I’d like to start the new school year by not talking about test scores. I’d also like to not talk about curriculum, assessments, lesson planning, and instruction. Yes, I’m a superintendent and I’d just rather not talk about those things as a priority. Maybe it’s a bold statement for someone in my position to make, but it’s time that we shift our focus in education. It’s time to stand up and say “a child’s passion is more important than their GPA.” It’s time to see the whole child and realize that one piece of data does not define who they are. Ten pieces of data doesn’t define who they are either, and data alone will never define an entire school system.

But there is a piece of data that is beginning to define our entire nation. This piece of data we rarely talk about, especially when we engage in conversations about student achievement. The piece of data I’m referring to is the nation’s student suicide rate. According to the CDC, suicide rates for teen girls ages 15-19 have doubled in the last eight years. Suicide rates for teen boys for the same age range have increased 30% in the same time frame. With that, the National Alliance on Mental Illness has found that one in five teens ages 13-18 live with a mental illness. Simply put, we have an epidemic on our hands that supersedes all talk of state assessments and academic programming.

Talking about curriculum, assessments, lesson planning, and instruction without talking about the social-emotional needs of students is like baking bread without flour. Maybe it can be done, but I’m certainly not a culinary expert. Seriously though, if one in five students are walking through our doors with mental illness we cannot expect them to learn at high levels. I’m not saying that curriculum, assessments, and such are not important. They certainly are but educating the heart must be our foundational base with every child. We must educate the heart before we can educate the mind.

If we want students to succeed at high levels, we must first love them at high levels. We must create a culture in which we celebrate the individualities of every child. We must empathize, encourage, and empower our students every single day. We must make it known to them that they matter. We must make it known to them that they are loved. Their stories are more important than the square root of 4 or Romeo and Juliet. Sorry Math and Language Arts Teachers :(.

The best part of this…it takes zero effort. It takes absolutely no effort to be kind, to listen, and to care. It costs zero extra dollars. You don’t need to buy a set of books or order a new curriculum. You just have to come to school each day and say, “I’m going to make a difference.”

When this is our priority we will begin to see student achievement levels rise. When we allow our students to use their talents and exercise their passions in school – achievement levels will increase. You see, we all feel valued when we are allowed to contribute to something. Why not allow our children to contribute their talents and gifts into every lesson?

Listen, I just have a deep passion for this. I’ve had a student take their own life on my watch. I vowed it will never happen again. If we make it our goal to make everyone feel like a someone we will not only see achievement levels increase, but more importantly we will begin to see a decrease in suicide rates.

So I kindly ask you to join me in launching a new challenge for the entire nation…#EduZero. This doesn’t require you to pour ice cold water over your head or jump out of a moving car to dance. This simply asks you to make it your mission to reach as many children as you can. You don’t have to be an educator. You just have to have a beating heart. The objective is simple. This year in our nations schools we vow to make sure that ZERO passions go undiscovered. ZERO stories of our students go unheard. ZERO gifts go unwrapped. ZERO students sitting alone. ZERO SUICIDES. I truly believe the more that we lift up, the less that will get knocked down by either themselves or the violent acts of others.

I never ask for any of my blog articles to be shared, but this one is different. We can make a difference and there is no better time to start than right now. This is the answer to better schools, better communities, and a better nation. Use the hashtag #EduZero, share this post, and make it your mission to make everyone feel like a someone.
Have a fabulous school year.

Superintendent Jordan
Beulah Public Schools
Beulah, ND