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What Do You BELIEVE?

When I was graduate student at the College of William and Mary, a colleague and I took a course, Foundations of Educational Leadership. Both my colleague and I had been teaching secondary English for quite some time and were eager to extend our careers into educational leadership. We were deeply committed to the idea of serving all students and creating environments that facilitated student success. It was in this Foundations of Educational Leadership course that our professor began to talk about the importance of efficacy. Efficacy, as she described it, was the notion of educators believing that they could facilitate success for students regardless of cultural background, social economic status, and even disability. She proposed that this idea of efficacy had to be a pre-requisite to any type of change in school culture or increase in student achievement. She presented various pieces of literature and research that supported this notion. It was, as she described, the most essential piece in regards to student success.

However, at the time, both my friend and I were teachers and we wanted concrete and precise ways to increase student achievement. At the time, the No Child Left Behind Act was just becoming a reality, and we wanted systems and checklists of actions that would improve achievement and perhaps give our schools high scores. And one night on the way home from class, we both questioned the usefulness of our instructor teaching efficacy when we could be learning more about instruction and practical processes to increase student achievement.

Neither of us had a clue.

Almost a decade later and after a number of experiences as an educational leader, I have come to understand the importance of efficacy. Undoubtedly, the processes for improving student achievement as well as improving instruction are essential for any school to be successful. Moreover, there must be systems and practices that support student success and create sustainability for future success. But even more important, is the belief on the part of educators, that success is possible for any student. Without this belief, high achievement for all students is not possible. High achievement on Standards of Learning (SOL) Tests, Advance Placement (AP) Tests, and Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SAT) are not a reality without the essential belief that all students can be successful. Moreover, the change in school culture which supports student achievement is not possible without efficacy on the part of teachers. Simply put, schools cannot be successful if teachers and administrators do not believe that their students are capable of high achievement. Moreover, this type of culture change is not possible without students believing they are supported and that they can be successful.

This year Prince Edward County High School will extend the notion of efficacy to our faculty, staff, students, parents, and community members with the theme of “BELIEVE.” Our school will focus on a set of beliefs, actions and work that are essential to make those beliefs a reality. This year our culture has begun with beliefs for teachers, students, parents and community members, and it will direct the work and actions steps that are critical in perpetuating those beliefs. And while the set of beliefs for faculty and staff, students, and parents are different, they all support the notion of a common belief: Prince Edward County High School is a great school.

We already have much to support these beliefs. During the 2011-12 school year our Graduate Completer Index (GCI) and Federal Graduation Indicator (FGI) increased. To add, our school saw several increases in student achievement data. Most importantly, our school culture continues to reflect an increased understanding of the importance of providing support systems to facilitate student achievement at all levels.

Before the beginning of the school year, the PECHS faculty developed several beliefs that we deem as supportive of student success. The most prominent of these is the belief that all students can be successful when structures and support systems are in place to support students at all levels. This corresponds with our beliefs that our teachers are the most critical component in student and school success. Our teachers also believe that constant reflection and improving instruction supports our students' success. Finally, our teachers believe that collaboration and teamwork will make our school the best school in the state.

We also decided what we want our students to believe. We want our students to believe that they can be successful in school. But more importantly, we want our students to believe that they will be successful after high school. With this in mind, our students will believe that school has value in regards to achieving their goals. These values are a cornerstone in regards to student achievement.

In order for our students to be successful, there are beliefs that our parents and community members should adopt as well. First, our parents and even community members who do not have students in our school must believe that our students' success is critical and vital to the success of our community. As such, we want our parents and community members to adopt the belief that their participation is vital to our students. Most importantly, we want our parents to believe that Prince Edward County High School is a place where their students can be successful.

Teachers, students, parents and community members are all important stakeholders in the success of our school. As a school and a community, we want each set of stakeholders to adopt different beliefs; however, these beliefs will support one common notion: Prince Edward County High School is a great school. And while we these beliefs are pre-requisites to increased student achievement, our learners, parents, community members, and our faculty and staff at Prince Edward County High School must also understand that with these beliefs comes considerable work that will make these values a reality. This means a continuation of practices and efforts that have brought our school increased academic success in the last two years. But it also means that as a community, we work collaboratively to come up with new ways to continue the success of our great school.

Last month, at a conference, I had a chance to meet with my former professor, and I talked about the success and progress that Prince Edward County High School has seen in the last two years. But I also talked about how my experiences in other schools and Prince Edward County High School have taught me the importance of efficacy. We talked about our school's new theme and how the PECHS faculty and I were certain that it would not only maintain our school's progress, but take our students and school to the next level.

I believe that Prince Edward County High School is a great school. I believe this because we have great students, great teachers, great central office personnel and we are supported by a great school board and a great community. I believe this because of the success that we have seen in the last two years. I also believe this because I know the potential of the students, faculty and staff. I believe this because of the plans that we have for Prince Edward County High School's success. I also believe this because I know that this is essential in generating future success for our school and community

So I ask you- What do you BELIEVE?

(Reed is principal of Prince Edward County High School and writes On The Wings Of Eagles for The Farmville Herald)