Respect Is Key
By: Letter To Editor
I am a math teacher at Sturgis Public Charter School but I am writing as a Falmouth citizen/taxpayer, and not as a representative of Sturgis, in response to Beth Underhill's thoughtful letter of July 6.
She is curious about what is done in the classrooms at Sturgis to contribute to the academic success of Sturgis students, which is currently being widely discussed in the local newspapers. I can offer my view, which is that the most important factor in this success is the Sturgis culture, embedded with respect at all levels. Administrators, teachers, students, parents, substitutes, and volunteers all treat each other with respect, compassion, helpfulness, courtesy, and common sense. It is this culture that keeps talented teachers at Sturgis, despite the lower pay, and allows adolescents going through myriad changes to feel safe and supported.
This respect and courtesy are felt in the classrooms and during the ample extra help sessions provided to all students by classroom teachers, and also by SPED specialists to the many students with special needs. When you couple this kind of atmosphere with the high standards of the IB program, students learn.
In my opinion, the most important factor is that Sturgis teachers and administrators have their eye on the right values.
I would also like to dispel the myth that our students come to Sturgis free from the difficult backgrounds of students elsewhere. While I am not free to share the problems that many of our students face, I can assure you that they run the full gamut of problems people can face. The capable guidance staff deals with a great many serious situations, just like at other public schools. If only our school (and all the others) faced only a happy, trouble-free group of academically motivated students.... That being said, at least one adult in the student's life must be willing to help get the charter school application submitted, which possibly provides a filter for the very worst situations. However, many troubled students or parents of troubled students are drawn to Sturgis because they have heard that Sturgis is a place where everyone is accepted and where help is offered if at all possible.
Several writers, including Ms. Underhill, have claimed that comparing Sturgis scores to those of other Cape schools is comparing apples to oranges. In my view, the best way to assess a school's success, regardless of the student population, is by using a measure provided by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts called the Student Growth Percentile (abbreviated SGP), which shows how much a student's performance has improved from one year to the next relative to his or her academic peers, who are other students statewide with similar MCAS test scores in prior years. While I do not by any means feel that learning is all about test scores, this is a statistic that really does compare apples to apples and provides some view of the "value added" by a school. The previously lower performing students are compared to previously lower performing students all around the state, and the previously higher performing students are compared to other previously higher performing students around the state, and the actual growth while at Sturgis and other schools can be measured. Sturgis has a very satisfactory SGP.
But statistics do not provide the whole picture. In my opinion, the most important factor is that Sturgis teachers and administrators have their eye on the right values. Sturgis in some ways reminds me of YMCA summer camp, and indeed, students start with a trip to Camp Burgess as freshmen. The teachers value each member of the diverse student body for who he or she is, and we do our best to help them grow in every way, while at Sturgis.
I do not want to imply that these kinds of teachers and programs are not seen in many and possibly all of the schools around the Cape. I am merely providing my "take" on Sturgis in response to Ms. Underhill's letter. Sturgis is not perfect, but the message from the top is that we should always be actively engaged in improving and making the school a better place for the students to thrive and to learn.
Robin C. Singer
This letter was originally published in The Enterprise on July 13, 2012.