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I’ve been working long-distance for a small K-12 California school since 2006, and I’ve always appreciated the leadership–but wow, have the principal and faculty outdone themselves since school campuses were closed weeks ago, due to the virus. I could sense in the days preceding the closure that he felt some stress, and I was told that developments with the virus were weighing on him. It concerned me–none of us could predict what was coming and what it might mean for our school.
Then the principal’s letters to parents and staff started coming in: campus is closed until thus and such a date–no, it’s actually closed longer. Here’s the plan–no, here’s the new plan. There was a first phase of online learning with teacher training to buy time, and then everyone settled into a second phase with clear, uniform procedures. All of this was accomplished via positive e-mails and a weekly parent letter; sandwiched between a paragraph of encouragement and links to resources, each parent communication carefully explained any new developments so there were no misunderstandings. Regular social media photos feature young students beaming from their computers at home, seniors posing with certificates, teachers handing out weekly packets to families in cars. Anyone would think it was the best thing that ever happened to the school, and in spite of the uncertainties, extra pressures all around, and financial stress (I actually don’t know how much longer they can keep me on), there have been some upsides to it.
We got to see what our principal, faculty, and staff are made of. They were a hard-working, close-knit group before this started. But faced with novel circumstances, they have stepped it up as a team. I’m hardly involved–the principal is delegating new responsibilities to the younger assistant principals to give them these natural professional development opportunities (I know him–he would do this) and they are going strong. We needed evidence of growth in communication with our families before our accreditation visit next year, and our principal has demonstrated outstanding communication with his parent letters. We needed surveys on our families’ perceptions of school performance to include in our accreditation report; we sent one out last week, asking for 100% response rate, and have already gathered a tremendous response, parents giving the school high ratings on communication, engaging online instruction, and overall handling of the change to at-home learning.
On Friday, I set aside my solitary tasks in order to participate in a panel for senior portfolios. Annually in April, our seniors give a 45-minute portfolio presentation to a group made up of teachers, staff, and community members. The panel evaluates them as, accompanied by visuals, they speak about themselves, the school, their future plans, and other topics from an outline. The project must be excellent preparation for interviews and academic assignments, as well as a learning experience in itself as students explore the prompts and distill their material. Of course, this year, it all had to be done online instead of in person, which is why I got to sit on a panel. I was impressed, first of all, by the management of the process. The school counselor sent e-mails with materials, links, and a video explanation. She had a “team leader” manage the meeting app for each panel. She made it look easy.
I was still more impressed with the two seniors whose slots my panel was assigned. This senior project would make an excellent capstone from which we collect evidence that we are fulfilling our vision (which starts with “Our graduates are . . .”) Thankfully, the meeting app allowed us to record all the presentations so that we can one day mine this audio-visual content for documentation of our program’s strengths and weaknesses. What I mostly saw, however, was confirmation of our effectiveness.
The first presenter, an outstanding speaker whose professional visuals gelled beautifully with her talk, explained how she grew at our school and how she appreciated both the teachers that connected with her and the meaningful friendships she had developed. The second senior spoke to us from his home country, as there was no reason to linger in California once the school had closed. His talk was also smooth and well-planned. It was evident that he had grown attached to his host family, had enjoyed the school, and had made friends there. His friends had surprised him with a visit the day he had to fly home, a gesture which had obviously meant a great deal to him. If the other seniors’ presentations demonstrate the preparation, speaking skills, and content indicating the school’s important role in their development, we will indeed be able to show that our program effectively fulfills our school’s vision for our graduates.
Friday was a proud day for me–a proud day.Published in