Sunday, October 4, 2015

Doing What Needs to Be Done

The past month has been very busy in my small part of the world. Our 3-4th grade students participated in a special celebration for finishing Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, our Kindergarten through second grade students went on a field trip to visit an almond orchard, something important and prevalent in our area. We've also begun sporting events with other small schools where all the children in 5th- 8th grade participate on the teams. Our sixth graders went off to camp, er excuse me, Outdoor Education, this week.

There is so much involved in all these activities including hours of organization time and parent participation. We have no buses so our children get to sporting events and field trips with parent drivers and dedicated staff. I have been so impressed with the willingness of our families to step in and help out. One event stands out for me, and that was the morning the sixth graders left for science camp.

One of two local eateries is operated by parents in the district. It made sense then for the sixth graders and their parents to meet at this local establishment at 8:00 am and have breakfast before the children loaded onto the buses (which were provided by the camp) for Outdoor Education. Eager children and parents arrived, ready to have a hot breakfast while waiting. There was a snag though: the restaurant recently changed hours and did not open until 9:00 am. The buses were to arrive at 9:15 and the children to be loaded onto the buses and ready to go at 9:45! Time was of the essence!

What happened was truly a reflection of the willingness of individuals in this community to jump in, solve problems and do what needs to be done. Our parent owner quickly and efficiently took the orders of the waiting parents and children. In lightning speed all the orders had been processed and other parents, waiting with their children started getting the drinks from behind the counter and serving the children. They did not wait for the restaurant staff; they simply stepped up and helped out. One of my students, following her mother's example, likewise began to get the drinks and help serve the other students.  The parents continued to bring out orders until all the children had been served. Without their help the children would not have been able to board the bus on time, with their breakfasts eaten. These parents modeled the willingness to give help without being asked, when help is needed. What an important lesson these parents imparted on their children.

In such a small community, we all must do what needs to be done regardless of title, or job description. I see so many small and large evidences of this "can do and will do" attitude on a daily basis. My students, the teachers, the other staff. No one's job description at this site calls for helping in the potty, but that's what was done because that was what was necessary. No one's job description includes coaching or referring at sporting events, but that's what the teachers do. We all just do what needs to be done.

A team works, when everyone is willing to give of themselves for the greater good of the team. I have been blessed with the opportunity to be part of a team where "many hands make light work". Go Team Bobcats!!!

Monday, September 7, 2015


I am about to try a fruit and veggie popsicle. They have sat unopened in my refrigerator now for a week. I thought I could sneak a few veggies into my teenage son's diet but I'm not fooling him! It's kind of like the peas that we serve the children. The children aren't fooled either: those peas aren't food! They might be harmful; you just never know when something that looks like those peas appears on your plate.

There has been so much material and so little time since my last post. I obviously have some catching up to do although I now have 144 readers or well, at least I have one reader who may have read my posts 144 times or 12 readers that read them um, make that 2 readers that read the posts um, well heck. Math was never my strong suit.

I was incredibly delighted to be asked to speak at the local community club meeting recently. I have never been an invited speaker anywhere! The community club meets monthly and holds a potluck which reminded me so much of potlucks I attended as a child. Two of my children, or my students rather, were present in the audience and nary a pea was found. In fact, the food was home-made and so tasty! It was just so nice, a word that doesn't describe well but says so much. It was nice. Good food, kind people and a rapt audience. What more can a speaker ask?

My thrill began right away when I walked into the old but beautifully furnished building. Wood panels cover the walls and what look like 30's era seats lined the inside perimeter. "What a great place to have a dance," I thought to myself. I was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt (three t-shirts actually) each representing something special about the community and related to a local business. My hostess was surprised to see me dressed thusly and exclaimed that I didn't look a thing like she expected. She was looking for a "short,  frumpy,dowdy-looking older woman". I must have sounded short and frumpy on the phone. I'll need to work on that. I am short, and I am small, but frumpy or dowdy? Nah. My hostess was most pleased by my appearance and one of my substitute teachers and volunteers decided I looked much more like a local than I do at the school (where I might be found wearing a not-frumpy suit).

Do public speakers regularly get to have so much fun? I was able to talk about my passion for the school and the community. I wore one t-shirt that described my adventures on the river nearby, and stripped that off, to reveal a shirt that advertised the local creamery. I connected each shirt to the community and to something from my own life, that shockingly, fits right in. Our community is nestled right on the banks of the Stanislaus River and this river figures prominently in the history of the town. It's integral to the creation and continued survival of this tiny community. I hadn't realized until I started putting together my presentation that my own high  school mascot was the River Rat. Indeed, I was a River Rat, and proudly so many years ago. I joked with the audience about making sure that my third, and final shirt stayed in place while stripping off the other t-shirts. My final shirt was again, a t-shirt exemplifying another historical feature of the community, a 300 foot long covered bridge. The longest bridge of its type west of the Mississippi.

