You Know It When You See It

There are a lot of things in life that are hard to quantify.  But like great acting, obscenity, and good manners…you know it when you see it.  The same can be said for change within an organization’s culture.  Quantifying positive culture change within an organization is extremely challenging.  You can take surveys.  You do exit interviews.  You can form focus groups.  But an organization’s culture is more often defined by its spontaneous behavior than anything else.  And if you happened to be at our homecoming game last Friday, you were witnessing positive culture change in the making.

Two years ago this fall, I watched my first Wrangler football game.  I’m pretty sure we won that game, but what I remember more than the game was how empty our stands were, and how quiet the game was.  Parents outnumbered students and there was more discussion about egging than football.   If you want a litmus test on how students feel about their high school, watch them at a sporting event.  I was thinking about that first game as I watched a raucous student section rush the field after our football team drove the length of the field with under three minutes for the win.  When’s the last time that happened at Sunny Korfanta Field?

If I’ve learned anything about positive cultural change, I’ve learned that there’s no easy path to success.  It’s tough.  Negative is easy, it’s lazy.  Criticism is the path of least resistance.  Benjamin Franklin said, “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.”  Positive change requires you to roll up your sleeves and engage in the process of improvement.  It’s about really hard work, taking risks and hiring people with positive energy who refuse to give up, even in the face of the most challenging situations.  And everywhere I looked Friday night, that’s exactly what I saw…and heard.

Let’s start with Ward Wise.  Ward teaches business at the high school and announces the football games.  Ward is one of the most positive people I’ve ever met.  If judgment day includes an accounting of your life to St. Peter at the pearly gates, I want Ward doing the play-by-play.  And how about our new band teacher, Justin Smith?  Who could have bigger shoes to fill at PHS?  But at one point I looked across the stands and wondered to myself who’s that guy whipping our band and student section into a frenzy.  None other than first year teacher Justin Smith.  Let’s not forget about Coach Johnson, his staff, and our football  players.  Get a big lead, give it up, and then band together to score the winning touchdown with just seconds left.  Way to go fellas!  I know times past when Pinedale would have just folded up the tent and closed the circus.  And to all of the green moustached, orange haired lunatics in the stands…there’s no way we pull out a win like that without all your hootin’ and hollerin’.  That’s what a student section at a football game looks like!

Now I’m not saying that Pinedale High School, SCSD #1, or our football team for that matter,  has arrived as an organization.  We haven’t.  We still have a lot of work to do.  I’m just saying that our culture is changing for the better.  Mr. Turcato, the high school staff, our students, and their families deserve all the credit.  They have embraced the work of change and building a positive culture.  They have exchanged their vision for a positive school for the daily grind that success requires.  We have a long way to go to meet our goals, but if that bunch of crazed Wrangler fans is any indication as to the positive energy we possess, there’s no limit to where we can go.  Go Wranglers!

About Jay Harnack

Superintendent of Sublette County School District #1
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5 Responses to You Know It When You See It

  1. John Paravicini says:

    I’ll agree that change is in the air and, for the most part, it is for the better. However, I was incredibly disappointed with the elementary students not being a part of the Homecoming Parade. As a product of the Pinedale school system, I remember being a part of the parade in one capacity or another. As a parent, I enjoy watching my kids and their peers walk the length of Pine Street in whatever costume theme is on display that year. I understand how schedules go and the argument of keeping kids in the classroom is preferred. However, school spirit is a communal effort and begins with the younger children. One hour, I contest, will not make or break a student’s learning. As the rumor mill churns, I’ve heard of several excuses from bus scheduling (bus evacuation practice will be causing 15-20 minute delays), tired children for Friday’s school day (seriously? they are kids…kids = energy), etc. The elementary kids have been a mainstay of the parade for decades and then for that tradition to be ended with no notification or communication with parents is reprehensible. It appeared that it was quietly swept under the rug until it was too late for compromise. A quote from one of the school board members stated that he didn’t care for homecoming when he was a kid and he didn’t feel kids today cared. My kids, along with many others, cared. I cared and still do. This is the one chance during the year for our young students to walk Pine Street and be recognized by the whole community. I understand how hard it is to put these activities together. I get it. I appreciate people’s efforts. I’d just have liked for reasonable communication.

  2. Joe Fatheree says:

    The nation’s education system is currently undergoing massive reform. A lot of the work is extremely demanding, hard to implement, and underfunded. It is great to see examples of leadership that understands the value of both building a solid team and recognizing the outstanding performances of all the key stakeholders. I applaud the effort of the entire team (students, faculty, parents, community members, and administration) at Pinedale and your willingness to pay tribute to their efforts. What a wonderful example of leadership from the top. Others could learn from the framework of success that you are building together as a team.

    Joe Fatheree
    NEA National Award for Teaching Excellence (09)
    Illinois Teacher of the Year (07)

  3. fletcherturcato says:

    This was excellent and I really appreciate the support. Thank you

    Sent from my iPhone

  4. Eva Biediger says:

    As a former teacher who had Mr. Turcato as my supervisor, I can think of no finer individual to be a campus leader than he. My only sadness the day I left the profession was that I would no longer be privileged to work with this fabulous individual. So happy he is making such a positive change at your campus. Your students are blessed to have his guidance.

  5. Mark Pape SCSD#1 Board Chairman says:

    The School Board reviewed the homecoming activities schedule at the regular Board meeting on 9/13/12. The Board agreed unanimously to support the recommendation from the administration regarding all the planned events. There were a number of educational and logistical issues presented and one was in fact the safety issue of transporting over 500 elementary students and staff to and from the parade. As a K-12 alumnus, a parent of children who have walked in past parades, and a parent of one PES student originally planning to walk this year I understand the disappointment of not seeing our young students participate in this. However, to set the record straight it takes a lot more than an hour out of the day to do this. We have seen the majority of the school day lost for instruction in past years and the Board has made the commitment to protect teaching and learning and increase student achievement as the first priority above all else. As a Board member this was an easy “yes” when asked for our support. I will agree that the communication vehicle could have been more proactive and this is one of those “work to do” issues Mr. Harnack spoke about. I know our district will take a more collaborative approach going forward but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The real “ah ha” moment here is the growth of our entire district in the last three years. Think about the community conversation of just a few years ago and what was discussed then and now. In a perfect world we would have an entire day set aside for a true community homecoming experience that could be shared by all but that is not feasible at this time. It may take a community to raise a child but today it takes a professional learning environment like the one we have now to educate one! I want to thank our administration, faculty, staff, and especially our students for their efforts in making homecoming week a success. I also want to thank Mr. Paravicini for his passion and our entire community for their support for all our kids and our district.

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