Valid email addresses are required to post comments. If your comment is not posted, I will send you an email with an explanation.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Don't Clown Around

I guess I shouldn't expect to say, after an educational leadership career reaching four decades, that I've seen everything. The latest trend or issue emerging in news reports and spreading over social media is, however, a new one.
Reports of scary or creepy clowns have popped up like a skin rash all across the nation.  This new phenomena has gained traction through various social media sites. Unfortunately, it has raised anxiety of children and grown larger with their fears. So, we ended up posting the following narrative in our weekly newsletter and school facebook page.
 We are asking that you speak with your children about the growing rumors of creepy or scary clowns that seem to be everywhere. There were a number of children talking about the subject at school yesterday at lunch or recess.
Unfortunately, the media reports of a supposed sighting in Georgia, or another one in Ohio,... have led children to believe that they may be around the corner, or in every cluster of trees. ...
A recent report in the New York Times indicated that 12 people have been arrested in different areas around the country for perpetrating hoaxes and adding to the fears associated with these clowns. One police chief labeled the trend a "national prank."
Sit down with your children and talk to them about how they should react to concerns about this topic or any other issue that sparks fear or worry or anxiety. Encourage them to speak to a trusted adult and share their concerns. Discuss the differences between fact and fiction, jokes for laughter and pranks that harm.
It's difficult for a child who sees a news story about something like this, or a murder or bombing, happening hundreds or thousands of miles away and not understand that the film or pictures supporting the story do not mean that danger lurks down the street or behind every tree

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Call from the Principal

I remember reading about a television game show, called Family Feud, that was popular a number of years ago. Contestants were asked to respond to statements that were also posed to the audience members. The contestant with the most answers that matched the responses of the audience won the game. One statement in particular has stuck with me over the years. The emcee of the show explained that, "You just received a call from your child's school. What was the purpose of the call?" 

The most frequent replies of the audience all used the pronoun "he" in their response - and all revealed negative perceptions. For example, "He was bad in school" or "He wasn't doing his work." The reactions reflect two important points. First, that schools only appear to call with bad news. Second, that boys are usually the subject of, or recipient of, bad news. 

I recently asked our classroom teachers to identify a single learner among their classes that was deserving of recognition for contributing to a positive classroom climate. It was not a request to distinguish the highest achieving learner, or the  most improved. Instead, I was interested in learners who were manifesting the four pillars of expectations at Molly Stark Elementary School: safe, kind, respectful, and responsible.

Similarly, every bus driver delivering children to and from our school was asked to identify three or four passengers who exhibit cooperative and constructive behavior that minimizes distractions and increases safety on board the vehicle.

Then, last night I took the combined list of children and phoned their parents or guardians to share the reasons why each child was recognized by either their teacher or bus driver.  

The reaction of the people, after registering shock and anxiety from an evening phone call from the principal, was well worth the time it took to retrieve phone numbers and make the calls. I could hear pride and happiness in their voices. The conversations were pleasurable and offered me, as a principal new to the school, an opportunity to enhance my relationship with community members. 

One of the teachers emailed me this morning to let me know that a child burst into her classroom at the start of the day and, with a beaming smile, announced to the teacher that Dr. Mugits had called her dad last night with good news about how she was doing at school. The girl then went on to relate what a great evening she shared with her dad. I also fielded a call this afternoon from a proud grandmother who wanted me to know how much my call meant to her grandson.

Longfellow once said that the culture of an organization is but the lengthened shadow of its leader. I have to model what I expect from others who work at Molly Stark. If I hope for an improved climate at school that reflects care and compassion, then I must practice what I preach and set an example.

I'm hopeful that staff members will perceive the benefit derived by a simple investment of time and choose to personally reach out to the parents and guardians of children deserving of positive reinforcement, call them with good news, and enjoy the resulting conversation. It's good for everyone! 

Monday, September 26, 2016

On Our Way

Improvement often consumes resources. That's certainly true at Molly Stark Elementary School. Perhaps the most critical resource is time. Our path toward lifting performance results will likely require time; and sustained commitment, sacrifice, persistence, and parent engagement. Another ingredient in the process involves recognizing small victories as we move forward.