Anyway, it was such a joy to discuss how my little school, our little school, to which I have been graciously appointed, can make a difference in the community itself; how utilizing the very natural resources and business opportunities to teach the children academic content, will increase the academic skills of the students while hopefully creating business opportunities at the same time. The teachers and I have been working on something called Place-Based Education or PBE. This initiative brings the kids out of the classrooms and into the natural environment, specifically their own. Studies point to higher academic achievement with PBE methodologies and what possibly could be more reinforcing than learning in the natural environment doing things that matter? What could be more beneficial, especially in a small rural community like ours, than education initiatives that utilize local history, local geography and habitats and local businesses to create unique learning environments for all students? PBE is a perfect fit for us as the school is already an integral part of the community and highly supported by the locals as well. In fact, remember that bell I got to ring? Well, eyes where shining at this community club meeting because we ring that bell every day, like it was rung so many years ago.

I sometimes feel like a veteran at this school and in this position, although putting together my first Board agenda with my brand new administrative assistant could be a blog of it's own.  This school, it's students, teachers and staff, the community and parents feel like home already. I feel like I've been adopted into the community, in part because I value its unique essence. My community is small, but hardly frumpy. My community is proud of its heritage and individuality. My community reminds me of myself.

A few closing remarks: 12 x 12 is 144 so if I had 12 readers they may have read my posts 12 times each!  I knew that. The fruit  and veggie bars were tasty.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

People are reading my blog!

Well, a few anyway.

Thank you to my first commenter!  It is so very nice to be compared to a person of the past who was "beloved". That is an important compliment that I take as an honor. I will do all I can, while still being completely myself, to live up to that compliment.

Our school is all about kids. Small schools like ours can eschew some of the bureaucracy
that actually hampers the mission of public education: to provide the best possible education to all students at all times.  I have the opportunity to work deeply with the budget, school board trustees and get into the classrooms….all on the same day! As I write this, I must harken back to the superintendent who had a strong impact on me: Dr. Jim Franco. One might think that as the head of a large school district, he would not have had the time to visit schools, let alone classrooms. However, Dr. Franco regularly visited schools and classrooms. He was a superintendent in one school district for a lengthy twelve years. Typically, we superintendents seem to move around a lot, on average, every 2.5 years. Modeling my own superintendency after the very successful Dr. Franco, and channeling a "beloved" past superintendent / principal, I have a strong hope and desire of being with my school community for a long time. Hey! I'm just getting started. We're just getting started! A fabulous little school with a fabulous little team with big ideas.

It isn't just the school team that makes a school, but also the parents and the community. Our school is fortunate to be able to count on  the support from both.

We finished our first full week of school last week and many of us, especially the over forty crew, were rather tired by Friday. We'll be back tomorrow, though, as full of energy as our charges and ready to touch hears and minds, every minute, every day.

Monday, August 17, 2015


My school has a bell. No, really. I mean a real, bell shaped, ringing up in the bell tower bell, and I got to ring it. We have electronic bells, too of course; we aren't that much in the country that we don't have electronic bells, or iPads, Smart boards, laptops. We now even have our own Twitter feed, and soon to be two Facebook pages one to link to our website and one put together by our estimable parents!  And we have a bell.  A real one. I got to ring it!

Children, if you are reading Dr. J's blog, always remember that sentences don't start with conjunctions like and. Just ignore Dr. J's artistic license  here in using and to emphasize that we have a bell. And I got to ring it! Sometimes authors don't even use punctuation in their writing, but that's not an excuse to take to your teachers when you forget to put periods on the ends of your sentences. Once you have sold a few 100 copies of your first book you may try that excuse.

In truth, I doubt any of my students are reading my blog, though I do hope that some of my parents are. Are what Dr. J? Reading your blog? Are you writing about juice or grammar and punctuation tonight?

Indeed, I want to write about joy, which begins with J, like juice. And Joe. And Jenna. Joy is the first day of school. I'd venture to say that even the middle school students came to school with the almost hidden joy of being back with their friends. Middle school children, we know you. You can't completely hide your excitement underneath that saunter.

 The smaller children fizzed with excitement as they greeted their new teachers and new friends. Joy was a staff member who greeted children at the front of the school with a hug and a smile. We do still hug out here in the country, though my administrator training lights gave off bleeps at this touching of students. It's clear that hugs are given, very appropriately, and hugs are received. I got two myself from little girls walking with their parents to first grade! Joy is being a part of these children's lives and of working in conjunction with eleven people who give their all every day for these children. Joy is connecting.

