Saturday, October 13, 2012

Opening the Schoolhouse Door for Patrons

Opening the Schoolhouse Door for Patrons

By Dr. Jack McKay,  Executive Director of the Horace Mann League
(former School Superintendent and Professor of Educational Administration)

How do we attract people from our local community into their public schools during the school day?  One successful method is the “Superintendent’s Patrons Tour.”

The tour is based on ideas: (1) people support an activity in direct ratio to their understanding and appreciation of the activity’s purpose and complexities; (2) the operation of a school district's delivery system for educating children is an activity that requires public understanding and support; and (3) most adult’s knowledge of the school experience is based on the schools they attended as students.

The “Superintendent Patrons’ Tour” helps citizens become more award of the purposes, responsibilities, and operations of their schools.  The tour brings a representative group of citizens into the schools for a half day to have a firsthand look at the inner workings of both the supportive and instructional activities during a typical school day.

Who to invite:
The tour group could include representatives of the business community, e.g., real estate, banks, merchants, chamber of commerce staff, parent groups, and booster clubs.  You might also consider inviting a school secretary or other support staff within the district.

The Patron’s Tour has a basic format that can be easily tailored to the size and complexity of most school systems.  The format has been successfully used in school districts ranging from 1,000 to 30,000 students.

Size of Group:
The touring group size generally is about 25.  This size allows for the entire group to be comfortable on a school bus transporting people from one school to the next.  Also, the group can be divided into smaller groups when visiting classrooms.

The suggested agenda starts with guest gathering in the district’s board room for refreshments.  Either the board president or the superintendent, welcomew the group and provide a printed brochure and itinerary.

At around 8:45 am, the group is randomly divided into two groups of about 12 each.  These smaller groups then visit the offices of the central office administrators, (e.g., instruction, maintenance, transportation, finance, etc.) for a brief presentation on what their responsibilities are in supporting teachers and staff in carrying out the day-to-day functions of a major community employer.

Around 9:00 am, guests take a drive or walk-through tour of the bus maintenance and warehouse facilities.  Guests then travel by bus to three schools; an elementary school, a middle school, and a high school.  The purpose of visiting three levels of instruction is to show how a curriculum strand, for example math or reading, is organized from the elementary grades through high school.

Visiting the Schools:
At each school, the building principal greets the tour group as they come off the bus.  He or she explains the general information about the school, grades, size, etc.  Usually, two students also greet the guests and present the group with a brochure of about their school and what they will visit during the tour.  The principal leads the tour and explains the general activities that are taking place in the classrooms.  Teacher will welcome the visitors and briefly explain what the learning activity being observed.  The visitors are also encouraged to visit with the students to find out what they are doing.  Guests visit two or three different classrooms for about 10 to 15 minutes each with the school visit about one hour.

Since the tour group will be visiting three different grade level schools and seeing one curriculum strand, for example math, the classroom visited should illustration what is being taught and how it relates to the instructional activities of the district-wide math curriculum. 

After visiting an elementary school, the tour group will visit a middle school.  Again the building principal will lead the tour and encourage group members to visit with the teachers and students while in the classrooms.  Again the guests will be transported by school bus to a high school.

After the tour group visits the high school classrooms, we had a luncheon hosted by the school administrators.  School board members, building principals, and central office administrators are invited to be available to answer questions and thank the guests for taking the time to visit the schools.  Sometimes, students cater the luncheon.  The tour ends with a bus ride back to the district administration building around noon.

Obviously, the superintendent sets the tone and accompanies the guests during the entire tour.  The logistics (busing, classroom visits, lunch arrangements, etc.) needs to be well planned.  Although the tour format is structured, it must be credible.  Building principals and teachers must be prepared for the visitors, but they are encouraged to not alter the classroom and school schedule of normal activities.

As the superintendent, I would use this special opportunity to showcase what we are so proud of doing everyday - working with young people.  Equally rewarding are the comments from our administrators and teachers about parents and business people being in their classroom seeing what they do as professional educators every day.

The “Patron’s Tour provides an opportunity for citizens see their public schools in action, see the youth of their community actively learning, and glimpse of the complexity of organizing their school system operate effectively every day.  Even more important is the opportunity for school administrators, teachers, and support staff to strengthen personal bond with the citizens.

Following is a typical itinerary of a Patron’s Tour

8:00 am:  Set up for coffee and pastries in the school board room
8:30 to 8:45:  Welcome and introductions of administrators and patrons
8:45 to 9:00: Tour of the Central Office with visits to offices
9:00 to 9:20: Load bus and tour bus maintenance and warehouse facilities
9:20 to 9:30: Travel to elementary school
9:30 to 10:10: Tour school and visit classrooms
10:15 to 10:25: Travel to middle school
10:25 to 11:05: Tour middle school and visit classrooms
11:05 to 10:15: Travel to high school
11:20 to 11:45: Tour high school and visit classrooms
11:45 to 12:05: Working lunch at high school with board members and administrators.  (This is an opportunity to answer questions and thank the people for taking the time to visit their schools.
12:05 to 12:15: Travel to the Central Office

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