In the condensed new mission statement, the most significant change lies in the phrase, “the joyful pursuit of educational excellence.” It acknowledges the emotional aspect of learning, reminding the community that academics are about more than just tests and GPAs. While the new statement retains the school’s focus on excellence, its tone is kinder and gentler. We don’t just want students to be smart, but happy and healthy too.
This declaration prompted us to question what practical measures the administration has taken, and how it can continue making tangible progress. We came up with three examples that, while they may be imperfect, are all at least positive indicators of the school’s willingness to embrace change.
First, the English Department’s decision to offer alternative essay options to students in all junior classes and seniors in AP English Literature was a welcome measure. Their approach recognized that not all students learn similarly, and that analytical essays are not the only way to write about literature. Other departments should follow this example, and try to introduce alternative assignments that a wider range of students would find compelling. Although this particular method may admittedly apply to some academic subjects more easily than others — a biology student can’t exactly write a creative essay about homologous structures for credit — teachers can still find new ways to teach material.
Secondly, the new mid-year assessments that are set to replace midterms this year exemplify innovative thinking by the administration. The results of moving the exams from mid-January to the week before winter break remain to be seen, but we are encouraged that the administration took action to relieve student stress. Regardless of how students respond to the change, the point is teachers are looking for new ways to test students’ knowledge. We hope that this year’s assessments will serve as a learning experience that will further the administration’s understanding of how to best evaluate students.
Lastly, ending Civitalks and instead introducing bimonthly all-school assemblies, to be held on “1st & 3rd Wednesdays,” shows the administration’s willingness to respond to feedback. Discontinuing Civitalks, which was generally agreed to have failed in fostering a sense of community, shows that the administration is responsive to the student body.
These three examples set the standard for the new mission statement. If President Rick Commons and fellow administrators want to follow through on their promise of a “joyful” learning experience, they need to continue this trend of flexibility.
Commons has also said that he welcomes comments from students, and hopes that those who are unhappy with any policy will “call” the school on it. We appreciate his openness to feedback, even negative, but hope it will prove to be unnecessary. Students may serve as the catalyst, but it is ultimately the administration’s job to ensure lasting progress.
To that end, we ask the administration to continue being receptive to change. Harvard-Westlake students are smart, passionate, busy and, yes, competitive. But we are all here for a single reason: to immerse ourselves in education at the finest academic institution.