POLSTON: The recipe for educational excellence

What is the recipe for excellent programs in education? How do programs that are at the top continue to stay at the top, and replicate the results time and again?
May 9, 2014

The students involved come and go as they advance through the grades, but the excellence stays intact.

The secret of success is not overly complicated, but, at the same time, it is not easy to do. Local examples are abundant in academics, athletics, the arts, co-curricular and extracurricular programs. Whether it is repeated accolades awarded to our local high schools from organizations such as U.S. News and World Reports or Bridge Magazine, or our area schools’ dominance in a variety of arts and athletic programs, we can look to the common threads that bind these programs together.


Leadership is a mainstay for excellent programs. Programs can experience periods of excellence without consistent leadership, but sustaining it over time doesn’t happen without lasting, effective leadership.

A high level leader is one that can shape a shared vision and communicate their vision to their students, parents, school and community. An effective leader brings out the best in each individual to support the broader goal of program success. Students push themselves beyond limits they thought they could achieve due to the motivation and development afforded by an effective leader. 

Parent support

The commitment required to compete or perform at the highest levels is significant. Parents are called on more than ever to be involved in supporting programs.

Coaching, transportation, time and financial resources are some key ingredients, but the most important characteristics are the love, encouragement and guidance a parent can provide for a child. The parent’s role is vital, and sustained excellence cannot be achieved without parents that are actively involved with their child.

Community support

The community we live in is extremely gracious and supportive of our students and schools.  Charitable organizations provide basic needs to support our students and families; businesses donate their time, money, products or services. Philanthropic organizations such as the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation meet needs wherever they are identified. Excellent programs share their vision with the community and involve them in carrying out their vision.

In addition, the program gives back to the community to show appreciation, and not for any extra benefit other than the gratification of serving others. 

Student ownership

Successful programs keep the focus of their efforts on the reason schools exist — our students.  Students sacrifice the time, put the effort into studying, encourage and lead one another, and pour out their hearts toward achieving excellence.

Adults may set the table for success, but it is the students that make it happen. They are the beginning, middle and end of what excellent programs dedicate themselves to.

We often hear of the tradition of excellence of programs. This can only be accomplished when the students are empowered with responsibility to lead the program and to give guidance to the future of the program. Examples include mentoring or volunteering to coach younger students, alumni returning to cheer on the current team, and individuals returning to serve in a leadership or supporting role in the program. 

Excellence is a habit, a way of life. Excellence is as excellence does. Programs with these key elements in place have the foundation for building and sustaining excellence over time.

Getting there is one thing, but staying there is taking excellence to another level.

While many hands are responsible for excellence, it is the collective action of all involved supporting the vision that set excellent programs apart. 

— By Kevin Polston, principal of Lakeshore Middle School.

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