What makes a great high school

I facilitated a visioning session for Composite High School last night.  The key question we explored at the beginning was "What makes a great high school?"  What pops into your mind?

Attributes like providing a sense of belong, inclusive, safe, diverse, strong athletics, and options came up time and time again.  What makes a great high school to YOU?

This question can be answered from a number of different vantage points.  First of all, it can be answered by those of us who are looking back - some further back than others - and remembering a positive high school experience.  Others might look back and remember a not-so-good experience and imagine what might have been different.  Some are in high school right now and living it in real-time.  They bring the most relevant and contemporary view.  Some students, like my younger son, are looking ahead, and imagining what moving into high school is going to be like.

At the end of the day, each person's idea of GREAT is going to be different, but finding common themes is essential to designing a high school experience that is not only going to produce outstanding academic results but a sense of pride and belonging that are equally important metrics of success.

I graduated high school in 1985.  And while the physical building that housed Kamsack Collegiate Institute burned down just a few years later, the Spartan spirit lives on, as do the memories.  I loved my high school and the entire three-year experience, academically, extra-curricularly, and socially. Why?  Well, that's a complex question.  I seemed to come into my own in those years.  My confidence increased, my drive for excellence was in high gear, and my days were filled with activities and challenges.

I honestly don't know how I found the time to play in the band (trombone), participate in drama, play basketball and volleyball, serve on the school council, and myriad other things.  I also remember having homework every night and working quite late into the evening on essays and other assignments.  I was a workhorse, and loved it.

The word "belonging" really resonated with me last night, as did "safe" and "inclusive".  Teachers were key.  They flash through my mind like a silent movie:  Mr. Moriarty, Mr. Cash, Mr. Chernoff, Mr. Bugera, and so many others that shaped and inspired my learning and my life.  Even the support staff, administrators and janitor factor heavily into my thoughts on what made a great high school.

I saw and heard a lot of pride about Composite High School at last night's visioning session.  I had the privilege of meeting several students who had fire in their eyes and enthusiasm in their hearts.  The administration, teachers, principal, Board of Trustees, parents and partners are keen to take Comp on a journey in the next few years.  It was an honour for me to help facilitate the discussion and the discovery.


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