Contained within the great book “The Smartest Kids in the World” (Amanda Ripley, 2013) is a list of questions to ask a principal. Ripley wrote a book about the experiences of American foreign exchange students in South Korea, Poland, and Finland, comparing their experiences to each other and to their own American experiences. With her insights, she developed the questions to ascertain a school’s effectiveness. But they are equally important to those of us who are marketing ourselves to prospective parents.

  1. How do you choose your teachers?
  2. How do you make your teachers better?
  3. How do you measure your success?
  4. How do you make sure the work is rigorous enough?

Notice that her questions cut right to the core of consistent Catholic school conflicts: How much should we pay our teachers? Since we often can’t pay market rates, how much can we expect of them? What role does data and testing have in the Catholic school? How do we know that we’re doing well?

I have heard “wrong” answers to each one of the questions. Schools sometimes focus on who they can afford, for example, as the focus of their teacher searches. Schools rarely have a comprehensive professional development plan and often don’t want to burden their underpaid teachers. Schools tend to use anecdotal evidence to support their success (“our graduates are very successful”) instead of showing data. Usually the amount of homework is the measure of rigor.

These questions should improve your articulation of your mission and the communication of your school vision. You should be able to communicate who you hire, how you develop the staff, how you can measure the success, and how you know students are learning and growing. And when you do, this should inspire parents to enroll.

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