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District Looks Beyond Tradition
Entering its third year as a district philosophy and belief in grit. Students at Oakdale Junior High developed this acronym, as they rallied behind the meaning of the word and the power it holds in their futures. Teresa Hammond/The Leader

Whether it be through academic, professional or physical achievement, Marc Malone believes in raising the bar.

The Oakdale Joint Unified Superintendent of Schools is a firm believer in challenging himself as well as staff and students. In keeping with his vision, three years ago he introduced one simple yet powerful word to the OJUSD team: ‘grit.’

“They made grit one of their core ideas for their campus,” Malone said of OJHS.

Grit is defined as: courage and resolve; strength of character. While it was not introduced to the district as an acronym for something, two years ago Oakdale Junior High took it on as a campaign complete with poster design and defining what the word meant for them. As result of this Guts, Responsibility, Integrity, Tenacity (GRIT) was formed.

“This isn’t a passing fancy for me,” Malone said of the GRIT philosophy. “I firmly believe in the common sense application of grit. The great American work ethic of an honest day’s work, for an honest day’s pay.

“I don’t think there’s anything greater that we can impart on our kids than that,” he continued. “They can have all the skills in the world, but if they don’t have a work ethic where they can actually apply those skills, then those skills go for not.”

As the current school year marks Malone’s 30th with the district, he recognizes that the philosophy and acknowledgement of students demonstrating such a characteristic can be the difference maker for Oakdale students as time goes on.

“We need to make sure that our kids are different,” he stated. “That yes, we’re going to have skill attainment. Both academic and vocational and we’re also going to teach them that they have to have the work ethic to apply those skills. No matter where they’re going. We’ve got to be able to apply that.”

Malone shared the seriousness in which both he and the Oakdale administration take the idea of grit, stating a key piece being not just success of the students now, but successful in life.

In keeping with that, he has done extensive reading on studies conducted based around instilling this philosophy in students. Angela Lee Duckworth was one such researcher he came across via TED Talks as a result of his research.

Duckworth was a management consultant, turned teacher, turned psychologist.

“I came to the conclusion that what we need in education is a much better understanding of students and learning from a motivational perspective,” Duckworth shared during her TED talk on her observations of her students. “In education the one thing we know how to measure best is IQ. What if doing well in school and in life depends on much more than your ability to learn quickly and easily.”

Duckworth and her research team studied a vast group of people from West Point cadets, teachers, students, employees … each faced by varying factors and challenges.

“In all those very different contexts,” she said of the study group, “one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success and it wasn’t social intelligence. It wasn’t good looks, physical health and it wasn’t IQ. It was grit.

“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long term goals,” she continued. “Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years.”

“This grit idea is research based, it is a key indicator,” Malone said. “The more grit we can instill in our students, the more tools they have in their chest to be successful out there in the world. That’s what we want.

“We think enough of grit that we asked principals to nominate a student that has demonstrated grit on their campus,” Malone shared. “Last year was the first year that we did it.”

Malone and administrators then visit the class of the chosen student each month to recognize them publicly for their perseverance.

“We’re seeing that our students and our parents, really understand and appreciate the recognition that their kid is receiving for showing resiliency and perseverance in the face of obstacles and opposition,” he said of the program. “It’s just a key trait that I can show, based off of research, is an indicator for life success and that’s what we’re about.”