School reform: one principal's story

A Christian Science perspective: Turning to God for answers, this principal found ways to improve student achievement, despite difficulties.

Improving America’s schools is a serious priority for educators, government officials, parents, and business leaders. While dropout rates have decreased to 8 percent (National Center for Education Statistics), it is clear that many students are not prepared for higher education and careers in a highly skilled workforce.

I had a chance to work on raising student achievement a few years ago when I was asked by my rural school district to start an alternative high school for students who had been suspended, had dropped out, were pregnant, or had been in trouble with the law. At first I was dubious about raising the student achievement level for this population with only one or two credits at age 16 or above.

It was clear I needed spiritual solutions, and I thought seriously about the First Commandment: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” had direct relevance. I saw I had to put God first.

The founder of the Monitor, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote about the First Commandment in this way: “It inculcates the tri-unity of God, Spirit, Mind; it signifies that man shall have no other spirit or mind but God, eternal good, and that all men shall have one Mind” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 340). This led me to seek God’s guidance in my work and see these teens as made in the likeness of God (see Gen. 1:26, 27). I saw I had to start with my view of them. I needed to recognize the possibility of all good for them, to understand that they were capable of success, and to wipe out the false gods of cyclical poverty, academic deficiency, and criminal behavior.

I literally prayed my way through the days and months, relying on God, the one all-knowing Mind, for guidance. Understanding the ever-presence of Mind became my foundation for teaching and disciplining students, and interacting with parents and the community.

These prayers for myself yielded practical solutions and better critical thinking skills. This didn’t mean ignoring our students’ academic or social problems. The students and I took many thoughtful “walks around the school block.”

It often required working with teachers on implementing academic rigor and discipline. Partnering with and raising the expectations of parents who were used to student failure became a priority. Love, God, was bringing us together to bless one another.

Successes were many and sometimes unexpected. One student who had disappeared for several days showed up very early one winter morning; he had a change of heart and didn’t drop out. Another senior, who had flunked English and had behavioral problems, learned how to write, and after graduation I found him back at the computer happily writing.

We partnered with businesses and won several state awards. A “2+2” program with a community college enabled some students to earn college credit while in high school. Graduations were especially joyous. However, the progress went beyond material measurements, useful as those can be. What I discovered showed me that education led and impelled by divine Love can change and uplift expectations and has practical, accountable results.

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