OSWEGO, NY – They have raised the bar at Oswego High School. And, for the most part, students have risen to the occasion – academically as well as socially, the building’s principal said Tuesday night.
“We’re looking at a vision of over the course of four or five years; the end result of this is we do want to be a school of excellence, not only academic excellence but interscholastic excellence,” Brian Hartwell told members of the Curriculum Committee. “We want our student to be productive members of society. That really starts here at the ground level, starting with just behavior.”
The total number of referrals for incidents such as being late to class, skipping class or leaving school without permission, has declined this school year, he said.
In September the total was 1,021 for this school year. And every month after that it has declined quite rapidly to 904 in October and cut in half to 471 in November, continuing to shrink in December to 431, and down to 376 in January, he added.
“First of all, I would like to recognize our students for rising to the occasion. We set the bar high and they live up to that standard. It’s a nice jumping off point as we continue on into next year when we’re going to start looking at continuing to raise the academic bar,” he said.
Hartwell stresses energy, enthusiasm and being on time.
“One of my favorite quotes is from Ralph Waldo Emerson. He said, ‘nothing great has ever been achieved without enthusiasm.’ I look at myself as a student of leadership,” the principal said.
“Being on time is such an important value that I think is overlooked and we don’t take advantage of those teachable moments. This year, our faculty and staff are present in the hall, every period and it’s not one or two, it’s the majority of them,” he continued. “They’re out there; it’s second nature. They’re not necessarily directing traffic but are just a presence It really gives us an idea of all hands on deck – the kids are doing the right things, the faculty and staff are out there.”
The dean of students is handling disciplinary issues.
He actually is very timely in meeting with students (following a referral), Hartwell explained.
“Everyone’s getting the same message. There are phone calls home, there is really a feeling of everyone working to be on the same page,” he said. “There is a lot of communication; it’s really beneficial to what we’re doing. We look forward to the second half of the year as continuing what we’ve started in the first half of the year.”
His goal is to see zeroes (referrals).
“But, sometimes people make poor choices. That’s part of teaching and learning,” he noted. “We have got to continue to re-focus and re-direct in those types of things. But, if we don’t set lofty goals I think you become complacent and you start to go in the other direction. Once you stop trying to get better you’re no longer good. You constantly have to chase excellence, you never really get there. It is a journey, not a destination that you reach.”
Even when students make poor choices and are cited for it, it isn’t personal, the principal explained.
“We’re trying to create an environment that is conducive first and foremost to safety and security and secondly teaching and learning,” he said.
There were 727 referrals for late to class in September. In January it went all the way down to 219. It has been constantly declining (with the exception of December when it went up from 230 to 248).
“That’s something I’m awfully proud of because our students are really rising to the occasion. They know it’s important to us as a building, they know it’s important to me and they really are getting to class on time,” the principal said.
After three “late to school” referrals, a student has a personal visit with one of the assistant principals.
“What takes place is a couple of things. One is ‘we are watching, we care about what is going on’ and two we are laying the groundwork for if this behavior continues, then is a consequence for that. Sometimes we’ve learned more about the student (through these meetings) than meets the eye that way,” Hartwell said.
“There might be a situation or circumstance the student’s in that is preventing them from being on time and then we might have to turn that student to some other resources whether it be Social Services or what have you,” he continued.
If a student gets to five late to school referrals, they are met with consequences.
There have been 198 students that have been late to school. Of that number, 53 percent of them never went past three; “That is just an incredible number to me,” Hartwell said.
Of the remaining 47 percent many of them reached five and were given a half-day in-school suspension. And 38 percent of those never got another referral for being late to school, he added.
Board member Tom DeCastro said some of the students he has talked to tell him that they are “very, very happy” with the way the school year is going.
“They are happy with the changes … and they said it is easy to operate within the new parameters, as long as they know what they are, no problem,” he told Hartwell. “So, I think you’re doing a good job. I like to hear you say that there are some consequences for whatever the behavior is. My only suggestion would be two things: be fair and be consistent.”
“If you tend to the little things; if you tend to the late to classes, skipping classes and issues of disrespect, then the larger things, I’m not going to say they cease to exist, but the frequency of them becomes very, very low,” Hartwell pointed out.