Earlier this week, I put the finishing touches on the Fall, 2021 Mitchell School District Report Card. Well, not quite the finishing touches. I still have to update the information from the Board of Regents on the academic attainments of the MHS Class of 2020 and that won’t come out until late October. When that is released, though, I’ll send the DRC off to the printers and, two or three days after that, it will be sent all over the district.
Now, I do realize that the publication of the District Report Card is not some universally heralded event like the latest Harry Potter tome. (I know for certain that no children will be standing in line at midnight at Kmart to get first shot at one, as one of my sons and I did to whet his literary appetite.) Still, once this year’s is actually distributed, that will make 21 straight years of DRCs.
And I do take some pride in the creation of such a historical database. But if most people generally have to stifle a yawn when I talk about it, why exactly would I feel good about this year’s issue or any of its older brothers?
I do so for several reasons.
First, I value the DRC because it meets an arguably sacred obligation I owe to the students, parents, and taxpayers of the Mitchell School District. Government services, like public schools, exist through the largesse of the taxpayer. This means, though the field is more competitive than it once was due to open enrollment, home schooling, and private schools, that we aren’t as susceptible to the whims and demands of the marketplace. Without that ever-present pressure to operate in a free system of capitalist exchange, consumer dollar for good or service, we owe it to parents, students, and taxpayers to share the data on our successes and failures. This the DRC does through reports on enrollment, student achievement, goals, extracurriculars, and finances. It’s there, warts and all.
Second, the District Report Card, though a great deal of work in its creation, is a wonderful source of handy information for me as superintendent of schools. When I need to look at trend lines on student achievement, am wondering what years we have levied for our opt-out and what years we have not, can’t quite recall when our enrollment started rising or when it started falling due to demographic trends, I can just go to the shelf and pull down the sheaf of them that live there, disturbing their slumber. In other words, I’m a bit of a data wonk and having these always at the ready is akin to the gourmand with an office in the Oak Room. Yum.
Third, it is, at least in some parts, reader-friendly. Ever read a government publication? Of course not and for good reason. They tend to be gray, unimaginative tomes filled with great columns of data and page after page of narrative written in persistently passive voice. When we started crafting the first DRC, we consciously tried to emulate the USA Today, famed at its origin for its generous white space, illustrative graphics, bold headlines, and reader-friendly philosophy. While we don’t always succeed (see the sections on goals progress, for example), much of the DRC is made up exclusively of large, easy-to-read charts, graphs and illustrations. Few things are more pointless than putting out a serious document that no one will read. Though it is sometimes an unfortunate compromise, better to provide accurate if not comprehensive and attractive than accurate, comprehensive, and stultifying.
Finally, the DRC reflects my passion. While I can imagine being involved in other lines of work, pursuing other careers, I have never doubted that I selected the correct one. Education is in my being. I have chalk dust in my veins as did/have more than a dozen of my family members, from teachers to country superintendents to head cooks to librarians and schoolmarms. Capturing the reality of a school district in the form of the DRC is meaningful to me, in its successes and failures and everything in between.
No, it’s not Harry Potter. To me, it is something even better.