For many agriculture educators, a strong, active alumni chapter, supportive school administration, and an advocating local advisory council are only a dream. While others wonder how they can have a successful FFA chapter balanced with rewarding family time and other opportunities outside of work.
These ideals can become a reality for more and more teachers nationwide when the National Quality Program Standards (NQPS) tool is used successfully, said national FFA local program success (LPS) specialist Nina Crutchfield.
Crutchfield and the team of LPS specialists recently introduced the NQPS improvement tool to nearly 70 local teachers, administrators, state staff and teacher educators through a 3-day pilot program in St. Louis. At the conference, teachers discussed best practices and identified specific ways to improve their own programs. LPS specialists plan to follow up mid-year to support local teachers and help them take the improvement tool at the end of the year to evaluate their own progress.
While the NQPS improvement tool was launched initially to ten states, the online program is available nationwide to help teachers choose one or two focus areas for improvement. The NQSP assessment includes 81 indicators, based on the seven keys of Local Program Success (see standards in sidebar). Each indicator is scored on a scale of “4” for exemplary performance, to “0” for nonexistent components. Crutchfield admits that the standard is high and likes to remind teachers that it was designed to serve as an improvement tool, not the description of what every program should look like.
“You’re comparing yourself against the perfect program,” Crutchfield said. “It’s OK to not be perfect in every area.”
Some teachers may fear extra work that could accompany implementing anything new in their program. But this improvement tool is actually designed to help teachers achieve greater balance in their lives.
“We can openly communicate about strengths and weaknesses in the program,” said Boone, Iowa, FFA advisor Doug Dodd, who attended the July pilot program in St. Louis. “Then, organize plans, share stories of success, build on ideas to improve, and help us identify areas that are a lower priority.”
So how exactly do alumni and advisory councils become more engaged? The program is designed to include local advisory councils and administration in the process. “The improvement tool may provide the first opportunity for administrators to really understand what their local agriculture program is all about,” Crutchfield said.
The St. Louis pilot program that introduced the tool received overwhelming positive feedback, and teachers are already starting to see benefits from the program.
“Even though I have only been involved with NQPS for a short time, the program has been a wake-up call for my school administration and key community supporters,” Dodd said. “We are all looking at the program comprehensively and discussing how we can improve student experiences.”
Many teachers from the 10 states who participated in the St. Louis program have already expressed interest in passing along program information to fellow teachers in their states. Additionally, LPS specialists will continue to organize programs that introduce new teachers to the improvement tool. Find more information about the National Quality Program Standards by visiting the Educators section on ffa.org.