6 Things I Learned About Myers Park Traditional Elementary

And they just might surprise you.

I am no longer woefully ignorant about the Traditional magnet program. While I still have much to learn, a recent visit to Myers Park Traditional Elementary School filled in a lot of blanks.

In many magnet circles, “traditional” is code for “non-magnet,” so I was never very clear on what differentiated the Traditional program – with a capital T – from anything else.

Not to mention that when I hear “Myers Park Traditional,” my guess is that I hear what you hear: “rich white kids.” But I was pleased to stand corrected.

Here’s what I learned:

1. The school culture is centered on character development, particularly leadership.

Within the last few years, the Traditional program has implemented a Covey-based program called The Leader in Me that, based on the program’s website, “empowers students with the leadership and life skills they need to thrive in the 21st century. It is based on secular principles and practices of personal, interpersonal, and organizational effectiveness.”

I am generally skeptical of paradigms that teach kids that we all deserve trophies or that we’re all awesome and special through our mere existence, but I also fundamentally believe that every child is capable, every child has a knack for something, and every child should learn how to be the best version of themselves. 

It’s a fine line to walk but a crucial one.

At first glance, Covey’s The Leader in Me could be easily mistaken for a participation trophy kind of program with its claims that leadership is not for the few but that “everyone can be a leader.” Because let’s face it, simple logic tells us that not everyone in the group can lead the group.

But dig a little deeper into how the program is applied, and it’s pretty solid.

Being “a leader” is almost euphemistic for being responsible— responsible for the consequences of your choices, responsible for reflecting on ways to develop and continually improve, and responsible for knowing yourself well enough to figure out where you best fit. And those are quality underpinnings for maximizing an education.


2. Students keep a continuous portfolio and are encouraged to reflect on their growth over the elementary years.

They don’t call it a portfolio but a “leadership notebook,” but students begin the notebook in kindergarten and build on it each year of their elementary school experience. In their leadership notebooks, students set goals in many facets of their lives (not just academics) and are expected to reflect on their work and development over time.


3. Cornerstones of the school culture promote taking pride in hard work.

I love this. It’s not something that the principal, Lauren Fowler, pointed out explicitly during our time together, but it was evident nonetheless, beginning with the school’s annual Leadership Day that takes place each February.

Students all have jobs to do to pull off the student-led Leadership Day. Information about jobs, along with corresponding application information, is posted in common areas. The result is that students must take initiative, set their sights on what interests them, put in a little extra work to apply, and become part of an ecosystem of work that relies on equal measures of competition and collaboration.

But the undercurrents evident in seeking and doing jobs for Leadership Day is also present elsewhere.

Student artwork is reverently displayed in frames throughout the school. An impressive trophy case gleams at the entrance with awards from chess tournaments. College is always on the horizon.

And I mean that literally. Myers Park Traditional is located on the Queens University campus, so its students are surrounded by college ethos and energy from kindergarten to fifth grade, and they have regular interactions with university students and faculty.

In ways subtle and overt, this school shows kids not just how to build the habits of hard work but also tangible examples of why they should.


4. The school has strong community partnerships and a diverse PTA.

I’ve never met the PTA, so I can’t say firsthand, but Principal Fowler was clear that more than just the usual suspects comprise the school’s engaged PTA. In her view, this PTA diversity is imperative to making the school work for its whole student population.

Additionally, community partnerships are atop Fowler’s priority list. Perhaps their strongest partner, of course, is Queens University which, among other things, allows them to use the university’s Hadley Theater for school productions and its gym for school-wide events.

Other partnerships include Bojangles and Hendrick Automotive.


5. Last school year (2015-16), the school’s population was 65 percent minority and 48 percent economically disadvantaged.

Taking an average of the last three school years, economically disadvantaged students comprise about 40 percent of the student population at Myers Park Traditional, according to the reports that are publicly available through the Education Value-Added Assessment System (EVAAS).

This past year (2015-16), Myers Park Traditional saw a spike of about 10 percent, year over year, in their numbers of economically disadvantaged students, as well as a subsequent drop of several points in their academic growth measure; however, the school still hovered close to zero on the growth index, indicating that expected growth was still met.

These numbers aren’t great, but they also aren’t bad, and they’re certainly not what I expected.

First off, I didn’t expect a 65 percent minority population in a school named “Myers Park Traditional.” A pleasant surprise.

And though 48 percent economically disadvantaged students is a percentage well below the district average, it’s still fairly substantial. And, yes, when the school increased its economically disadvantaged population from 38.04 percent (2014-15) to 47.98 percent (2015-16), the school took a hit on the growth index, falling from 3.03 to -0.34.

A growth index value of -0.34 puts Myers Park Traditional in the bottom half of the pack for the 2015-16 school year, when considering schools with economically disadvantaged populations of above 40%, and well below that same group’s average growth value of 1.74. But two things are true: (1) Change requires adjustment, and (2) a growth index value of 0 means that a school delivered right on target for expected growth.

Now, when stacked up against the likes of Albemarle Road Elementary – a school with a three-year average of 78% economically disadvantaged students and a growth index value of 5.59 last year and an average of 3.54 in the last three, Myers Park Traditional has much room for improvement in inspiring academic growth in all students regardless of socioeconomic status.

But all things considered, they’re doing alright.

Myers Park Traditional also acquired a new principal for the current 2016-17 school year, so there’s that to consider, too. (It’ll be interesting to see what these numbers look like this year and next.)


6. School facilities factor heavily in the culture of the school. 

Facilities matter.

When a student walks into a crumbling school building with mold on the tiles of its drop ceiling and roaches in the corner, it subtly changes the learning environment. Maybe not always and maybe it shouldn’t, but it does.

And the business world knows it, too. There’s a reason that Red Ventures has glass-walled offices and stairs that change colors and a reason why big banks build shiny towers lined with granite.

At Myers Park Traditional, the school building blends in with the stately oaks and brick buildings of Queens University, with all of its gravitas and dignity.

Another side effect of sharing space with Queens University—no mobile units. The inability to add mobile units means the school’s capacity is limited to about 750, which is an enviable circumstance and a definitive advantage over other schools that are bursting at the seams to carry the burden of the district’s overcrowding.

Aside from the dark underbelly implicated in the privilege of being insulated from common facility challenges, as a parent and former educator, it’s hard to resist the lure of quality school space.

There’s just something compelling about walking into a sturdy brick school house, old but well-kept. It’s as though even the walls whisper that it’s good to do things well the first time, that we should be careful stewards of what we have, and that important things happen here.

And that vibe is strong at Myers Park Traditional.


Overall

Simply put, it seems to me that Myers Park Traditional Elementary is just a solidly good school. It doesn’t have a special “theme,” per say, or a different educational philosophy to familiarize yourself with as a parent; it just takes a lot of tried and true methods of what we know works and then does them.

If you’re wondering about the difficulty of getting in, keep in mind that Myers Park Traditional had a wait pool last year of about 19% of the total number of students seated in the school, which places it around the middle of waitlist egregiousness for elementary programs.

We are still within the window of the first magnet lottery for the 2017-18 school year, so check it out for yourself: Myers Park Traditional Elementary has an upcoming Open House, led by students, on Thursday, January 12 at 6:30 p.m.

(And for my Twitter users, if you visit the school, I’d be thrilled to hear your take on it. Tweet @ba_stone using #ClassroomChatter to weigh in.)