Short Essay On My Dream School

This month, Education World challenged our Principal Files principals to dream. "Imagine your dream school!" we told them. Dreams are relative things, one principal told us in response. And that is reflected in the dreams of 20 P-Files principals from around the world. Join Education World's P-Files principals as they share their visions of what a dream school might include. Most of their ideas are quite simple, practical, doable. So why are so many schools so far from their principals' dreams?

Imagine a school where you don't have to use paper anymore. All memos and documents are networked. Every teacher, administrator, and secretary is able to access information through computers. Students get their grades and homework assignments on-line -- and they can get special tutoring too!

That's the school that Janell Logue-Belden dreams of seeing someday. It's a school that would save trees, "not to mention make life easier for everybody in and out of school," said Logue-Belden, assistant principal at Peters Township High School in McMurray, Pennsylvania. She would also like her dream school to have a single main entrance with security cameras in place. "We guard money with locked doors, why don't we guard our children in the same way?" she wondered.

Logue-Belden was among the Principal Files Principals who earlier this month shared a few features of the "school of their dreams" with Education World. The dreams those principals expressed range from the very practical -- the "basics" that many schools still lack -- to pipe dreams that will never happen.

"I'm sure there will be teacher stations and student stations in every room for every child, networks that run, and technology repair [personnel] on site," said Barbara Woods, principal at Marshall Elementary School, of her dream school. Woods continues her dream: "Unlimited supplies are delivered immediately when requested, immediate construction to solve poorly planned areas. ... Oh, well, just provide my school with a genie!" said Woods.

"More room! More room! More room!"

That was the unmistakable cry of John Grady, the P-Files principal from Fairgrounds Junior High School in Nashua, New Hampshire. Grady was one of many P-Files principals who dream of more classroom space.

"Every school I've worked in lacked regular classroom space," principal Joe Lazarski told Education World. "Many buildings were built when populations were down, parochial schools were still abundant, and specialized programs didn't exist. Now many schools put regular classes in rooms that were formerly conference rooms, work areas, or small group rooms.

"Our school is about a dozen rooms short of giving every teacher his or her own full-sized classroom," added Lazarski, principal at Ray Middle School in Baldwinsville, New York. "So my number one priority in building a dream school would be an abundance of full-sized classrooms, enough so that bubbles in the population could be easily accommodated."

"My first wish would be for lots and lots of additional space," echoed Lucie Boyadjian, principal at Glen Oaks School in Hickory Hills, Illinois. "I could use at least six more classrooms. We purchased a two-section mobile unit this year to help with overcrowding. Part of our teacher's lounge has been taken away from the staff to allow room for two special education resource teachers. Talk about sardines!"

"I have gotten to the point of converting the janitor's room into a classroom," added Emma Sidders, principal at Sharon-Mutual Elementary School in Sharon, Oklahoma. "What will I do if I need to have more space next year?"

The need for more space challenges many school personnel to rethink the uses of the space they do have.

Lucie Boyadjian has remodeled some of the classroom space in her school to encourage more team activities. But her dream is to remodel the whole school. "The remodeling would give us larger classrooms, which are desperately needed to house all the resources schools now need -- computers, learning centers, multimedia carts, televisions. ..."

Principal Karen B. Slack at the Pre-Academy at Madison Park in Boston would design a dream school in which her teachers would have everything they need at hand, so as not to waste a single moment. Among the facilities each teaching team would have are a science lab, a computer lab, a presentation/mini-library space, and a set of bathrooms.

"Students and teachers could make those spaces their own," said Slack. "Ownership makes a big difference. It fosters investment. Investment creates tradition. And tradition creates belonging and self-esteem, which in turn improves learning." Joe Lazarski's teachers teach in teams, but there is really no room that lends itself to team activities. He'd like to see two or three classrooms created for large group instruction. "Fortunately, our faculty is resourceful," said Lazarski, "but it would be great to give them a present of a couple rooms big enough to encourage team activities."

In the school Helene Dykes dreams of working in, teacher workroom pods are connected to each group of grade-level classrooms. "Those pods would be designed as storage areas and places to run small group instruction or to hold grade-level meetings, IEP meetings, parent conferences, or counseling groups," said Dykes, principal at Marian Bergeson Elementary School in Laguna Niguel, California. All classrooms would be wired for close-circuit and open-circuit television, she added.

"All the classrooms in my dream school would be big enough to have built-ins, [and they'd have] computer wiring, pull-down screens, laminate boards, and strips from which to hang posters," added Dee Ann Manitzas, principal at Accelerated Middle School in San Antonio, Texas.

Many of Education World's P-Files principals dream of more space for special purposes -- including spaces strictly devoted to eating, physical education, and the arts.

"I would wish for a stage with all the trimmings for my school," dreamed Kathleen Hill, principal at Sandwich Central School in Center Sandwich, New Hampshire. "Our students are very accomplished in the performing arts. It would be great for them to walk out onto a real stage under real lights with a great sound system," said Hill. "Instead, we set up a portable stage and rig up lights to the volleyball poles in the gym."

Jane Carroll, principal at St. Teresa School in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, has dreams of a school theater too. "I know, I know," she said, "this is an elementary school, and most don't have this, but it's my dream. Students who do not have an opportunity to experience the fine and performing arts are at a loss. We provide art, music, and drama, but to have a stage with a curtain and comfortable [seating for an] audience and to give students a real chance to show their stuff -- that would be beyond any hope!"

Paul D'Astoli -- principal at Thomas Carr College, a grade 7 through 12 school in Melbourne, Victoria (Australia) -- is in the process of building a new school. "My wish is for a specialized music facility to facilitate our instrumental music program -- one that would drown out the sounds as students practice."

