Dear Au Gres-Sims Community,
A few weeks ago the University of Gonzaga men’s basketball team beat Duke University and became the #1 ranked college team in the country. While reading an article about Gonzaga’s national ranking and team accomplishments, it reminded me of a letter that I wrote to the Au Gres-Sims community in 2013. As our school district continues to achieve new benchmarks of success and model regional academic leadership, I wish to re-share my letter to you from October 23, 2013 to serve as a positive reflection for all of us to remain progressive and exceptional, while continually resolving to ask, “What If?”
(Originally written by Superintendent Collier on October 23, 2013)
The University of Gonzaga is a small Jesuit college located in Spokane, Washington. The ‘Zags have become famous for their ability to recruit major basketball talent from across the country and make impressive NCAA men’s tournament runs toward national titles for the past ten years, despite their relatively small undergraduate enrollment in comparison to other major universities. The Gonzaga men’s basketball teams have not always been nationally recognized, however. Prior to their recent successes within their conference championships and March Madness tournaments, they were relatively unknown outside of the Northwest, and their teams were referred to as “Cinderella stories,” “flash in the pans,” and “one-hit wonders,” based on what analysts argued were special collections of “once in a program’s history” caliber of team talent. Yet, regardless of their critics, Gonzaga has been able to continue their brilliance and capitalize upon their successes throughout the past decade, even earning the #1 national ranking in the Associated Press Poll at one point in last year’s season. Now, not only is Gonzaga recognized as a powerhouse program – no longer Cinderellas – but they also receive critical acclaim and national prestige while consistently establishing measures of excellence on the basketball court.
I reference Gonzaga’s success as an analogy because Au Gres-Sims has rocked our regional constituency these past two years and we are now preparing to again set the standard for academic achievement with another great “run” this year. As the awards and accolades continue to arrive, along with the expressed communication and appropriate marketing and broadcasting of our accomplishments, we now find ourselves on a unique organizational precipice. Outside pundits suppose that our recent achievements indicate singular spikes in proficiency scores and that we cannot possibly sustain our current levels of excellence. I contend that our critics grotesquely underestimate our culture, professionalism, collaboration, abilities, work ethic, determination, resources, student opportunities, focus on student achievement, and blossoming potential.
Au Gres-Sims, like Gonzaga, is no longer a hidden gem. Our burgeoning student enrollment numbers (a realized 14% total student population increase by the 2013 fall count day), representing family choice, are indicators of greatness, as well as the amazing amount of instructional talent we are amassing who seek to join our team. These realities are direct by-products of the incredibly powerful work we continue to do here as a collective, coupled with our progressive vision which continues to assert our academic leadership throughout the region. We are experiencing peak moments and realizing the benefits of persistent focus on doing what is best for students.
But, the question from our reserved, “let’s wait and see” community members begs “What will Au Gres-Sims do now?” As an organization, we are at a critical juncture. Will we solidly benchmark ourselves as the resonating educational force in our area, or was our recent success and perceived hard work a mere anomaly? The reality is that the pressure to continue to be the best choice for students is much higher and stressful than simply working toward earning a seat at the table and being included in marginal discussions. It was easier to fly under the radar because social expectations had not yet been heightened, and we had not necessarily taken the organizational steps to comfortably begin to self-actualize the special things that were happening on our campus. Presently, we find ourselves out in front and setting the academic pace for our neighbors. Nevertheless, this understanding also comes with a set of entirely new change challenges for our school district that we will work to identify through our school improvement initiatives, joint communication opportunities, and professional learning communities moving forward. For some of us, these changes will not be easy and deep introspection of past practices will be necessary to shift us through to the understanding that “what got us here, may not get us there.” Although I assume that the sense of accomplishment toward working to optimize our potential as a student service institution is worth the sweat equity, we must brace and prepare ourselves for the even harder work necessitated to advance forward and developmentally progress.
Together, we have already identified areas of improvement that we must take into account, address, and appropriately solve. We must continue to adapt to the needs of our students while growing ever more savvy, comfortable, and capable with applied data usage and interpretation to improve instructional strategies. We need to vigilantly remain reflective of our own crafts and instructional artistry, and work together toward alleviating areas of deficiencies, while simultaneously reviewing processes and addressing areas in which we can become more efficient and productive. I contend that we owe it to our students to be the best, that we owe it to our community to ensure that we remain the academic regional leader, and that we owe it to ourselves to celebrate the culminating successes of our hard work. We must resolve to be steadfast in our support of each other as a unified team proceeding forward to shape a common vision to be the absolute Destination District for our student learners by involving stakeholders at every community level. We know that every student will succeed here, no matter what it takes!
Au Gres-Sims is poised and ready to launch into a realm of success and notoriety that we may not have envisioned for our district in what seems to be a short amount of time. Still, our resolute and deliberate actions henceforth will cement the fate we ultimately choose; establish ourselves as the continued and preeminent academic regional leader, or prove our detractors correct by failing to move from good to great. I propose we continue to challenge the fabric of our organization by setting even loftier goals, aiming for new summits, achieving new benchmarks, and vigorously celebrating our inevitable achievements, while firmly establishing ourselves as the gold standard by which other institutions react and compare themselves. Together, let us realize our potential as we make the Au Gres-Sims School District exceptional!
Yours in Education,
Superintendent of Schools