Friday, April 01, 2005

Teamwork, strong principal make 'good' schools

PUBLICATION: The Ottawa Citizen
DATE: 2005.03.31
EDITION: Final
SECTION: City
PAGE: B3
BYLINE: Meagan Fitzpatrick
SOURCE: The Ottawa Citizen
ILLUSTRATION: Colour Photo: Pat McGrath, The Ottawa Citizen / KatimavikElementary School Grade 3 teacher Marie Leclerc works with Meghan Bradley, left, and Andrea Rousseau, right. Teachers who co-operate help make a 'good' school.; Colour Photo: Pat McGrath, The Ottawa Citizen / Students like Grade 3 pupil Kathleen Murr benefit from an active school council and an atmosphere of collaboration.; Graphic/Diagram: (See hard copy for graphic).
NOTE: Special Report: Schools Under Scrutiny. Ran with fact box"The City's nine strong schools", which has been appended to the story.

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Teamwork, strong principal make 'good' schools: Economist David Johnson found similar characteristics at work in the 'good' schools he visited, and concluded there are many things that make such a school, Meagan Fitzpatrick reports.

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What makes a good school is often a complicated recipe.

Economist David Johnson concludes that "good" elementary schools are the ones that consistently score higher on standardized tests than other schools in neighbourhoods with similar socio-economic characteristics.

In the course of his research, Mr. Johnson visited 13 schools in southern Ontario that performed better than expected against schools with similar social and economic characteristics.

A heavy emphasis on teamwork was a consistent theme, he found. He observed solid co-operation between the primary and junior teachers at the schools.

Other notable qualities included strong extracurricular activities, effective communication with parents, good use of volunteers, students well-prepared for testing and strong leadership by the principal.

Kenneth Leithwood of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto agrees that many things go into making a good school.

In his view, good schools have teachers who are knowledgeable about the curriculum and committed to their students.

They get resources to where they matter most, teachers that are active in the classroom and engage directly with the students, and a school atmosphere that fosters a collaborative approach.

Pam FitzGerald, the chairwoman of the Ottawa-Carleton Assembly of School Councils, says active parents make all the difference to schools, not just in the time they spend volunteering, but also in raising money for projects and extras like extracurricular activities, library books or a music program.

A healthy school also has an active school council, said Ms. FitzGerald, who advises visiting its council meeting to gauge the tone.

The principal also sets the tone of the school, sets the policies and makes sure they're carried out. Consistency is important.

"The leadership the principal shows will make all the difference," said Ms. FitzGerald. "A school is only as good as its principal."

Belinda Wang, a lecturer at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, supports standardized testing and would like to see it designed as a pass or fail system.

However, she believes parents should not choose a school based on test scores alone. Some schools focus on math, science and technology while others have stronger arts and language programs.

Just because a school performs well, not every child will excel there, said Ms. Wang.

"Look at the strengths of your own child," she advised. "If you want the best choice pick a school that best meets your child's aptitude."

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On the web for seven-day subscribers: Read how your school compares with every other elementary school in Ontario.

www.ottawacitizen.com

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The City's Nine Strong Schools

Grade 3
Devonshire Community Public School
Katimavik Elementary School
Pleasant Park Public School
Woodroffe Avenue Public School

Grade 6
Pleasant Park Public School
Woodroffe Avenue Public School
Katimavik Elementary School
Bayshore Catholic School
Knoxdale Public School
Merivale Public School
Hawthorne Public School
D. Roy Kennedy Public School

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