Here are two encouraging signs regarding parent involvement.

Our Open House attracted over 200 parents who signed attendance sheets at the event. The Open House was changed to promote opportunities for teachers to address parents in an informative presentation explaining classroom expectations and grade level requirements. The evening began with a welcome form the principal and featured an exciting and entertaining video of a song and dance routine performed by a number of staff members. There were ten door prizes of gift cards, each worth $10.00 and redeemable at the school's book fair. In addition, one lucky winner received a $25.00 gift card at Walmart when their name was drawn at random from among those in attendance.

There was another sign of progress. The school's Parent-Teacher Group recorded their highest attendance in memory when the gathering was forced to relocate to the Library to accommodate those present. that's a great problem to experience. We're hopeful that our next monthly meeting (October 13th at 5:30 pm in the Library) will reveal an even bigger turn-out. In an effort to attract fathers to become involved in the Parent-Teacher Group, we are providing a gift card to raffle off if at least five fathers attend the meeting.

We are confident that this will be a successful school year at Molly Stark Elementary School. We'll reach our goal of increasing proficiency results on the state's accountability measures by at least 2.5%. Hopefully, there will be many positive benchmarks along our path that we can share. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Mark My Words

Molly Stark Elementary School in Bennington, Vermont is named after a revolutionary war era woman who was, according to Wikipedia, "known for her success as a nurse to her husband's troops during a smallpox epidemic, and for opening their home as a hospital during the war." While she evidenced a sincere commitment to the pursuit of independence throughout the war and understandably earned notoriety, her contributions were somewhat obscured over time to the point that inserting her name into an internet search engine is more likely to produce a reference to her in a quote attributed to her husband, General John Stark, commander of troops in the pivotal Battle of Bennington. 

On the eve of the important battle, General Stark declared to his soldiers, "There are your enemies, the Red Coats and the Tories. They are ours, or this night Molly Stark sleeps a widow!" Those words reflect a willingness to sacrifice and a firm conviction of  either achieving victory or dying in the effort.

As the leader of Molly Stark Elementary School I approached my responsibility with a similar attitude. The enemies we face are the doubt and despair that impede progress in schools serving an impoverished population (71% of the learners qualify for free or reduced lunch). Though I will not offer the extreme and personal example of General Stark's clarion of victory or death, I will exercise a professional example of "victory or death." If our school's performance metrics have not increased by June of 2018, I will accept that my leadership was insufficient to promote success and tender my resignation so someone else can assume the role and provide the leadership the staff and learners deserve.

That is my vow to the Molly Stark school community.

Fifty-Seven First Days

This August 29th marked the fifty-seventh year I have readied myself for a first day of school. Since I enrolled in Kindergarten all those years ago I have sustained my connection to the school year from high school through college and a four decade professional career as an educator.

There is a rhythm to a school year. There is a clear beginning and a clear ending to the calendar, interrupted by regularly scheduled breaks for the winter holidays as well as the winter break in February and the customary week long break in April.

It is that clear beginning and definite ending that distinguishes work in public schools from work schedules outside of education. Rather than a continuous year (I realize there are fiscal years and reporting cycles as well as calendar years) that guides many other work areas, there is a specific starting point like the change of seasons in the calendar at which staff and students alike can start anew, with fresh hopes and goals. In that sense I would liken the first day of school to the first day of spring, when signs emerge of growth in the form blankets of grass covering lawns, trees sprouting bright green leaves, and colorful flowers pushing up above the ground.

Similarly, after a dormant two months, school comes alive. Learners pour out of busses, strolling up the sidewalk sporting new school clothes, their backpacks laden with school supplies, and their minds full of personal dreams and hopes.

The challenge of educators everywhere is to nurture and maintain that sense of optimism throughout the school year. The first few weeks of school have yielded sufficient evidence that the staff at Molly Stark Elementary School is prepared for that task. They have welcomed learners by embracing them with care, compassion, and commitment.