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Administration Building
25 Valley Road
Princeton, NJ 08540

Tel: 609.806.4200

Leading Lives of Joy and Purpose
September 2014

This year, we will be asking members of our community to join us in building a clear, compelling and powerful vision for the Princeton Public Schools. As they do, I invite them to consider three themes that have emerged from the many conversations I have had with a wide variety of groups in my first eight months as superintendent.

1. Measuring What Matters

There will be a lot of ink spilled this year on the subject of PARCC, the new state standardized test.  While I am confident our children will do well, I do not believe there is any standardized test that measures all of the skills our students ultimately need for success in life - skills such as creativity, curiosity, critical thinking, collaboration, cultural awareness, resiliency, and compassion.

We teach these skills in Princeton both in and beyond the classroom.  We celebrate them.  And, as the era of PARCC approaches, I believe the community is counting on us to continue to do so.  PARCC will likely provide us with useful feedback on our students' abilities to read, to write and to reason mathematically.  But it will provide only a fraction of the feedback regarding our students' readiness to make a difference in the world.   

I am sensing a swelling sea change in the Princeton community regarding the definition of student success.  It is no longer described strictly in terms of achieving top test scores and securing admission to Ivy League Institutions.  People - parents, teachers, administrators, board members, and students themselves - are talking about success as living a life of joy and purpose.  What more could we want for our young people?

2.  Every Child Known

Among the tribes of northern Natal in South Africa, the expression for “hello” is Sawubono, which means literally “I see you.” It is hard to overestimate the power of “I see you,” especially when it comes to our children. We know that students learn more, strive harder, and take more intellectual risks when they feel cared about and recognized as individuals.

That is why the Responsive Classroom approach used in our elementary schools places such an emphasis on every child being greeted every morning.  We know, as well, that instruction is significantly enhanced when teachers truly know their students - when they know their interests and passions, when they know their knowledge base and skill level, when they know their learning style and learning goals.  That is when true differentiation can take place.

3.  Innovation and Experimentation

At the board retreat in June, one of the board members put forth an idea: What if we created a seventh school,” he said, “a place where teachers and students could go to try new and innovative ideas, a place with no fear of failure?”

Initially he was thinking of an actual building, but the idea quickly caught on as a metaphor for every school where teachers would be encouraged to experiment with new approaches, new projects, and new resources designed to engage and challenge students. I don't think any of us want a simply play-it-safe environment for ourselves or for our kids.  True growth, true learning always comes from being challenged,  from being stretched just beyond our current comfort zone.

Moreover, our world is changing much too rapidly for educational institutions to remain the same even if we wanted them to.  We live in a world that is incredibly dynamic - economically, politically, environmentally, technologically, culturally.  If our purpose is to prepare students for that world, or, even more to the point, if our purpose is to prepare students to make a difference in that world, then we have to model innovation and experimentation, and we have to teach our students to do the same.

Ultimately, these three themes I've outlined above do not function in isolation. It is in the intersection of all three values that our schools will flourish. It is also in that overlap that we begin to see our true mission as a district: to prepare every child to change the world.

Wishing you all a great year for 2014-15,

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