As I was shopping for a summer hat last night (one that would meet the fashion approval of my 23 year old daughter, yet not make me look like I was trying to be 20 again) I came across a picture nestled in the hat display. Did you ever walk by something that grabbed your attention and then you kept going back to it, trying to discover why you were so drawn to it? The picture itself was nothing special, but the words (DREAM. BELIEVE. ACHIEVE. REPEAT.) began a cycle of thoughts in my head reminding me of my days as a principal. I was once the principal of a failing school…
It was not my dream to be the principal of a failing school, but that is what it was, at first. Our small K-5, 300 student school in the heart of Muskegon, MI was scheduled to be closed. Because of low student achievement, low fund balance and missed Board training, our school would no longer be allowed to service our children. What would happen to our students full of life, dedicated staff and teachers exuding passion and heart? We had one last chance to learn from our mistakes, prove ourselves as educators, but more importantly show the worth and value of disadvantaged children and their ability to achieve.
Develop a positive school culture
That is when we truly began to DREAM. As a staff we decided to give everything we had to save our school and create a culture throughout the building that would be worthy of “sending our own children” to. We decided that every child attending our school belonged to each of us, no matter what position we held and from then on, the students became collectively known as “our children.”
Put the right people in the right places
Now I can’t honestly say that everyone bought into our dream, and it was soon evident who was ready to do “whatever it takes” and who just wanted to keep getting a paycheck. It was my responsibility as the school leader to have those difficult conversations and make the decisions about who was on our bus, if they were in the right seat and who needed to find another ride.
Identify your vision/focus
Our DREAM was that “our children” would attend the BEST school in Muskegon County and reap all of the benefits and opportunities that come with receiving a quality education. The focus was that all students will be on track for college and career readiness and make positive character choices throughout their lives.
I don’t feel that the old saying “seeing is believing” applies to leadership. I have found as a leader, one must BELIEVE first and then help everyone to see that same vision. A leader must be the proof that what we believe will come to fruition; believing is seeing. I believed that our school would be and could be the best.
To be the proof, I had to be consistent in all of my words and actions. If I made a promise or said something would be done, I went out of my way to make sure that it was accomplished. Our staff started to develop positive relationships with everyone in the building and began trusting one another enough to be vulnerable. We learned to cooperate and work even more effectively together.
Staff members were encouraged to use their strengths to overcome the weaknesses of others on the team (especially mine) with a spirit of collaboration and united purpose. Staff and students were becoming leaders. I could see students taking responsibility of their own learning and enjoying the feeling that comes from accomplishing a rigorous assignment.
High expectations and accountability for all
We believed our children could master grade level content, show proficiency on state assessments, and go far beyond. They knew that we cared about their success and that school was a safe place for them to make mistakes and then learn from their experiences. The same teachers who failed, minus a few who chose to leave, are the same teachers who built Three Oaks Public School Academy into a high performing school.
We had a dream and we believed in our children and our team. Now how do we ACHIEVE it? Fortunately, our management company is owned by a faith filled, visionary family dedicated to helping children achieve the American dream. We were given a blueprint for success and a great deal of support. To me this plan was just like getting healthy…almost every diet and exercise program works, if you do it. Now we just had to DO it and not give up on “our children.”
The plan of Choice Schools Associates/MIChoice involved the following pillars:
- Learning Centered School Culture
- Accelerated Schools
- Differentiated Instruction
- Earned Promotion
- Collaborative Culture/Professional Learning Community
- Traditional Discipline/Code of Student Conduct
- Character Education
- Technology as an Accelerator
Implementing these pillars was a key to our future successes. They helped to frame our beliefs and strengthen our core. I can’t write about them all in one brief article but their importance will surely be shared in an upcoming blog.
As of March 1, 2015, I am no longer the principal of the BEST school in Muskegon. We have proven our growing success by becoming a Michigan Department of Education (MDE) Rewards School for the past three years, a MDE Beating the Odds school, The Golden Eagle Top Performance Award recipient from Bay Mills Community College and most recently the top ranked (BEST) elementary school in Muskegon County by Bridge Magazine.
I am now the Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment and I am looking forward to serving all of the CSA/MIChoice schools. My current vision is to use what I learned to REPEAT the success of Three Oaks Public School Academy, one custom-built school at a time.
So now I realize why I was drawn to the picture. It was because it illustrated one of the most fulfilling experiences in my life. In the end, I bought the picture, two hats (one for my daughter to borrow) and set another dream in motion for my new journey.