It's so easy to connect with smiling parents, proud of their children, especially if they speak the same language you do. More challenging, but equally important, is to connect with the parents whose language is not the same as your own. I talked with many parents on our first day of school and many children. Noticing a lone parent, standing a bit back from the recess crowd, observing her young son playing with his sister on the playground, I realized I had not made enough of an effort to connect with this Spanish speaking parent.  No parent should feel excluded from their child's school. Thus, I walked swiftly up to this parent before I could change my mind and said "hello", and asked her if she spoke English. I did this in Spanish in case the inference passed you by. I told her I didn't speak Spanish very well (still in Spanish) and then I smiled warmly and told her we were the same juice.  I'm not quite sure what she made of my juice comment as I was so earnest. "We're the same juice!" I did not know of my gaffe until driving home with my administrative secretary, and I asked her to look up the word jugo.  I burst into hysterical laughter when she said juice instead of the expected team. We both laughed with tears coming from our eyes as I relayed the story of the telling the parent that she and I were the same juice. It's very hard to drive and laugh like that. I don't recommend it.

Today, I was determined to include this quiet mother in conversation again. I tried to explain that I thought that jugo meant team or equipo." Nosotros son equipo, no jugo." She smiled patiently while I had to recite all the days of the week in Spanish to get to Friday. "Lunes, Martes, Miercoles, Juevos…. The word for Friday simply wouldn't come to me, rather like equipo. I wanted so much to say: "Last Friday I meant to say we were on the same team because you don't speak much English and I don't speak much Spanish but I said 'we are the same juice' instead. I want you to feel welcome here but I don't have the words. You are welcome here. Teach me Spanish and I'll teach you English. We'll learn together." Let's skip the juice though. I don't really care for it.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Family and Friends

I dedicate tonight's effort to two remarkable women who fought admirably against Triple Negative Breast Cancer: my good friend Barbara Larson, a friend to many and exemplary educator; and Charmaine Aranda, school secretary extraordinaire.

I had several ideas percolating for this blog and composed and recomposed them in my head as I wandered 7 miles in the hills with my golden retriever Java. Returning from our hike hot, sweaty and dirty (at least I was, as Java required a bath before entering the house) I stopped in the hallway to look at my phone. There's nothing better than stopping mid-stride anywhere to whip out the smart phone and check out Facebook don't you think? I can't be alone in this; you know you do it too, though maybe you shower first. After hiking. Seven miles. Hot. Dusty. Bathing the dog. Regardless, all thoughts of my blogs on stress, my first (and very successful I might add…thank you AB!) board meeting, the dedication of teachers, flew out of my mind upon noticing the Celebration of Life for Charmaine. I would have been stopped in my tracks if I hadn't been already. I knew she was seriously ill. She hadn't been at school when I left the district. I hadn't thought of, or anticipated her death. I watched the ten minute slide show gracefully playing on my phone for less than 30 seconds. I just couldn't. Her loss was just one too many, particularly to breast cancer, and particularly in the same month that my friend Barbara lost that last battle in 2014. How could this have happened and how could I have not known? Those questions are easy to answer. Triple Negative Breast cancer is a monster. It doesn't let many off. Charmaine wasn't working and I left the district. I wish I had known so I could have attended her memorial. She was always a positive presence at her school. She always had a smile and if ever there was an issue that I, from the District Office, needed solved at her site, I needed only to ask. I once was tagged to be the substitute principal at her site and she held my hand for the entire week I was there. That was perhaps 18 years ago and I still remember Charmaine's kindness and skill. She was a gem, and no doubt she will be sorely missed. She was part of the family. She made her school feel like a family.

And Barbara? I've heard other friends and her family refer to fresh grief, when the loss hits again. She was my family. My work family. My friend. She was the third and forth wheel of a smoothly running machine, the SPED TEAM for many years. I don't think we were ever the same without her, though like a family, we rallied around each other and held each other up in the hard times.

What does this have to do with being a superintendent (and principal) in a country school? Everything. Everything.

My entire school staff, including the superintendent's cabinet of one (that would be me) consists of eleven people. When you figure in 5 board members, there are 16 of us impacting the lives of multiple children, over many years. These folks emphasized to me the importance of seeing the school as a family right off the bat; that they felt like a family and were looking to me to nurture that. Not only do I value a school that feels like family, but as a a leader, I believe very strongly in the adage that "it's all about relationships". That should properly read it's all about positive and healthy relationships but no one ever adds that much detail. I sponged up that adage with dewey eyes from a superintendent I worked with for twelve years, every time he spoke.  He knew kids and their cousins, and probably their dogs too, at the high schools, although each school carried more than 2500 students. He cared deeply about kids, teachers, parents and everyone really. I aspire to be like him, although my world is much smaller. I was listening Jim though grammatically speaking my eyes were dewey and bright while my brain sponged up your wisdom!

