Thrive at Crete High Breaks New Ground

Thrive at Crete High Breaks New Ground in Improving Student Experiences

How do you know if your local schools are doing a good job? How do you measure success at the classroom level? Those questions have probably been around as long as school itself.

Thrive at Crete High, a program launched this year, takes an entirely new approach to measuring and enhancing the high school experience through the eyes of students.

“Are the kids feeling connected? That’s the main thing we’re trying to measure,” said Dr. Joshua McDowell, superintendent of Crete Public Schools. “The experience for the kids is the most important thing. Everything else will follow.”

McDowell worked with the EcSell Institute of Lincoln to develop Thrive at Crete High.

“They are the first program at the classroom level that is doing this kind of work,” Bill Eckstrom, chief executive officer of the EcSell Institute, said of Crete Public Schools.

Since 2008, the EcSell Institute has been helping corporations understand and quantify the impact of leaders on the growth and performance of people working under them. The most effective leaders behave like a “high-end coach” rather than just a manager, Eckstrom said.

“We believe nothing has such an impact as a great coach,” he said. While the EcSell Institute also works with athletic teams, “coach,” in this sense, means anyone who helps others perform at their highest level.

Eckstrom said that, when McDowell became aware of the EcSell Institute’s work and contacted him, the superintendent said, “Everything screams to me that this will work in the classroom.”

McDowell said Thrive at Crete High is gathering data in four areas: academics, athletics, activities and leadership. Through electronic surveys of students, the program is measuring their experiences with coaches, club sponsors and every teacher at Crete High.

Among other metrics, the surveys are measuring adults’ abilities to build trust-based relationships with students and to create psychologically safe environments.

“That’s a place where kids feel safe to take risks without getting hammered if they fail,” McDowell said. One of the goals is to create a better, more positive culture at the school.

Every student in the high school is being surveyed, he said.

Eckstrom said the surveys measure relationships of teacher to student, director to participant, coach to athlete and administrator to teacher.

“We’re measuring all those different dynamics,” he said.

EcSell’s role began with helping CPS define the objective and performing a needs analysis. They conducted focus groups with teachers, community members, students, administrators and parents. They created surveys and followed up with continuing education for the Crete team.

Eckstrom said the data so far has been consistent with that received from corporations and athletic teams, so that shows it’s accurate. While long-term success will depend on growing those scores, one thing’s for certain:

“They have an objective measurement of how they’re doing,” Eckstrom said.

Nicco Salvador, who teaches special education and coaches football and wrestling, has already seen positive impacts from Thrive at Crete High.

“I can only speak for myself, but I feel the data we have received has helped me understand what students are thinking,” said Salvador, who has taught for nine years and is in his third year at Crete.

“It has helped me understand my strengths and areas of improvement,” he added. “You always like to think you know those things, but this has the data to back it up.”

McDowell said measuring and improving the faculty’s ability to connect with students is just the first step. When that results in a better overall student experience, improved attendance, test scores and graduation rates — as well as sports championships — will naturally follow.

“Strong, healthy adults develop strong, healthy kids,” he said, “and then achievement will take care of itself.”

Eckstrom praised Crete Public Schools for having the courage to go forward with Thrive at Crete High.

“It’s hard when you are measured,” he said.

The program has caught the attention of other school districts, who have inquired about it with the EcSell Institute. With Thrive at Crete High, CPS is on the cutting edge.

“Nobody else in the United States is doing this,” McDowell said.

Salvador summed it up this way:

“The Crete community is a special place, and this program will only improve on the great things we do here.”

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