Reflections and Actions

At Fairview High School, we have been consumed in recent days and weeks with long meetings and discussions about the various approaches to the re-opening of school in the fall that will keep our students, teachers, staff, and community safe while also meeting academic and learning needs. Simultaneously, the sea change of policies and mindsets resulting from the murder of George Floyd has swept across our nation.

The relative limited racial diversity of Fairview High School does not make conversations about systemic racism and privilege less important or unnecessary; instead, understanding privilege, how to wield it for good, and using this understanding to ensure that Fairview High School is anti-racist has never been more important.

Our mission and vision as a district and building, with their language about embracing diversity and acts of service, function as the foundation from which we will re-evaluate what we do and reflect upon how/why we do it. As we head toward the 2020-2021 school year, we will begin with the following to ensure a just, safe, and fair learning space for all:

  • Every summer, we take the student handbook to the school board for approval of changes. This year, similar to the United States Marine Corps, we will add dress code language forbidding the display of the confederate flag. This modern-day symbol of white nationalism and a failed insurrection has only, in the words of Marine Commandant General David H. Berger, the “power to inflame division” rather than support the unifying, anti-racist culture at Fairview High School. Well, he wasn’t specifically referring to Fairview High School, but I am.
  • We will focus our 2020-2021 building goals/themes on the ways in which we can center all decisions and actions on how to make the school and community a better place for those around us. Much of what we do already focuses on individual growth, but our mission’s focus on service calls us to consider how our actions affect others and what we can do to help those not benefitting from privileges equally.
  • We will revisit and re-evaluate building practices, and mindsets that may lead to inequity and racial bias. We pride ourselves on equal access to learning, and anything that serves as an obstacle to that goal needs to be identified and removed.

I’m not naive enough to see these steps as comprehensive solutions–they are merely first steps. However, they are a start, and we will control what we can control as we continue to create an anti-racist culture both within the walls of Fairview High School and beyond.

February and (Well) Beyond

No sooner did we all become accustomed to writing “2020” than we started a variety of endeavors for students at FHS preparing them for the near and somewhat distant future. High school is an on-going balancing act of being present in and appreciative of the moment while also maintaining a dutiful eye to life after high school.

Here are some of the things on our plate (if you’re here for the renovation information, just keep scrolling):

  • Course Requests and Individual Meetings
    • We met with each grade-level class separately in the auditorium last week to review the process for requesting courses for next year.
      • It is important to remember that students are merely making requests at this point and not creating a final schedule. It is from these requests that we’ll begin to construct the master schedule for the building based upon requirements, interests, and needs.
    • Prior to each meeting, the counseling office provided each Schoology class (e.g. Class of 2021) with a series of resources for students and parents to facilitate the request and individual counselor meeting process.
    • Beginning this week and continuing for the next month, Mrs. Jensen and Mrs. Vilushis will meet with every student individually during the school day to discuss next year’s courses in the context of their plans for the future.
      • One of the resources in the Schoology group posting includes the document (My Future – Scheduling Meeting Checksheet) that will guide students’ conversations with their counselors.
  • Career and College Guidance Field Trips
    • Each year, the classes take a day to visit the following local institutions: Penn State Behrend (9th grade), Edinboro University (10th grade), Mercyhurst University (11th grade). The sophomores just visited Edinboro last week.
    • These trips do satisfy an important post-secondary experience as part of PA’s Chapter 339 requirements, but their value does not lie in checking a box, nor are they suggesting that students will attend or plan on attending any of these schools.
    • Instead, they provide important opportunities for students in beginning to understand post-secondary options through exposure to different careers, panel discussions with admissions officers, and hands-on experiences in labs or classrooms at each institution.

Renovation

The month-long feedback period following January’s mandatory Act 34 Hearing concluded last week, and the school board moved on to the next stages in the PlanCon process at Monday night’s board meeting.

Here are a couple of things to consider as the project continues to move forward:

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  • The new academic wing at FHS does not cost $50 million.
    • The new academic wing costs approximately $17.6 million. The remaining costs include, at this point, renovating the auditorium, cafeteria, gymnasiums, and pool; building a new pod at FES; and new roof project at FMS.
  • Voting on PlanCon Part D and PlanCon Part E means that the board approved the preliminary drawings and cost estimates for the project to be sent to PDE (Pennsylvania Department of Education).
    • The next due date for the board (PlanCon Part F) is May 19.
  • I’ve received a great deal of overwhelmingly positive feedback about the project. That being said, don’t hesitate to share your feedback or questions with me, Dr. Kincade, or school board members.
  • The project is currently scheduled to break ground in September of 2020.

 

Changes & Opportunities (and Some Renovation Stuff)

This time of year offers opportunities for both closure and new beginnings as we head into final exams on this last day of classes for first semester courses.

Our final exam schedule and the four-day weekend for students provide a chance to reflect on the semester past while recharging batteries in preparation for a great second half of the school year.

The most substantial new beginning, however, was discussed last Monday at the Act 34 hearing addressing the bond issue for the renovation project.