Carol Roebuck dreams of a nice art room. "Right now we have art on a cart," said Roebuck, principal at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis, Tennessee." It would be so nice to have a large art room with art tables, storage spaces for supplies, and whatever else [the students] need."

If that weren't asking too much, Roebuck would also like a gymnasium. "We are in the same building as the middle and high school and there's one gym," she said. "So you know who is last in getting to schedule time in the gym!"

A school gymnasium is also on the wish list of Greg Robinson, principal at Ginninderra District High School in Canberra, Australian Capital Territory. "At present we have an all-purpose hall, which has to be used for indoor sports, physical education classes, school assemblies, music and drama concerts, and any large-group indoor activities," said Robinson.

Well-organized storage space is another dream that was repeated by several P-Files principals. "Every school I've worked at was lacking storage space," said Janell Logue-Belden. In a school with well-organized storage space "taking inventory and reordering needed supplies would be easy," she added.

"Storage space for teachers in each classroom would be great!" concurred Emma Sidders. "The way it is now there is no space for storage, and everything is mixed up in our school basement."

Many of Education World's P-Files principals recognize the importance of opening their schools to the community.

"The school of my dreams would include facilities for a community services office, a parenting education program, and 24-hour day care," said Jerry L. Mueller, principal at Pleasantview Elementary School in Hastings, Michigan.

"Our school would be used as a learning center and shelter for the community," added Dee Ann Manitzas.

"My dream school would include a center to provide day-care services for staff and students," added Logue-Belden.

Additional spaces around a school are in the dreams of many principals.

"I would love to have the 5 acres next to our school donated to us," said Lucie Boyadjian, noting that the owner recently passed away and the land is for sale. The land could be used to build an annex, complete with 500-seat auditorium, and for added playground space, she said.

Such space is on the wish list of Karen Slack too. The space would be great for "workouts, environmental studies ... so students could take their education outside."

Play space is up there on Bruce Hudson's dream list too. "We really do have a pretty good arrangement here, as overseas schools go," said Hudson, principal at Asir Academy in Khamis Mushayt, Saudi Arabia. "Many overseas schools are in large villas or office buildings [or other spaces] donated by their local business communities. Many of those locations have little or no play space."

"I'd really like some nice landscaped areas with some large trees to provide shade, large enough to protect my bald head from the sun!" said Paul D'Astoli, noting that he had hair before he started building a new school!

"I wish we had a covered pavilion," said Amy Burchfield, principal at Greenbrier (Arkansas) Junior High School. "When it is raining, everyone has to go to the P.E. building during lunch and before school. And the shade would be nice."

"A central enclosed greenhouse for a school garden to be used by all classrooms would be great too," added Helene Dykes.

"I suppose everything is relative to your reality," Bruce Hudson told Education World. "If you don't have it, you want it. If you have it, you want more."

That statement couldn't be more true of the practical things -- things many principals take for granted but that many others only dream of having.

David R. Innocenzi, vice principal at Hamilton (New Jersey) High West, dreams of air conditioning and bleachers that aren't falling apart and modern science facilities. "Our building was built in 1929," said Innocenzi. "To use the hot water in the kitchen, the radiators in the classrooms have to be turned on. Our wooden bleachers are old. New aluminum bleachers would provide safety and comfort for our populace, which is big on athletics." "A paint job throughout the whole school" would be great, said Greg Robinson. "Some parts of my school have not seen a coat of paint in 20-plus years."

New toilet blocks for boys and girls would be a dream too, added Robinson. "Our students have to put up with substandard...toilet facilities. There has been no upgrade since the school was built in 1974."

"An intercom system would be wonderful," added Emma Sidders. "I could make announcements without going to each class individually and get out messages to individuals without walking all over the building many times daily."

For Mary Ellen Imbo -- principal at Westwood Elementary School in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma -- and many others, prefab classrooms are a way of life that leaves them dreaming of "real" schools. "I have four classes each of grades 1 through 5 outside our core building in prefabs," said Imbo. "I would like a whole building with all classrooms housed in it. I would love to have a gym with a stage and a separate cafeteria."

"I would like to have a building that houses all programs in one," added Amy Burchfield. "We have a separate music building, a separate gym, and two annexes. Monitoring access to the buildings is very difficult."

"What a principal would wish for in my daughter's school in our nice suburb would be so different from what a principal in the urban district where I work would wish for," said Lyn McCarty, a special education administrator in an urban California public school district.

Principals in many schools, McCarty said, "would be wishing for things like file cabinets that aren't locked shut without keys or that the cracked old empty pool -- now a safety hazard and a stark reminder of what the children do not have rather than an asset to the physical plant -- would be magically filled in and planted with a tree; and that the air and heat worked."

"In these schools," McCarty said, "folks are wishing for things like file cabinets that aren't locked shut without keys; or that the cracked old empty pool -- a stark reminder of what the children do not have rather than an asset to the physical plant -- would be magically filled in and planted with a tree; and that the air and heat worked."

"We wouldn't be wishing for dream school things," added McCarty. "We wish for all the ordinary expected things that so many other children simply take for granted... When we dream for our children -- all of our children -- I just think it might be worthwhile for us to remember that the deck is by no means evenly stacked and that dreams are relative. I guess that what is important is that we all keep on dreaming for our kids and striving to make those dreams a reality."

Principal Chris Rose has just moved into a newly refurbished school -- Plymouth School -- in Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia. "A few years ago the place was in terminal shape," said Rose. "The government put $2 million into a new gym, library, and expansion. Another $500,000 was spent on renovations, and they are putting in $250,000 in technology."

So what could Rose possibly desire?

"More staff bathrooms!"

Please check out our other articles this week:

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 1999 Education World

10/25/1999

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