Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Upon Further Review

One of the things they don't teach you at Superintendent School, is what to do in the face of a threat and/or a crisis.  There's a red handbook that sits on my shelf, that I reach for once I am made aware of a situation.  That handbook has an index that allows me to flip to the right page, and a checklist that I can review with the building principal as well as emergency responders once they arrive on the scene.  The checklists almost always conclude with the Communication Coordinator - after the determination has been made that there is no longer a threat to students, faculty, and staff.

Yet we live in a world of constant information and instant news.  During our most recent incident at Montpelier High School on September 12, due to the nature of the threat, there was a perimeter set up by the local police department.  One of the local news teams happened to be driving by, took a picture of the police officer blocking the driveway to the high school, and posted it on Facebook.

We live in a world of constant communication and connectivity.  During our most recent incident, the City Manager (as well as other parents in town) were alerted to the situation by their children texting and e-mailing them from their iPhones, BlackBerrys and other devices.

While I was still working with our first responders and our team in the high school, some members of our community already had the information that we were in a lockdown.  I only shared information after the incident was over and I had all the facts clear.

My sole focus during those situations is the safety of the students, faculty, and staff.  Yet, if I ignore the reality of connectivity and communication in our world, I am allowing those elements to dictate a reactive response from the school.

I don't have the right answer - and I don't know the right answer.  I want to engage our community and my Professional Learning Network in the conversation.  When a situation like this occurs, my goal is to communicate  that appropriate and necessary steps are being taken to ensure the safety of our students, faculty, and staff.  In meeting that goal, I don't want to create a situation that redirects our first responders from their primary work in the building and turns them into traffic and/or crowd control.

I know as a Dad that I have people's most precious things in the world in these buildings - that is a responsibility I take very seriously.  My most precious things are in the care of someone else - and I feel confident that those educators take that responsibility seriously as well.

Upon further review, I want to do things better the next time there is a next time.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Three Important Words

Shortly after graduating from Holy Cross, I started teaching at St. Malachy School on Chicago's Near West Side.  Posted in the Teacher's Room was a Top Ten List of Important Words.  According to this list, the three most important words are "I am sorry."

I have never considered how important those words are until earlier this week.

During the Opening District In-Service this year, I wanted to start a new tradition: honoring the nominees and the winners of the University of Vermont Teacher of the Year Award.  Montpelier Public Schools ask colleagues to nominate fellow teachers they believe to be worthy of the award.  Then the Administrative Team reviews the list and selects two.

As part of a larger theme of Celebration, I planned to invite all the nominees to come forward, to be acknowledged by everyone in the District and to receive a certificate.  In preparation for this, I scoured my e-mail inbox to ensure that I had all the names of all the nominees reviewed by the Administrative Team this summer.  Confident that I did, I typed all the names into my Opening Day Remarks.

You can already tell where this is going... I missed one of the nominees.

One of the teachers from Main Street Middle School was nominated by a colleague and it slipped past me.  The individual teacher politely let me know shortly after my Opening Remarks that I failed to recognize this nomination.  Now I needed to repair this.

My plan was to slip quietly into this individual's classroom, present a nomination certificate, and apologize.  I was able to do this - in front of the entire sixth grade.

On Tuesday, September 11, the Sixth Grade at Main Street Middle School was commemorating the events of 2001 when I entered the building.  I listened to the speakers and then I was offered the Talking Stick.  I took that opportunity to share my own reflections of that morning eleven years ago but also to apologize to a worthy nominee of the University of Vermont Teacher of the Year.  With colleagues and students present, this teacher received the recognition that I failed to provide two weeks earlier.

Three Important Words: who needs to hear them from you this week?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Life Happens

Today I rode the bus.

I rode the bus because it is the first day of Kindergarten in Montpelier Public Schools and wanted to greet some of our brand new Kindergarten students for their first bus ride.

About half-way through our ride, we encountered a problem.  We had stopped to pick up students and when the bus driver tried to close the doors, they would not close.

When I rode school buses, they were operated by a handle.  The bus driver would extend the handle toward the doors and the doors would open.  To close the doors, the driver would pull the handle in toward the driver's side and the doors would close.

In 2012, the doors are operated with the push of a button.  The doors would not close.

The driver wisely pulled to the side of the road and tried to fix the doors.  In his defense, he is a bus driver; not an electrician.  He was unable to fix the problem.

After trying for a few minutes to fix the doors, it was clear they were broken.  He used the radio and called in our problem to the bus company.  They responded that another bus was on the way to our location.

The other bus arrived and was driven by one of the mechanics from the bus company.  Our driver exited our bus and continued on his route.  I stayed with the children already on our bus.

Our new driver was able to fix the problem - though I must be honest, I'm not sure how.  At one point, the bus alarm was going off.  And by alarm, I mean the horn was honking consistently and there was a beeping noise inside the bus.

Needless to say it was loud and there were some bewildered children on the bus.  At no point did our mechanic/driver exhibit anything but calm and confidence.  He moved swiftly throughout the bus, trying to both turn off the alarms and to get the doors to work.

He was successful at both.  In what I can only describe as a "reset," the alarms stopped and the doors were operational again.  In about five minutes, we were on our way to Union Elementary School.

As a teacher, I could not help but point out the determination and the poise modeled by our driver to the children.  Some of them were very concerned about being late (we were only late by about 5 minutes) and once I pointed out that they had a great excuse (bus broke down, with the Superintendent on board), they were reassured.

We arrived safely at UES, thanks to a safety conscious bus driver and a determined mechanic.  What a lesson learned today on Bus 24, before we even go to school.