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Engaging our community to serve our students and families

Brian White, superintendent of Butler Area School District, talks with Chance Leonard ij the outdoor classroom at McQuistion Elementary School. Submitted photo

Our schools are your schools.

Education can be a powerfully transformative resource in a child’s life. It is most impactful when all involved have a shared sense of purpose. That doesn’t mean it’s identical, but it should be shared. One of the efforts that we have undertaken is to listen and be responsive to what our students, parents, and community want as an educational experience.

To assist in developing a shared purpose, we utilized a survey tool from the Brookings Institution that focuses on helping school communities define the purpose of school. We utilized the resources and had tremendous engagement including more than 3,000 survey responses at the secondary level alone. We also had community forums and a guiding coalition that collectively had 285 participants.

We asked stakeholders, which we defined as parents, students, and teachers, what they believe is the most important purpose of school.

Their responses:

● Academic: To prepare for further education (e.g. university, vocational, technical school)

● Civic: To be active citizens and community members

● Socioemotional: To understand oneself and develop social skills or values

● Economic: To develop skills for work

The responses were very similar, though not identical.

Then we asked the various stakeholder groups what they thought the other groups believed the purpose of school is.

This is where a significant discrepancy exists.

In short, most folks had similar beliefs regarding the purpose of school, but believed that other groups had different beliefs than their own.

The information is being used to shape what we do in our schools to match our stakeholders expectations of the purpose of school.

Two examples of this are our development of our elementary school themes and our development of our Portrait of the Graduate.

Elementary school themes

Over the last few years, we’ve worked to ensure our curriculum is aligned across our elementary schools so that every student builds a strong academic foundation. And while that’s essential, it’s also very important that we recognize and honor the unique attributes each school has to offer students. Therefore, we’re also working with community-based teams to create an individual theme for each elementary school based on each school’s special attributes.

To date, four of our K-5 elementary schools have their own unique theme, including a mission and building philosophies.

Emily Brittain is known as the Emily Brittain Community Partnership and Demonstration School. The primary purpose is to partner with educators throughout the region to learn best practices and then model those practices for our peers across the district. This theme was selected prior to the pandemic and therefore has not been fully implemented. We plan to review this theme and further define the school’s unique mission and philosophies this year.

Broad Street Elementary School provides a forward-thinking, enthusiastic educational environment that is focused on preparing students and families for the future through a community-centered approach led by an inspired faculty and staff.

Connoquenessing Elementary School is an outdoor appreciation campus that immerses all students in project-based learning while engaging with the outdoor spaces in their own backyard.

The Community Agricultural Partnership at Summit (CAPS) is an elementary school that is committed to exposing students to a world of agriculture, conservation, and environmental education through dedicated resources, a supportive staff, and active community partnerships.

During the 2022-23 school year, we will form three additional community teams for Center Township Elementary, McQuistion Elementary and Northwest Elementary. Each team will go through the process of determining what makes their elementary school special. Then they will create an individual theme and determine the school’s unique mission and philosophies.

Portrait of the graduate

As the world progresses, the standards for what defines a successful person have gradually shifted. One way that schools can help prepare students for success in this new world is by teaching them the skills and qualities that employers and society now value. Some of these skills and qualities include critical thinking, creativity, teamwork, communication, and adaptability.

At Butler Area Senior High School, the newly developed portrait of the graduate is designed to prepare students for success after high school. The Portrait of the Graduate is based on input from students, parents, and teachers and defines the qualities and skills that the ideal graduate should possess. Some of these qualities include being a lifelong learner, being able to think critically and solve problems, being able to work well with others, and being able to adapt to change.

By teaching students these skills and qualities, Butler Area Senior High School is helping to prepare them for success in whatever path they choose in life. Whether they go on to college, enter the workforce, or start their own business, they will have the skills and qualities they need to be successful.

We’ve made a lot of progress, but we still have work to do. Throughout the 2022-23 school year, we will be researching best practices, conducting site visits to other schools and community businesses, and convening focus groups to develop strategies that provide the instruction and support necessary for a student to demonstrate that they possess the competencies that define the portrait of the graduate.

All of this work is being done to ensure our schools are your schools.

Brian J. White Jr., Ed.D., is superintendent of the Butler Area School District.

Brian White, superintendent of Butler Area School District, speaks with Phoebe Leech at McQuistion Elementary School. Submitted photo
Brian White, superintendent of Butler Area School District, sees what students are working on in the outdoor classroom at McQuistion Elementary School. Submitted photo

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