The gist of Steve Fradkin’s recent letter to the Review is “Bainbridge High School is good enough.” Whatever happened to “the pursuit of excellence”?
Fradkin asks why we should care about Bainbridge High being the best, and how we can even define this.
Let’s start with one definition of that, scholarship. Fact: we have some of the weakest programs for highly capable students in all of Puget Sound. Fact: from 2002 to 2015, Mercer Island High School had twice as many National Merit Semifinalists as Bainbridge High School, even though the two schools have had about the same enrollment. Our students are doing more poorly because they are not as challenged, beginning in the lower grades and continuing up through the high school.
Fradkin should really address his question about the definition of excellence to Superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen, who formerly managed the International School in Bellevue, one of several high schools in the state that consistently tops Bainbridge in the rankings. What can Bang-Knudsen tell us about why other schools do better?
In his followup to Tom Peter’s work on excellence, management expert Jim Collins describes companies that have moved from “good to great” as treating change as a constant, making small but continuous improvements day to day, like getting the merry-go-round on a playground to spin faster and faster by giving it small but constant pushes. That’s what we need here, but that starts with a desire to be better.
Fradkin does say we need a community conversation on how to improve our schools, and there is an ideal opportunity for that this summer and fall, in the school board elections. More challengers are taking on the incumbents than at any time in the last 20 years. Some of the candidates are just cheerleaders, people who see their primary job as simply supporting the status quo. Hopefully some of the candidates want to be change leaders, people who will push for more.