Renovation

The most sizable portion of this project includes major changes for FHS, but it also includes a new pod for FES and a new roof for FMS. The meeting provided a thorough and transparent explanation of the needs and finances for the project and bond issue, all of which are available on this portion of the district web page, which will also include updated information as the project progresses.

I won’t speak to the specifics of the project financing at this point because those details are accessible in the hearing packet and were extensively covered in the meeting. In short, here is how the renovation meets some of our responsibilities and needs:

1. Safety

Safety is our most important responsibility as a school. Our current building is extremely safe; our new building will be safer.

From entry procedures, to classroom access, to security cameras, to communication options, to security officer location, the renovation improves student and staff safety in a focused learning environment.

2. Educational Environment

Our second essential responsibility is to provide the best education possible for the students and families in our school community. We have provided high-quality education for our students in spite of our current building and its condition.

The following items are some of the more pressing factors influencing our students’ educational environment:

Limited Disruptions: Although not the most expensive of the seven (7) options explored by the school board, the selected plan creates the least disruptive environment for students. While the new academic wing is under construction (18-24 months), classes will continue as normal in the space we currently occupy, and we avoid the need for portable trailer classrooms and closing portions of the building one section at a time over a longer build schedule.

Capacity: We already have teachers sharing classroom space at FHS, and the following images are relatively self-explanatory in terms of noting the need for more space and classes, which the renovation provides:

Erie County Membership Change
During the past three schools, only FSD has increased student membership.

Membership Grade-level Growth
Class sizes have increased across the district, and the current renovation plan meets those current and future needs.

The Structure: Our custodial and facilities staff are second to none and have done an inspired job of creating an exceptional space despite mounting problems (44 of these items are detailed in the Act 34 booklet) and issues in the following areas just to name a few:

  • windows that leak air and moisture
  • continual roof leaks into classrooms, hallways, and locker bays
  • the HVAC system’s inability to manage temperatures throughout the building

These shortcomings are part of day-in and day-out experiences at FHS. In isolation they are manageable, but, over time, they take their quantitative and qualitative toll.

Science Labs: A visit to any FHS science lab would suffice as an explanation to this need; however, if you’ve not been in the building recently, the renovation addresses our limited lab space/resources and includes state-of-the-art shared and flexible labs while also allowing for separate science classroom instructional space.

Classrooms and Common Spaces: Our student-centered approach to instruction will be supported by 21st-century classrooms and access on each floor to smaller common learning spaces similar to the second-floor “zoo.”

This list could go on, but that’s not the purpose of this space. I’ll provide further updates and details in upcoming months.

The building project addresses a need for which the district has been preparing and planning for the better part of a decade. We couldn’t be more excited to embrace this challenge as we embark on a new future for our students.

Until then, best of luck to all students on final exams and have a restful weekend–we’ll all come back ready to create a great second semester experience.

Introduction and change…

Dear Fairview Families,

I am humbled and honored to introduce myself as the new principal at Fairview High School. In this time of transition, finding yourself hesitant or wary is more than understandable given the potential impact of change. We feel this way because we have all experienced personal and professional changes in our lives that have yielded what are sometimes inconsistent results. This, therefore, will not be a journey that we take alone.

Like you, my life has been filled with periods of change and transition. I started my career in education twenty-three years ago having taken a job in a city (Memphis, TN) where I knew not a soul and could only orient myself if I knew the direction of the Mississippi River. However, I met life-long friends and, most importantly, my wife, who has been with me on this meandering journey that led us, via a stint in Baltimore, to the Erie area in 2001 where we would eventually settle and start a family. Each of these steps along the way involved professional change, as well–the most substantial of which led me to leave the English classroom at Fairview High School in 2013 and embrace the change inherent to leadership positions in the field of education.

Your changes, like mine, usually include some element of risk that challenges our attitudes and beliefs. Although the nature of change is universal, our responses to change are personal and always the result of individual choice. Although the external factors may be many and varied, the choice that we make about our attitude toward any given situation is always and only our own. I choose to see change as an opportunity to open new doors while also reinforcing what works.

Change can be challenging for adults, but its effects can be even more acute for students. Our students’ lives evolve at considerably accelerated rates compared to previous generations. That does not mean that their lives are harder or easier, but it does mean that what happens to them happens more quickly than what we experienced. As adults, our role is to help them navigate these obstacles and changes while they rise above the clatter that can clog the path through young adulthood.

We have a responsibility to show them that attitude is a choice while modeling the mindset and actions that we want them to embody. We will be the adults, as a faculty and staff, who will embrace change as opportunity and challenge them to grow while here. Be the parent who joins us in this responsibility and demonstrates that supporting and challenging the students is an effort that we all share.

Again, I am more than appreciative for this opportunity, and I look forward to the time that we will spend together as a school community and family. I will be in most days during the summer working to assure an efficient and effective transition to the students’ first day on August 30. You will be hearing from us occasionally (but not too often) throughout the summer, but please do not hesitate to stop by and say hello.

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”  – Nelson Mandela

Sincerely,

Matt Lane
Fairview High School – Principal
lanem@fairviewschool.org