SUPERINTENDENT’S CORNER: School engagement begins with students

By EMILY TRACY, guest columnist

As a school leader, there are many stakeholder groups that contribute to the success of fulfilling a district’s vision and mission.

There are, of course, the administrators at the district level. At the building levels there are teacher leaders, certified and noncertified employees, parents, the board of school trustees and various interest groups.

All of these groups help inform the superintendent to make the very best informed decisions for our most precious stakeholder group of all: Our students. And although our most important group, many times students are a group that tend to be slighted a voice towards that vision and mission.

As the superintendent of Brown County Schools, one of my priorities is tapping into that stakeholder group. I want our students to have a voice in their education, an opportunity to own their journey and a system of schools that honor, respect and lean on that voice.

Often in education we hear the term “engagement” and reference it as a desired trait across our schools. We want our teachers engaged, our parents engaged, our students engaged, but what does that really mean? What impact does engagement have on our community? And what can we do to create a culture of engagement?

We know from Gallup’s research team that engagement is “a measurement of how involved, enthusiastic and committed one is to an organization.” It doesn’t really matter if you are a teacher, a parent or a student, engagement means the same across all of our stakeholders.

Gallup has constructed and reviewed more than 5 million surveys with students in grades five through 12 over several years. Every U.S. state, suburban, rural and urban settings have been represented and two key findings are worth sharing here:

1. Only 47 percent who responded to the survey are engaged with school with 29 percent not engaged and 24 percent actively disengaged.

2. A closer look is that 74 percent of fifth graders report high levels of engagement and by the time they get to middle school that percentage drops to less than half and drops even further by the time they reach 10th grade, showing a steady decline through the years. Kids in elementary schools are excited and engaged. By the time high school hits that excitement and engagement falls flat.

So, how can Brown County Schools do something different? How can we get outside of the box and take a close look at our own levels of engagement? We are starting with our students, our most important stakeholder group.

Our vision for Brown County Schools is to provide world class opportunities, develop small school relationships and create lifelong impact.

This year our students will be stepping into a pivotal role for the future of Brown County Schools by serving on the first Superintendent Student Advisory Leadership Team.

Ten students from 9th to 12th grades will meet monthly with me discussing academics, athletics, extracurriculars, community engagement and simply what high school should be for our students — all students.

This team is an opportunity for students to take control of their own high school experience at Brown County Schools and make it unique for them and their classmates. These students will be charged with providing feedback and brainstorming ideas that have the potential to improve the student experience at Brown County High School.

We desperately want to put the students in the driver’s seat and empower them to help us improve engagement at our school. This group of student leaders will walk alongside me in advocating for, providing feedback from and collaborating with Brown County Schools campus programs, initiatives and services.

We will be increasing student access and awareness of the services provided by our district, our community partnerships and the many regional opportunities along with evaluating potential programs for the high school.

I truly believe in our students here at Brown County Schools. I believe they hold the key to opportunity, relationships and impact. I believe engagement begins with them.

I am proud and honored to empower the following students as part of the first Superintendent Student Advisory Leadership Team at Brown County High School.

Ninth-grade team members: Tommy Buccos, Jasmine Dufek and Madalyn Hawley.

Tenth-grade team members: Mykal Eddins and Marqui Satter.

Eleventh-grade team members: Chase Austin, Rafe Silbaugh and Preston Zimmer.

Twelfth-grade team members: Marie Fields and Aden Rice.

Eighteen students in grades 9 through 12 were nominated by their teachers and administrators. These ten students accepted the invitation. The team will meet monthly, beginning Oct. 12 through the remainder of the school year.

Engagement is not created by a single event. It is through communication, sustained effort and a laser focus of intentionality.

Here at Brown County Schools, we are committed to that laser focus so our students feel safe, they have opportunities, they develop strong relationships and carry a lasting impact as they enter a positive future.

Emily Tracy is superintendent of Brown County schools. She can
be reached at 812-988-6601 or [email protected]