Thursday, June 21, 2012

Do We Want to Compete or Excel as a School System?

The people I respect most in life have pushed me beyond what I thought was possible. They supported my growth, challenged my reality, and in doing so changed me for the better—often without that realization occurring until years later. Many of these people were, and remain, educators. Some taught me formally as a child, others as a young adult, and countless others through simple osmosis as I had the pleasure of working beside them each day.

As I completed my one-on-one visits with our outstanding building level principals last week, I could not help but marvel at their dedication, their drive, and their desire to be the kind of educators that change students’ lives for the better—the kind of educators that students remember, value, and respect; the kind of educators we all hope our children will have. These individuals, while all uniquely different, share a common bond and trait. They have a passion for their work, a love for students, and a belief that education is and remains the great equalizer.

While talking with one of our veteran school leaders, she shared a question that is asked of her faculty and students on a regular basis, “Do we want to compete or excel?” This question has stuck with me, remaining in my thoughts as I went about the work of leading our school district. I am curious. What do you think?
As a competitor, and someone who admittedly hates to lose, I find the question of competition versus excellence extremely compelling. On one hand, I want to compete because it is innately natural. On the other hand, I want to excel because the true measure of greatness is to raise the bar instead of simply meeting it. Webster’s dictionary defines it this way: to compete is to vie with another for an object, position, or prize; to excel is to surpass, outdo, or rise above.

Last week CRCT scores were released for the state of Georgia. They showed good achievement statewide. Oconee County students’ outperformed the state averages at every grade level and in every content area. Is the state average our measure? Is the CRCT our end game? Or do we desire more? Are we simply happy with competing or do we want to truly excel?

I know the answer our school leaders would provide at this point. They desire to excel and not simply compete. As a school system, we are all celebrating the outstanding achievement of our kids while at the same time examining how to move that success to 100%. In the nine instances where we scored a perfect 100%, the question becomes, “How do we remain at that level of perfection?” To me, this approach signifies the distinction between competition and excellence. It signifies the difference between an organization that seeks to simply meet the standard and one that seeks to set the bar and let others rise to our pace. It signifies Oconee County Schools.

Again, I am curious of your opinion. Do we want to compete or excel? What is the difference in your mind? How have you seen this demonstrated in our community and in our schools?

As always, I look forward to your input.