There are schools out there that are truly outstanding and exceptional. It is unfortunate that, all too often, those schools, school districts, and/or school systems that are truly outstanding and exceptional do not receive greater attention and recognition. The Orchard Park Central School District in Western New York State is one such truly excellent, admirable, inspiring, outstanding, and exceptional school system. It is located in an affluent suburb of Buffalo, New York. And, it is a school system that is composed of six schools, including one high school, one middle school, and four elementary schools. I will take the liberty of sharing some of the many incredibly excellent qualities of this school system.
More than one decade ago, I had the pleasure and privilege of being employed as a substitute teacher for two years within Orchard Park Central Schools, while I was completing my teacher certification requirements in secondary social studies education. I was called upon to substitute teach nearly every day during the academic year, being offered and having taken opportunities to be a daily and short-term substitute teacher. Most of the experience that I had in substitute teaching at Orchard Park was in high school special education as well as in middle school core subjects, though I also substituted in all subject areas throughout elementary, middle, and high schools there. My experience substitute teaching during the two years that I was at Orchard Park were like no other that I have ever had in their excellence, whether as a substitute teacher, salaried teacher, or voluntary teacher.
What I experienced while subbing in the Orchard Park Central School District were many wonderful things. People throughout the school system were caring, compassionate, kind, hard-working, flexible, understanding, professional individuals with high standards and expectations, integrity, values, and insightfulness. They were well-educated, open-minded, creative, and thought outside-of-the-box. They were not rigid, inflexible, or set in their ways. They were people who – though their instruction, policies, and practices were already outstanding – were always finding new ways of performing better, achieving more, being the best they could be.
People at Orchard Park, when I was there, were those who communicated and interacted well with each other. They always wanted the best for the students. The focus was not on themselves, not on hiding their own rare errors or human imperfections, but on being positive role models and guides for students. They were professionals who supported each other in positive ways and raised themselves and each other up. They were positive with each other, but also provided constructive – not condeming – criticism of and toward each other when it was necessary, in order to strengthen and improve the quality of their education and standards, not causing it to regress.
These were people who were confident enough in themselves to know that the greater community was supportive of them, and they trusted that students’ parents understood that they always acted in the manner to best benefit the children. Trust was mutual between school professionals and students’ parents because those school employees always exemplified the best in instruction, education, discipline, safety, care, compassion, concern, standards, policies, honesty, and professionalism. In these ways, the mutual bond of trust and confidence between school and home was also reflected in the confidence, trust, and performance of the students – in all levels and in all areas.
If something could be improved, administrators and teachers fairly-reviewed the situation, and enhanced instruction, education, standards, and/or policies, making things better for everyone. Academic standards are those that are most important at Orchard Park, and certain high school teachers would sacrifice several Saturdays throughout the academic year to come to school on their own time to review with and drill students to better-prepare them for important standardized tests. Core middle school teaching teams often met with parents in conferences to inform parents of their child’s performance and progress, as well as things that were going well, things that could be improved, and anything else that was noticeable about the child, particularly those positive and more personal qualities and characteristics.
Teachers and administrators at Orchard Park went out of their way to make the school experience not only a professional experience, but also a personal one for everyone, most particularly the students. In this way, students, parents, and families genuinely felt valued, important, honored, respected, and understood. It was good to be kind, caring, compassionate, encouraging, supportive, and nurturing toward students. That is what was sought, wanted, desired in the professionals at Orchard Park.
Lines of communication between the school, families, and community were always open. Compliments and criticisms were accepted, heard, and appreciated. When an administrator or teacher heard something they did not want to hear from another about themselves, they did not lash out with concealed vengeance in any way to somehow get back at the student and/or the student’s family. School administrators and teachers at Orchard Park were both professional enough and honorable enough to take in what was said, reflect upon it, and improve. They did not ignore, deny, or overlook the situation, nor did they blame others – including the child – instead of perceiving their own actions and/or gaining feedback from other colleagues. They always tried to perform in the best manner for the students.
So much openmindedness, flexibility, and creativity is present in and throughout the Orchard Park Central School District. High School seniors were afforded opportunities to participate in “Open Campus,” a time during which they could leave campus for certain parts of the day to perform other actions or responsibilities. A great number of clubs and extracurricular activities, including art, music, theater, sports, language, and other activities were also available to students to expand their horizons and fulfill their creative endeavors.
More recently, the school district implemented the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program within the school system. When I was at Orchard Park, though I did not perceive any serious issues related to peer-to-peer bullying, and though I believed the policies toward student respectfulness were excellent, there were those rare occasions when students were bullied, more particularly certain high school students who appeared different and/or did not fit in with the mainstream in some way. The openmindedness, flexibility, and creativity in the folks at Orchard Park Central School District are what has allowed the implementation of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, already reflecting reported improvements in reducing bullying and improving peer respectfulness toward each other.
The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, as well as sharing with the community about any sex offenders living in the district, as well as other programs, are those that place the Orchard Park Central School District on the cutting edge of progressive, exceptional school systems. The professionalism, integrity, intelligence, compassion, and appropriate personalization of the district’s faculty and staff – as well as the support they receive from the greater community and school board – are also what place the school system in the forefront of educational systems – whether public, private or parochial.
When one works in the Orchard Park Central School District, he or she feels and is supported, much like one would experience within their own family. Because such professionalism, support, trust, intelligence, and confidence are prevalent within the school system among adults, these qualities and values are also purveyed to the children and students. Also, because so many adults within the school students’ families are educated and maintain high standards and expectations, this is also what is often reflected within the students, as well. Not only are the students generally intelligent and creative, but they are typically respectful and honorable.
It was most certainly my pleasure and privilege to have been employed as a substitute teacher within the Orchard Park Central School District more than one decade ago. Though I applied to the school system for a salaried teaching position once I acquired my educator certification, I believe that I did not have enough of a stake, influence, or network within the community to be considered. Orchard Park would have been my dream school system within which to teach as a full-time educator. Though such an opportunity was not afforded to me, I will always carry the memories of the wonderful experiences that I had within this outstanding, exceptional school system. Thank you, Orchard Park, for being the best you can be, and for always striving to do even better…for the students!
Orchard Park Central School District. January 18, 2013. http://www.opschools.org/spotlight.cfm?&school=0 .
Orchard Park Central School District. “Olweus” (Bullying Prevention Program.) January 18, 2013. http://www.opschools.org/spotlight.cfm?sp=6&start=1&end=25&school=0 .