Becoming a Progress Culture: Keeping the College Process in Mind

I have written often in the last few months about the need to create a school Progress Culture. One of the issues that can paralyze discussions regarding how to move schools beyond the perceived safety of “what we have always done” and toward a progress culture, however, is the college selection process whose shadow stretches back through the academic experience of high school students and their families. The predicament is this: well-positioned schools do not want to change in any way that might negatively impact students’ applications to selective colleges, and since we are uncertain (or worse, misguided) about what colleges and universities are looking for in a successful application, we tend to shy away from taking steps that we more and more believe will provide students a better, deeper, and more engaging learning experience. In short, what we don’t know forces us to pull up short. I believe we will find that this approach will not only deny our students the best we might otherwise provide them educationally, but it will also over time lead to an unwanted result–an erosion in the quality of our college profile. Not to move assertively forward in a determined and strategic way is far riskier than believing in the false security of standing still.

The conversation we have engaged as a school community regarding the implications of a new vision statement and strategic plan that zeroes in on the skills most requisite in the lives of our students must include a component that allows us to hear directly from leaders in higher education. Otherwise we will almost certainly focus on what we think is most important to preparing our students for college admission rather than what we can know if we simply ask.

Dr. Bill Clarkson, President of The Westminster Schools, sent the following message as part of his most recent message to members of the school community:

“This New Year in particular brings a lot of new energy to Westminster. Our Strategic Plan is nearing completion and will be presented to the Board of Trustees this month for final approval. Strongly based on our Learning for Life vision, it presents major goals and a determined commitment to nurture lifelong learners who serve and lead in a changing world. It moves forward our mission to help our students master the essential 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, creativity, innovation and service–initiatives, which have not gone unnoticed among the nation’s educational leaders.

For this very reason, we are preparing eagerly to welcome a distinguished panel to campus next week. On January 11, senior leaders of several top colleges and universities will guide a candid conversation on what distinguishes the students they select for admission and, in particular, how well Westminster’s Learning for Life vision is shaping students into candidates that great universities want to attract. Elizabeth Kiss, President of Agnes Scott College; Chuck Lovelace, the Executive Director of the University of North Carolina Morehead-Cain Scholarship Program; and Jeff Rosensweig, who directs the Global Perspectives Program at Emory’s Goizueta Business School, will be participating in this distinguished panel.”

I am excited that our school community has this opportunity to hear directly from the panel. It represents a step toward giving us the resolve that will be necessary to push this ambitious strategic plan to reach its full potential.

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