Getting to 'know our babies' in the schools
On a recent Wednesday, Martha Collins was sitting at a desk - a student-sized desk - in a hallway at Simmons Elementary doing paperwork. Woodford County Public Schools' director of student achievement said she was also there so teachers could ask a "question and bounce ideas off of me." "We want them to see us as support because that's really what we're here to do," explained Collins. The former elementary school principal has also become a "lunch buddy" with a Simmons student and his classmates. "So we get to build those relationships," she said. Collins said she misses being around the kids. Being in schools remind her, "They're not numbers. They're not a test score. They're not a data point. We know our babies." So instead of doing routine paperwork at their Central Office desks, Chief Academic Officer Jimmy Brehm and his team in the curriculum and instruction department are spending more time doing paperwork and other tasks in schools. "What I've asked our team," explained Brehm, "is whenever possible to do those tasks in a school . Find a desk in a hallway. Find an empty classroom. Go into the conference room at the school and do some of those paperwork tasks in the school," which makes them more accessible to principals and teachers. "Or sometimes," he added, "a kid has a bloody nose and they need an extra set of hands." Central Office administrators routinely go to schools for meetings with principals, teachers and others. "So that's been a normal practice," said Brehm. But during those formal meetings, he said, "You miss a lot of those informal conversations that are so important . You really find out what people need in informal conversations." Being in schools on a regular basis gives Central Office administrators an opportunity to see what they can do to support what's happening in the classroom, Brehm said. "It's really just about being present so that we can hear what's going on, we can support and help out more," he added. Huntertown Elementary Principal Elaine Kaiser appreciates seeing Brehm's administrative team in her school. "I think it's always good to have Central Office visibility," said Kaiser. "I think it makes a difference with teachers. "A lot of times there's things going on in the building that we get to tell them about, but they don't always see." Being in a school gives Central Office administrators a better understanding of how they can support school-level efforts to help students struggling to succeed in the classroom, according to Kaiser. Collins participated in a recent discussion with Kaiser's teachers, which became an opportunity for the district's director of student achievement to see what Huntertown's faculty was doing to raise student achievement. It was also a chance for Collins to offer ideas from her own experiences as an educator, Kaiser said. If nothing else, Kaiser said, the discussion demonstrated to her faculty that Collins "cares about what's going on." Misty Higgins, district assessment coordinator, recently helped Huntertown's teachers develop structures and strategies for the classroom, according to Kaiser. "And then she actually went into the classroom after that and did some live coaching with them to make sure that they've followed through on the procedures," Kaiser said. Moreover, she said it's important for Central Office administrators to see the specific needs of students at Huntertown Elementary. Brehm and his team enjoys being in the schools as often as possible because they like being on the front lines, and more importantly having a closer connection to students. "It keeps us more in tune with what's going on around our district," said Brehm. He said being in the schools ensure he and his team don't "lose touch of just how difficult it is to do the great things that our teachers and our principals do every single day." Schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins credited Brehm for developing this plan to get his administrative team out into the schools more often. They just take their laptops to a school and they can do their paperwork there instead of Central Office, he said. While the administrators typically do not spend their entire day in one school, Hawkins said they do spend a substantial amount of time in a school offering support to teachers and principals. "We're all in this together," said Hawkins, "and our job is to be in the schools." On a personal level, Brehm said he and his team in the curriculum instruction department "adore being around the kids. That's why we're in this profession." He said their best days are those when they're around the kids and seeing their faces, which remind them why they do what they do. "Neither one of us went to school to do the job we're doing now," said Collins. "We went to (school so that we could) work with kids. And we're just blessed that we get to do it on a bigger scale right now."