A Call and a Cause

The iron is hot for striking change in American public education.

Recent standards movements, though laudable for reimagining the breadth and depth of what our students learn, have left fundamental processes such as teacher evaluation and student assessment in disarray. The champions of next generation standards and assessments have failed to meaningfully provide for equity in the implementation of those standards and assessments. They have also failed to deliver on a promise of detailed and actionable data on student performance—data that would facilitate true individualization of the high school experience.

Our cause is not only timely, but urgent. Research shows clear and increasing disengagement as students move through the grades of American public education. In suburban schools like Hunterdon Central, students have been and continue to be sorted, selected, and tracked, without enough flexibility to discover their passions through the most authentic applications of their strengths. Anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and more contribute to the disastrous potential of a lost generation, not through war or other calamity but through the unfulfilled promise of school.

Public education is a democratic ideal. The founders of this country pledged, as they invoked the wisdom of their forebears, to ensure an educated citizenry. Public education is also a sacred trust, representing one of the most important investments in the future of our nation. We graduate scholars, athletes, skilled workers, and more. Above all, however, we must graduate informed and active citizens.

American public schooling must remain comprehensive in order to realize this ideal. No discipline or collection of disciplines can claim a monopoly over design, iteration, or creation. Recent focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) as most crucial to inspiring innovation and engagement in schools is understandable but narrowing. STEM programs are both central to our school’s identity and important to our progress, but only in balance with other programs. Innovation has always been at the heart of America's promise to her people and to the world. Throughout America’s and all of human history, innovation has sought both utility and beauty. Genius has always relied upon both in equal measures.

A comprehensive program is only half of public education’s charge in this day and age. We must also personalize the experience of that program as much as possible. This is not a fad, but rather a long-standing vision of public education. From the earliest days of the American school, educators have sought the intersection between a student’s passions and skills, and the needs of the community. School should activate the most informed political action, and the most decisive contribution to the common good, through the maximum realization of an individual’s unique power and potential. Industrial theory led us to oversimplify our approach, to draw tracks and expectations that have proven themselves insufficient at best, and damaging to student aspirations at worst.

Technology helps us to realize this vision. We have the ability to diagnose and understand our students’ strengths and weaknesses like never before. We can know and help them measure progress toward their aspirations, cataloging and publishing their best work. And, through technology, we are free from the need to fill time with low-level content, and are able to offer students the opportunity to share with the world, contribute solutions to global problems, and help us liberate school from merely simulating life in the adult world.

Personalization across a comprehensive program requires a deliberate approach to equity. If we have one job, it is to teach students, not content. We must work first and together toward providing opportunities for all students to build the foundation of their adulthood, to realize the best versions of themselves. “All” means all.

Hunterdon Central Regional High School District

Hunterdon Central is a unique high school. We enjoy a sprawling, bucolic campus. We are fortunate to nourish deep roots. Many of our students are second and even third generation Red Devils. Many of our staff members live in our community, and even attended our high school.

We are also proud of a tradition of innovation. At many times in our history, Hunterdon Central served as an example to schools throughout the state and the nation. Whether through innovation in tolerance education, instructional technology, or other initiatives, Hunterdon Central has been in the vanguard.

Innovation has never been disruptive to our long history, our strong traditions, or our deep roots. The motto on our ancient seal -”A sound mind in a sound body” - continues to be fit to guide our efforts. It can still guide us as we move again into the vanguard of not only calling for change, but leading and exemplifying that change.