The past two weeks, district leaders did something that is probably long overdue – we went back to school. On November 5th, nine leaders from the district showed up at Newton-Conover Middle School for all day shadowing, unbeknownst to the staff or building leadership. The purpose of the visit was solely student-centered. We wanted to understand what life is like as a student in our district.
Mr. Bill Long (Director of HS, CTE and Student Support Services), Ms. Heather Mullins (Chief Academic Officer), Mrs. Tammy Brown (Director of Elem. Curriculum, ESL and Title I), Mrs. Jill Hager (Instructional Coach at North), Dr. Aron Gabriel (Assistant Superintendent), Dr. Betsy Rosenbalm (Director of EC and Communication Services), Mrs. Cindy Geddes (Director of Accountability and Technology Services), Dr. Sylvia White (Director of Human Resources), and I each shadowed individual students for an entire day.
Remember my charge of SUCCEED?
Utilize Technology to improve instruction
4Cs-Communication, Collaboration, Creativity & Critical Thinking
Celebrate accomplishments and each other
Enrich the lives of students
Differentiate based upon individual needs
If you’ll remember last year when I started as Superintendent and I met with each school, I shared that I wanted to have Directors in classrooms more to develop a different lens of understanding as we worked to serve staff and students. We’ve worked hard to be visible and to visit schools, but those visits only gave us small glimpses into the environment.
A few weeks ago I came across a very interesting article. It is very short, and I encourage you to read it. It is called A Veteran Teacher Turned Coach Shadows 2 Students for 2 days- a Sobering Lesson Learned. You can find and read the article here. The article reminded me that it is too easy to make large decisions about the needs of students in our district as we plan around a conference room table in a board room. The danger in that however is that we all have biases and viewpoints that may not be aligned with the actual needs of students. So, after reading the article, I had all of our leadership team read it. We agreed that we needed to do the same thing that the teacher in the article had done. We needed to sit side by side with students and spend the day with them. We would be able to see, hear, and experience school through their eyes. I had our data manager generate nine middle school student schedules which allowed us to see all of the classrooms collectively during our experience. This was not going to be about a “gotcha” or even about any evaluation. This was going to be about learning as a student and from our students.
We took no technology into the classrooms. We did not want to be tempted by email or work related tasks that were non-emergencies. We wanted to be engaged and make the experience authentic. I even dressed in uniform. We had the guidance counselor treat me as a new student and explain to the group the enrollment packet, the dress code and school expectations. I wanted to see the experience as our parents and new students see it.
Over the following 7 hours we labored through math classwork; many of us had PE; we ate lunch in the cafeteria with students; we did our class group work with our classmates; we took notes on the American Revolution, on finding the slope of a line and so on……
We’re currently compiling our notes, and on Nov 24th a team of us will come share at the N-CMS staff meeting what we saw, what students said, what we experienced, and what we as a district can build upon going forward. Our primary goal is Serving Students. This doesn’t mean that we don’t hold them accountable. To the contrary – we want to hold them to a high standard and then remove barriers that inhibit them from achieving the standard.
On November 12th, district leadership repeated the process at North Newton Elementary School. Mr. Brian Smith (RTI Coordinator) and Mrs. Priscilla Palmisano (Assistant Principal at Conover) took the place of Mrs. Jill Hager and myself. This time the 9 district leaders spent ½ of a day in two different grade levels, but again focused on the experiences through the eyes of students. On December 5th, a team will share with their staff what was learned and how we use that information to focus all of our efforts on serving all of our students to the best of our ability.
Throughout the year, we hope to repeat the process at other schools. We want to have a clear perspective of who we serve and how we are doing in our quest to develop our students in to be leaders who are ready for college, career and citizenship. Thanks to North Newton and Newton-Conover Middle for their accommodations while we were visiting. SUCCEED is not a catch phrase. It’s a non-negotiable. We will continue to help all schools in our district rise to this challenge.