Get Ready

It has been a whirlwind week of preparation, exciting in the company of students, educators, coaches, and parents, and inspiring in the focus of the shared vision of making a school that is great for all students.

photo 1 (4)After a few weeks of relative isolation, plugging away at paperwork and talking more with construction workers than any other adults, this past week has offered me the opportunity to attend an ASB retreat, a coaches dinner, a parent Foundation planning meeting, and spend time with my own admin team. The wealth of talent and passion is jaw dropping.

Much of the success any school sees over the course of the year comes from the vision and preparation that fill the days before students arrive on campus. It’s so important that we build and strengthen the systems that we have in place that allow teachers to teach, students to learn, and all of our school community members to contribute to this place we call home.

That principals and assistant principals spend lots of time planning isn’t a surprise to anyone; that’s part of our job, after all, and we know that if we do it well we have an opportunity to build a meaningful and positive framework on which to construct a great year.

What not everyone knows or notices is the care in preparation that other groups bring to the school year.

photo 2 (5)On Tuesday I drove to Palm Springs, where our Associated Student Body students had gathered to discuss the year ahead. Over the course of three days they drew up lists, dreamed big dreams, laughed, planned, and brought their youthful energy to the question of what they could do to make San Dieguito the best place for all students that it could be. They talked about building community, including everyone, and nurturing the sense of acceptance, creativity, and funkiness that help to define our school.

These student leaders, freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors, bring an unbounded energy to their work and to our school. To see them talking about how they could work together to make our school welcoming and supportive for every student, and every teacher too, couldn’t help but inspire, . By the time I left them more than a few had agreed to come to our first staff meeting to lead teachers in activities to promote community.

Students leading teachers. Magic.

photo 5 (3)Student leaders were also a topic of conversation at the “Coaches Dinner” that saw our athletic director gather together the head coaches of all of our sports team for a meal and conversation about how to support kids and each other. Over pasta and salad I saw our softball coach, a veteran of 26 years, listen to our first year soccer coach talk about the importance of athletes supporting athletes. I sat next to our baseball coach as he chatted with our cross country coach about connecting with kids. I saw this collection of caring adults come together to discuss what they could do to contribute to our school and our students’ education.

To say that conversation was kid centered would be an understatement. These were professionals who love their sports and care deeply about supporting the student athletes who play them. From the youthful field hockey coach to the veteran track coach, these adults have dedicated a huge portion of their lives to making a difference in the lives of youth. And they do.

photo 4 (3)Also making a difference, and a larger difference than any can articulate, are the parents, and on Saturday I had the pleasure of joining our Foundation’s executive board for an all day retreat to discuss the months to come. As playful and passionate as the kids from Tuesday, these caring parents came back to the question that drives my work: “Is this good for kids?”

The ideas that came out of our time together are good for kids, and the partnership between our school and our parents enriches the lives of everyone who is a part of San Dieguito.

Parents, students, and the adults who work with kids are, together, the reason our school succeeds. In the days ahead I’ll work closely with teachers, counselors, and classified staff to make sure that we’re ready to go when classes start on August 30th. We will be, and it will be because of the collaborative work that happens before school begins.

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August in the Principal’s Office

I remind myself
that the first year
they started with classes in tents

Straight rows of white canvas
holding students reading
Virgil and Homer and
not thinking about
the war to come
still stinging from
the great crash
hungry
to learn
at a brand new school

Their school,
now my school too,
is eighty this August
without tents
but still under construction
and still filled with students
hungry to learn

And just as Mr. Main
the first principal,
described in the yearbook on my desk as

“Industrious…friendly…cooperative…
….good sport…sparse of hair…
…punctual…
…modest…neat…
…vocalizes in lusty tones…”

(words
some close to home;
some to be emulated)

I sit in the same office
that principals have
since the Roosevelt administration
and prepare for students to arrive
just days from now
hungry to learn.

photo 4 (6)

Gesso

Early August on a high school campus is hot and a little lonely. As a principal, I get back before most, and until folks start drifting back from summer vacation it’s just me, my assistant, and a skeleton crew of twelve month employees coming to school to get things ready for the start of a new year.

photo 2 (2)That preparation includes everything from organizing our “Taking Care of Business Days” to making sure that the master schedule is the best that it can be. There’s also work to be done preparing for the opening staff meeting, planning ways to bring our campus community closer together, and this summer the steady growl of heavy machinery as construction crews work on two big projects that will make our school better in the long term, but right now constitute a hard hat zone.

Even so, I love early August for the promise of possibility it brings. IT’s now that administrators like me have the relative quiet to set goals and make the plans that will help guide our year. September through June is run at a gallop; August trots.

To mix metaphors, early August is the gesso on the canvas of the year. Oil painters know that to create a work that will last, the canvas needs to be properly prepared. The best painters spend the time necessary applying gesso, the chalky white undercoat put on a canvas, to create a place where the brilliant colors will appear. Like those painters, the preparations we do now allow for the layers and layers of color that will emerge over the months ahead.

534I don’t know what this year’s image will look like yet, nor what colors will fill the proverbial canvas, but I honestly believe that the preparations of August can help to make a true difference come September, January, and May.

So as my intrepid assistant sends out letters of welcome and the men in yellow safety vests and plastic white helmets move the earth around us, my thoughts turn to the painting that will follow this month’s gesso.

The real fun begins as students and teachers begin coming back to campus. Soon.

Balloons Flying

It wbelafonteas one of those summer mornings when the sun was hot early, the breakfast dishes were put away, and it felt like the right thing to do was put on a Harry Belafonte album. The kids were outside filling water balloons and making big plans, experimenting with a newly unwrapped birthday present: a water balloon slingshot.

Counterintuitively, this Y of plastic weaponry has inspired more cooperation and agreement in my kids than the miniature foosball table, which proved more a cry to war than birthday gift.

Looking out the window this morning, I saw the water balloons flying, heard the laughter after each SPLAT, and only saw a couple of wobbling latex spheres flying into the neighbor’s yard.

I didn’t hear a scream from the other side of the fence; I don’t think it would have hurt my mood if I had.

Watching my kids play in this timeless way reminded me that sometimes the most successful things we do in our classrooms aren’t newfangled. I love seeing students collaborate on a shared Google Doc, really engage in review using Kahoot, and plot graphs with the latest tools in science, but as simple as it is, I also recognize that I see as much engagement when students are outside drawing geometrical shapes in chalk, building boats out of cardboard and duct tape, and making rockets out of two liter bottles.

When I taught, I was sometimes surprised by the way the simple things worked. In my first job at Hood River Valley High School a nature trail behind the school provided a perfect venue for a walking discussion of Wordsworth. Later in my career, a box of costumes gave students the freedom to perform Tennessee Williams one acts. And once a class dug five foot deep trenches in the Oregon mud as we learned about World War I and trench warfare.

Like that water balloon slingshot, those creative, but not technological experiences resonated with kids, even as some of my more complicated classroom ideas sometimes played out as well as my own kids’ foosball game.

This isn’t to say that we should avoid technology rich lesson plans or shy away from complicated schemes. Variety, as the old saw goes, is the spice of life. But seeing the (almost) guilty smiles as a water balloon cleared the fence this morning provided inspiration to celebrate the simple things. In a classroom or on the patio, it’s okay to hum a little calypso music and pull back (proverbially) the water balloon slingshot.