Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Safe School

If we want to transform our school, we need to have a safe school.  We need to assure parents that their children will be safe while they're in our care, and sometimes, it takes a "crisis" for us to reflect and to improve our procedures.

Schools practice emergency drills at least once per month.  Most of the time, we have fire evacuation drills, but we also have lockdown or sheltter-in-place drills as well as school-wide evacuation drills.  Our Safety Committee reviews our procedures and makes revisions to our plans after these drills.  However, a drill is a drill, and we never know what challenges we might encounter in a real-life situation.

This past week, we were placed on lockdown status by the US Army Garrison as a precautionary measure due to a serious phone threat.  Unlike a drill which usually lasts no more than 30 minutes, this lockdown occurred for three hours and it started during the second of three lunch periods.  Additionally, one of our grade levels was on a field trip and would be returning to school shortly.

Fortunately, all of our staff pitched in to assist and provide support.  Although we were never in danger, we are grateful that the US Army Garrison realized the importance of keeping our children safe.  This lockdown provided us with an opportunity to get feedback from staff and to discuss concerns with our school community.

First and foremost, we need to improve our communication system:  the military with the school and the school with the staff and school community.  Thank goodness for social media!  The US Army Garrison continuously posted updates on their Facebook page, and I was able to inform parents through our school Facebook page.  We also used the mass messaging system to let parents know that we were on lockdown status while reassuring them that we would keep their children safe.  We communicated with staff via our phone intercom system; in our busy-ness, we neglected to send staff email updates.  That needs to be improved.

Second, we need to take care of basic needs -- water, food, and yes, even toileting needs.  A three-hour lockdown made us realize that we need to have a plan to ensure that our students have their basic needs met.    Perhaps our PTO can provide water and nonperishable snacks for students to be kept in the classroom in case of an emergency, and yes, a discussion needs to take place regarding restroom needs because there are no toilets in the classrooms.

Third, our school opened in 1959, and because we live in Hawaii , we have buildings which are spread out and open.  This is great because we can take advantage of the tradewinds to keep our buildings "natural" without the need for air conditioning.  However, the openness of our buildings also means that getting students from one place to another during a lockdown is a challenge, and with the windows and doors locked, the temperature in the rooms was sweltering.  We need air circulation in the classrooms, and thankfully, installation of ceiling fans is part of our school-wide renovation plans with completion in about three years.

I was so gratified to read all the parent comments on our Facebook page after the lockdown was lifted.  Most of the comments were positive, and parents were grateful that their children were safe.  Although they were anxious -- after all, we are on a military base and many students have parents who are presently deployed -- parents waited patiently across the street and calmly retrieved their children instead of panicking.

A real-life situation like this is something I wouldn't wish on any school.  However, I know that we will be better-prepared if there is a next time, and hopefully, our lessons learned will help other schools to review and revise their procedures.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Blogger's Block

I'm been having difficulty thinking of a topic to blog about.  In the past two weeks, I've started and deleted several blogs.  The one with the most promise focused on the power of social media as a professional development resource, but somehow, it didn't quite have enough "substance."  Besides, I'm still a novice who's not confident enough to become an active participant in the discussions.

I really believe that without a support group, principals can burn out or are continuously spinning their wheels.  We are often so burdened by all the requirements of the position that we sometimes forget to step back and look at the big picture and why we became principals.  I also believe that principals don't set aside time for professional development -- not the mandatory trainings -- but professional development based on what's best for our school or for ourselves.

That's why I'm looking forward to my upcoming vacation to visit our son and his family.  My grandson just started kindergarten, and I will be visiting his school and meeting with his principal.  I've never met the principal, but I sent him an email and he welcomed my husband and me to spend some time with him.  I'm really interested in learning about how they fund their international school, how their district's growth model works, how they evaluate teachers, and how they're implementing the Common Core State Standards.  I want to see how they teach in an international school and see if it's something we could consider at our military-impacted school.  Finally, the principal will be showing us their marine lab, and maybe we can have some of our classrooms share about our sea urchin project with their students.

This is the kind of meaningful professional development we should be taking advantage of as educational leaders.  I would love to spend a day with another principal and have him/her spend a day at our school..  We all face challenges, but through collaboration, we can learn new ways to tackle problems.

If it's not possible to make time during the school day to develop these collegial relationships, perhaps an online PLC is the next best solution.  I need to look into joining a group and being an active participant.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Reflections on Quarter 1

Tomorrow is our last day of fall intersession.  Quarter 1 is over . . . how could it have come and gone so quickly?

Intersession is a great opportunity for me to catch up on paperwork, reports, and mandatory trainings.  Right now, my office looks neater than it's been for the past two months, though I don't know how long that will last,  Intersession is also a great time for me to reflect on the past quarter and to look ahead to the rest of the year.

We ended the quarter with over 1,000 students.  I don't know where they came from, but despite the higher enrollment, we actually had a quieter quarter.  It appears that the counselors' actions to provide guidance and support BEFORE problems arise contributed to fewer behavioral referrals.  The Positive Behavior Support cadre also made Tribes more visible by sharing a daily morning message, sponsored a door decorating contest, and constantly reminded students and teachers about working together as a school community.

Our grade levels are reviewing data on formative assessments to make instructional decisions, and the data teams are working through challenges to improve teaching and learning in their classrooms.  The process isn't  "smooth" yet, and there are conflicts in ideas, but disagreements are dealt with respectfully.  I always feel that dissonance is a good thing; we need differing opinions and honest discussions.  The end result, I believe, will be a better product.  I am appreciative of our three Data Coaches who have persevered and are building capacity of the teachers to see the value in  asking tough questions and collaborating to ensure that learning is taking place in all classrooms.

Our fourth and fifth grade blended learning classes are blazing trails!  The teachers have created a rigorous and relevant curriculum which challenges students to be self-directed, critical, and creative thinkers, and students have exceeded expectations with their ability to adapt to this new means of learning.  I had the opportunity to view some of the  individual projects, and I was amazed at the work of some of these students when given the chance to explore something they wanted to learn more about.  I look forward to seeing these students continue to blossom as they take charge of their own learning.

The use of technology is taking hold at our school. Our school webpage is full of information, and almost every teacher has created a class webpage to communicate with parents.  We communicate with parents through Facebook, Twitter, and a Hale Kula Highlights blog.  Students and teachers are using technology and Web 2.0 tools to access, to communicate, collaborate, and create their learning.  All of this is happening despite our school's limited wireless capacity which should be upgraded next school year. 

Our gardens as well as the sea urchin project provide real-world, meaningful experiences which have the potential to have a  lifelong impact on our students.  Look at this  fifth grade garden blog or this sea urchin project slideshow to get an idea of the learning that is taking place for our students. Preschool classes learn while raising flowers or vegetables in their gardens; students are tweeting about their school day; classrooms are communicating with children from other countries through epals, and there are many more examples of meaningful learning experiences.

Finally, I'd like to share about the support from parents and the community.  Approximately 90% of our parents attended their child's parent/teacher conference; we had nearly 100 parents participate in the workshops to share about the Common Core State Standards; volunteers came out in force to assist at the Book Fair, the Complex Cross Country Meet, and in classrooms; and just this week during intersession, Weston Solutions, SYNERGY, and DPW provided funding to pave our outdoor classroom.  We are so fortunate to have such dedicated and caring parents and volunteers at Hale Kula!

As I reflect on Quarter 1 of SY 2012-2013, I am amazed at how much we accomplished in eight weeks. With such a great beginning of the school year, we can certainly look forward to continued success as we exemplify our school vision:  Hale Kula Elementary School - Working, learning, and succeeding together!