Keynote presenter George Albano, principal of Lincoln Elementary School in Mount Vernon, N.Y., gave an inspiring presentation at the Day of Discovery in April. Albano, the son of a doctor/nurse team who grew up in New York, was appointed principal of the Lincoln Elementary School more than 25 years ago. Under his leadership, Lincoln is considered one of the top performing schools in the country.

Success is attributed to educating the whole child academically, socially, culturally, and morally. Lincoln has defied the assumptions about race and income, with half of the school’s 800 students being black and close to half eligible for a free or reduced lunch. The school’s state performance test scores were high, and the gap between minority students and whites negligible. The school actually outperformed some of the elite public schools in the county—even though annual per-pupil spending is $11,000, compared to $18,000 in some more affluent Westchester County districts.

What were some of the unique ideas he’s instituted at the school? “Children will perform directly in proportion to whether they believe that the teacher loves and respects them,” said Albano. He explained that day how he attracts and retains the best and brightest teachers, including a Julliard graduate opera singer to teach music, and a Yale graduate children’s book illustrator to teach art. Classical music is played throughout the halls and classrooms. Framed works of art from renowned artists, along with students’ writing and art, line the walls of the hallways. Chess is taught by a chess master—paid for by friends of the school. Incentives to overachieve are offered to students. For instance, the state requirement for elementary students is to read 25 books a year. Lincoln students were challenged to read 50 books to earn a bicycle; 168 were given out one year. Students begin writing their journals in kindergarten, with the expectation of continuing nightly in the first grade.

A recent Phi Delta Kappa article by John Merrow states, “If you’re hoping for a silver bullet, forget it. It comes down to hard work; great, and dedicated teachers, a thoughtful approach to testing; an integrated curriculum; lots of art, music and physical education; the willingness to bend and break rules occasionally, and the complete refusal to let any child fail to learn.”

Lincoln also teaches values. “You must not fight, you must not cheat, and you must not steal. We have to teach the next generation how to get along with each other,” explains a Lincoln administrator.

Success of the students involves parents. Report cards aren’t mailed or sent with students; parents must come to the school and pick up the report card. Albano says that out of the 800-plus children, maybe one, two, or three parents don’t come.

As school begins this August in central Illinois, there’s a recipe for success: strong leadership, parental involvement, teachers who do whatever it takes, respect for each other, the arts and physical education, a curriculum that matches the tests, and a genuine belief that all children can learn. We’ve seen our own public schools cut back on many of these critical success factors through the years. This could contribute to the predicted qualified workforce shortage by 2008 in central Illinois. Be part of the solution to success in our schools. Support your schools; support arts and culture. AA!