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Friday, March 25, 2011

A Day Of Renewal, Reward And Reaffirmation

The decision to leave my last school leadership role was not easy. I had invested nearly twenty years of my life and soul in that position. During that time I was involved in hiring 68 of the 77 teachers who now serve the 1,000 learners in that school. I attended countless weddings, funerals, graduations, birthday parties, baby showers and other personal benchmark events involving staff members. However, the sheer size of the school had outstripped my ability to maintain the depth of relationships with people that are essential in any human service endeavor. That critical element, plus a desire to influence a school system from Kindergarten through grade 12, prompted me to search for an opportunity to exercise leadership in an environment where an individual could make a difference, where each person counts.

Green Island, with 320 learners spanning Kindergarten through grade 12 in a single structure, proved to be such an attraction. My personal background has made a compelling case for promoting the cause of underdogs. The Heatly School certainly qualified for that mantle. The test scores warranted improvement. The morale, as measured by staff surveys, was similarly in need of attention. It represented a challenge, but not an insurmountable or unfamiliar task. Although the school where I had previously served as principal was ranked in terms of state test results among the elite schools of the capital region despite a rate of children qualifying for free or reduced lunch that was at least twice as high as those with similar performance levels, it was mired in the below average levels before my arrival. Those twenty years saw a significant rise in achievement, without a single grievance ever being filed by a member of any bargaining unit, and extremely positive results of anonymously completed parent surveys of the school. So, I have been motivated to work together with others to reach individual potential and organizational capacity.

Despite the difficult decision to depart that school (and a tenured position, higher salary, and generous amounts of political capital), I have experienced no regrets. Today's staff development day at Heatly merely reaffirmed the conscious choice made last spring to start anew in a different challenge. The full day of learning activities was attended by staff members who demonstrated commitment in stretching their professional reach and discovering fresh possibilities. Their participation was active and engaging. They were clearly not content to simply go through the motions of collecting seat time (especially on a Friday - and a payday!). They contributed to examining various policies shaping the people, programs, and practices of the school. They provided multiple perspectives on key issues. They displayed a willingness to acquire expanded skills and knowledge. And, I must point out that the staff has exhibited this same impressive degree of professionalism and conviction at monthly faculty meetings and countless and varied committee meetings.

I gained a great deal from the various sessions, learning about different views on common issues and obtaining important perspectives. I am much more familiar with the means of exploiting the interactive white board as an instructional tool. Most importantly, I am proud to be a member of the Heatly staff and confident that this is the team that can meet with success in promoting learning for all ages, at all stages - despite the enormous financial challenges that confront our efforts.

It was a productive day that reinforced the benefits of that fateful decision last spring to leave my comfort zone and explore a new challenge. I'm grateful for the experience and the opportunity.

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