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Superintendents View: Parting words of wisdom

Superintendents View: Parting words of wisdom

Chris Belcher is superintendent of Columbia Public Schools. [email protected]
As I pondered the content of another column for the Columbia Business Times, I took a break to read The Rock, Rock Bridge High School’s student news publication. Kathy Ritter, Rock Bridge High School principal and longtime school district employee, had contributed an article to the paper. As you might know, Kathy recently announced her retirement. She is a rare individual, and we will miss her leadership.
I wanted to share her thoughts with you for several reasons. First, her words characterize the foundational beliefs of good school leadership. Secondly, one could easily replace the word teenagers with employees and classrooms or school with workplace. Finally, I hope this article serves to pay tribute to Kathy Ritter’s professional service to our community.
Kathy Ritter is the principle of Rock Bridge High School.

What I Know For Sure

By Kathy Ritter
Several years ago, my sister asked me, “What do you know for sure?” Referring to the Oprah Winfrey query, my sister prodded, “Really, it’s a great question and gets at what you really think is important.” I agree. So as we enter the year 2010, please allow me to reflect on some simple truths that I believe make a difference at RBHS.
Everyone likes to have fun. Fun is a powerful motivator, and what happens in our classrooms must include an element of fun and joy. Keep in mind, however, that fun does not equal easy; fun things can be challenging and difficult. Joy can be found in solving a really tough math problem or completing a major art project. Ultimately, students will engage in a task that is enjoyable, attainable and meaningful. No instructional strategy will work unless these elements exist. I witness this every day at RBHS from our teachers, who are experts at including relevance and joy in classroom instruction.
Teenagers can be trusted and possess a certain wisdom. Telling kids you trust them and believe in them often has very positive results. Just like adults, teens want some control over their lives and want to be taken seriously. Although I’m not sure exactly what takes place in other schools, I do believe Rock Bridge High School is unique in that we embrace all students as valuable citizens of our community, and we often solicit their input to solve school problems. We tout “freedom with responsibility.” We say “yes” to kids. Our culture that empowers and respects students is a deeply rooted tradition at RBHS. It works, and our students thrive.
Collaboration works. The efforts of the group trump the efforts of the individual. Our teachers are organized in professional learning teams for the purpose of collaborating to bring a higher quality learning experience to our classrooms. In classes, students assemble in small and large groups to work collaboratively. Our administrative team is also a collaborative group. Our world increasingly functions in collaborative ways, across continents, to provide better services and solutions. I believe working collaboratively brings unexpected and positive results, and it is an important component of the high-school experience.
Diversity makes us all better people. One of the most surprising elements of RBHS (a school in mid-Missouri in mid-U.S.A.) is the range of diversity in terms of race, culture, religion and special needs. Students and staff in this school learn valuable lessons from getting to know one other. We then celebrate this diversity at certain times such as the Global Village, which displays our multicultural student body. What a gift! True learning occurs when we build relationships with different types of people.
Finally, I want to mention the significant collaborative efforts of our parents. Just this past weekend, the show choir hosted a festival with competing choirs from 20 schools. While our teachers and students worked enthusiastically to make this happen, behind the scenes were dedicated parents attending to the details. And the Booster Club’s “For the Love of the Game” dinner/auction raised $88,000 this year for a cumulative fundraising effort during the past seven years of more than $500,000 to benefit our athletic facilities. Band parents, too, devote untold hours, muscle and resources to help with equipment, transportation, food and uniform care to support our vibrant instrumental program. Through the expansive work of PTSA, teachers are awarded grants to pay for the extras for their programs; teachers are treated to Goodie Days; parent volunteers chaperone dances and collate and mail the newsletter; and the list goes on. Without question, parental support makes RBHS a stronger school.

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