Leaders of a new Conway program hope teachers, school leaders, students, parents and the community will ban together to inspire students and change their way of thinking about education and the community.
“We want to bring back Conway’s glory days,” said Whittemore Park Middle Principal Judy Beard. “We want people, students, teachers and parents to be excited for learning in Conway, to support Conway schools and to bring it back to when Conway shined.”
They hope a program called the Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations (QISA) will help them do it.
QISA is an independent, nonprofit organization out of Portland, Maine, dedicated to promoting and putting into practice conditions that foster student aspirations in schools and learning communities around the world, according to Michael Corso, chief academic officer with QISA.
“We try to work with schools of all kinds to help change the way of thinking in a community by working with teachers and students,” he said. “We everyone to support the students so they can succeed.”
Conway almost didn’t make it into the QISA, but after looking at the school cluster, Corso said his group made an exception.
“We decided that working with an entire group of schools instead of one school like we usually do would be a great project,” he said. “What Conway is doing and how they have everyone on board already is amazing, and we want to be a part of that.”
QISA, a three-year program, is set to begin its work in the Conway community in the fall.
Teal Britton, spokesperson for the district, said the recurring cost of the program has not been determined.
“The contract will be worked out during the site visit in May,” she said. “Then it will need to be approved by the Horry County School Board.”
The QISA team will meet with Conway area leaders during its visit in May.
Conwayite Wendy McKewen, facilitator for the Conway Cluster group, said the group chose the program because it stood out above all the other options.
“It is not a binder for each teacher with lesson plans,” she said. “It is more about changing the culture and working within the confines of what the principals have in place now.”
Corso said he and his team are eager to start work in Conway.
“The people in Conway seem to have a lot of enthusiasm about this program and that bodes well when we come to start work,” he said.
What is QISA?
One of the biggest draws to QISA is it doesn’t change any existing programs in a school.
“It is going to fit with the initiatives that we already have in our schools,” said Pee Dee Elementary Principal Cheryl Banks. “In our school we are a PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention School), which is a state initiative, and this program will tie right into that without having to change it. We can still be the Busy Bees while implementing these new ideas.”
Corso said QISA is not a program, but rather a way of thinking about school.
“There isn’t one cookie cutter way of getting students inspired and on their way to their goals,” he said. “We rely heavily on what we know in our research, what professional educators know about the students and the learning environment and what students know about being a student. After that conversation, we figure out what works best in the community.”
The group will start work in August by meeting with teachers and administrators for professional development.
Then in October, QISA will conduct a survey for students, teachers and parents to determine the culture in Conway area schools.
After the survey, focus groups will be created to continue discussions on the culture of Conway and how to change it.
“After the focus groups, we will build a staff team and a student team to make sure everyone has a voice when meaningful decisions are made,” Corso said.
It often takes a school or cluster of schools three years to be comfortable with students taking part in the decision-making.
“It is hard to get some to let the students be a part of the decision-making,” Corso said, “but it is important to changing the culture.”
However, some schools get right on board and make changes immediately.
“There was a school in Ohio where the teachers and the students didn’t like a grading policy, but the administrators did so they worked together and changed it,” he said. “Their voices were heard and changes were made.”
Once the student and teacher groups are made, we will work on a solution together.
“We do not have a ready-made solution on how to make a school or cluster of schools better,” he said. “To have a plan coming in hasn’t worked for the past 20 years. We come up with a plan as we get to know the schools.”
To reach students, teachers and the community in another way, QISA also brings in the “8 Conditions” program.
The eight conditions are: belonging, heroes, sense of accomplishment, fun and excitement, curiosity and creativity, spirit of adventure, leadership and responsibility and the confidence to take action.
Each condition is something QISA hopes educators will teach students to strive for to fulfill their academic, personal and social promise.
“Whether the goal is to learn trigonometry or a trade, get good grades or go to college, students want to be successful,” Corso said. “However, too often, students don’t reach their goals and fullest potential because the conditions that inspire and support them are not in place.”
What participants think
Conway High Principal Steven Fitch said the three-year program is almost perfect for Conway.
“It will allow us to focus on the conditions that are present in our schools and community now and show where our students are successful and where we need to work on things,” he said.
Fitch said the school cluster is very fortunate to have the program.
“It is remarkable that we will be able to use this program to change our culture,” he said. “It will be great to see the work that is done.”
Beard said the program will help catch the students in middle school, who need it most.
“Middle school is the perfect time to catch these kids and change their way of thinking,” she said. “If we can get them inspired and hooked on something in middle school, we can keep them engaged and excited to graduate.”
McKewen said they are thrilled to have the QISA program come to Conway.
“We know they are not going to be adding too much to a teacher’s already full schedule,” she said. “This program will complement the already existing programs and add to the change in culture.”
Conwayite Press Courtney, a member of the Conway Cluster team, said QISA will help build a foundation for the students and the community.
“One of the things we are really pushing is to get the community involved to the extent that even if you don’t have kids in the school system you are involved and supportive,” he said. “On top of that, we want to reach out to coaches, youth leaders, preachers and all the people who have a part in our children’s lives to help promote the eight qualities that make up this program.”
Robert Hucks, also a member of the cluster team, said he hopes the students are receptive to the program.
“They are going to be a part of the process, and we want them to get involved,” he said. “Their involvement is key for success.”