I received an email today from a reader of my blog asking me what constitutes a good school. In my response, I carefully articulated that her question exceeds one singular response. Just like colleges, there are a number of excellent choices. Trying to define a “good” school is difficult. But, I did offer her my thoughts on what I see in terms of defining a good school; I did remind her that this is by no means a complete list, but a list of thoughts I have noted on this blog.
According to Carson:
Unlike many private schools in America, Brooks and other New England prep schools do not (seemingly) try to be like every other private school. Too many private schools are not really independent schools. The term independent should denote a level of thought necessary for academic growth in both students and faculty. Too many restrictions here creates a misnomer. Independent schools should focus on providing an elite education with a unique academic goal. Thus, having the best faculty is a must. The best schools recruit and hire the best teachers. I love the fact that many prep schools do not require teacher certification. I do not have one. Elite schools are interested in having a solid faculty with a high level of content knowledge of their subject. Such faculty must have the ability to communicate that knowledge to bright students, as well as students of various learning abilities. So, if you majored in history and did not certify to teach, there are a number of really good jobs out there. That said, clearly a cert will help you.
Diversity: Intellectual, religious, racial, and economic diversity of faculty and students makes a good school. Allowing ideas to flow in exchange without fear of suppression is crucial to the advancement of an academic community. There is something to be said about the notion of true academic freedom; if it really exists, one should be free to espouse elements of thought via teaching and publications that do not demean, ridicule, nor inhibit intellectual growth. The worst thing a school can do is censor its faculty.
Resources: I once got a ton of information on this. I am not going to address the endowment issue, but institutional wealth is clearly important. Having access to a good art facility (gallery, theater, etc) is important in the cultivation of good teaching.
Tradition: Faculty and students must believe in the school and its purpose. If the faculty does not see the purpose and goals of a school, tradition will never be established nor will it last. Examples: Having an academic/social honor code should be the core of any school. Knowing what traditions are obsolete and which ones are in need of revision.
Empowering the Faculty: Good schools empower its faculty. One administrator told me that the key to school leadership is providing its faculty with a voice. I am amazed at the number of schools that have a faculty senate in place. This allows the faculty to have a stronger voice on matters such as program direction, facility issues, directional planning, earnings, etc. I suspect that many private schools operate under the superintendent mentality. The board tells the headmaster who tells the principal who then tells the faculty. This is the classic model of Taylorism: Chain of command hierarchy — not the democratic model found with a faculty senate. Too many life-long educators who did very little teaching but aimed to always be in charge.
Students: The former assistant headmaster at Houston’s St. John’s School is a friend and a person I respect greatly. He once told me that the key to being a good school is found within the student population.
Above: The health and fitness center at Brooks; I spend too much time here. Athletics: Having coaches that value their program over the good of the school is never good. But, proving solid athletic opportunities for students is a must. Having faculty members who teach as coaches is a major plus.