TraTranscript – Principal Susana Lamela – The school management team, compulsory schooling and school improvement
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Transcript – Principal Susana Lamela – The school management team, compulsory schooling and school improvement

We used to read our data regularly and hypothesize about them, and we shared this with our fellow teachers at meetings. I’ll map out my trajectory for you: in 1989, as I said at the beginning, when I started working in Secondary School No. 2, I started as a prefect and moved through all the roles: everything from prefect to teacher, department head, dean of students, vice-principal and principal. We had ten 1st-year grades and three 5th-year grades. Then we gradually changed this.

At that time we had a retention rate of 50-60%, almost, between the 1st and the 2nd year. Besides, there were incoming students starting other year grades. We gradually made this smaller, it was an amazing pyramid, and the word pyramid always connotes what’s “expected,” right? And I remember I would always say that we started using this tagline: “Let’s let more kids learn more and better.” Later on we said that at some point someone stole it from us, but we started using that tagline in 1989 or 1990. When the Federal [Education] Act was passed, of course, we considered the Third Cycle system brought about a great loss, especially in matters related to youth’s identity, and the three years of the Polymodal system fell short in terms of the journey we wanted to take with students.

And at that time we took on a challenge that was pretty ambitious: the possibility to be the ones who would change that structure. That thing which was “expected.” If I open ten 1st-year grades, it will be a lot fewer that make it till the end. So we tried to have— at that time it was a Polymodal course, I don’t remember exactly, for instance four 1st-year grades, four 2nd-year grades and four 3rd-year grades, and we tried to form a rectangle. And two years into this we couldn’t do it, and again we had, I don’t remember, five 1st-year Polymodal grades finishing as three 3rd-year Polymodal grades. But when the compulsory school law was enacted [2006], we celebrated it and we felt it was absolutely in our favor, because it meant we had legal support to continue making a case for it among our co-workers, I mean, we really celebrated compulsory schooling, always seeing it from the point of view of rights: that it was our youngsters’ right to be in school.

About the rectangle, I don’t remember now the number of courses available; our school is always in high demand, there are kids entering in 4th year and 5th year. But I want to say that, comparing the time when I started work versus when I left the school, the perspectives regarding the journey and completion changed enormously. Of course the learnings acquired by the outgoing students still didn’t feel quite right and we were never entirely comfortable with them, and I think I’m glad we’re not entirely comfortable, because the aspiration is for them to become better and better.