary schools: “Welcome Class of 2015.”
The message was simple, but it got folks thinking. The students who were starting their education in those schools that year would make up the high school graduating class several years away. The signs meant that success years down the road began there and then in the single-digit grades.
As it was then, it remains now a message worth getting out.