I feel like part of the family in my new school already. The community is warm and welcoming, the teachers are dedicated, my administrative assistant is wonderful and my custodian and her canine sidekick  keeps the school beautiful and our paraeducators give of their time and energy freely. These folks feel like family. Maybe some superintendents or school leaders feel you cannot effectively manage and develop positive and even close relationships at the same time. That's wrong, plain wrong in my handy-dandy book on leadership. It just makes the hard decisions a bit harder. The hard conversations a bit harder but I've always felt that kindness and friendly support in the delivery of bad news, whatever it may be, goes a long way. Educators at the middle and high school should know the importance of positive adult connections and relationships for students. Mountains of research support improved academic and social achievement for kids who connect with adults (not on-line). It's the same for teachers. A school is a microcosm of family: there's an order (I hesitate to call it birth order although I just did.), changes, shifts, holidays and good things and bad things happen. Life contained in a school and life where I'm at is good. Life is good indeed.

I give a shout out to my school family for supporting my visit with my biological family. I was fortunate to be able to spend time with  four generations of my family  from my 91 year old mother, to my 6 month old grand niece, the week before school started because of the generosity of the people I now work with.

Life is good. I look forward to hearing the kids bleating in the distance tomorrow morning, the neighing horses and squeaking zebra. The children arrive this Thursday. My pink suit is ready and my agenda is still….not.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Feet First

Take five, on this my second blog entry. This is harder than I thought especially as I over analyze every last……
Take 106. There is so much joy and beauty around me.
107: the donkey braying in the distance as the sun gets a little lower and the heat drops while I get in my car to go home.
108: and, who would have known a year ago that I'd be peering over the edge of the top of a hole in a school field while the plumber looks for the top of the septic tank? My dad would have liked that and would probably have had a better understanding of the nature of the problem. I just nodded my head and thought of dollar signs and wondered what happens without toilets.
109: small schools such as mine are often stripped of the Behemoth of Bureaucracy and we just get things done. The BOB, the BLOB, although the L standards for nothing in particular. It's freeing to be stripped to the essence of the very reason public schools exist: educating the children. I'm sure we could use more forms, more processes and more worries but I'm not eager to add stultifying rules to a community that seems to take some pride in doing things differently.
125: random thoughts; actually, they are all connected thoughts that happen randomly. Does that make them random when they are all about my school, my community, my "people"?
Take 126: gained two new employees this week, without the help of an HR department. I feel like a kindergartener reading independently for the first time: I did it all by myself!I had help, of course, but not a cadre of HR specialists to assist with paperwork and better yet, to call the candidates who were not selected. In my small setting every action or reaction is noticed and for applicants connected to the district I can't take the easier way out of letting e-mail alone be the notification. The personal touch is what is called for here.
Version 300: the children come soon! The pink suit is ready but my agenda for staff development is not.  Do we really need to discuss Secret Santas in August?

Someone once told me that the superintendent / principal position is very unique. It is indeed as I jump in feet first hiring new staff, meeting community members, attending community meetings, taking part in local business activities like river rafting and ice-cream eating ( a punishing duty but someone had to eat ice-cream), planning for staff development, worrying about facilities issues with huge price tags and giving my Board clear communication without violating the Brown Act. What's not to love? I have an outlet for creative thinking, the opportunity to work with caring adults and directly with children, every day. Every day provides the chance to make a difference.

I wonder what I can think of tomorrow?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

I've Done It!

That title could certainly apply to many things in my life lately, like becoming a school superintendent. It's not something I expected ever to happen but when I consider the beautiful view from my school, the hills in the background, the trees, the softly bleating kids (baby goats that is) and adult goats in the morning, I thank my lucky stars and count my blessings.  My truth: blessings come in many surprising forms when one leasts expects them.

The title could apply to blogging. I've done it! I've created a blog that well, who knows who will actually read it, or if it will bless anything, but if I can shed light on my beautiful school and the community it serves and gain a few more students in the bargain the blog will be well worth it. Aside from that perhaps I can at last make some use of my BA in English! Who knew?

I adventure off towards the first day of school, carrying all the concerns of superintendents everywhere: will there be enough funding; does the plumbing work in our schools; how about those text book adoptions; are we serving our students? That last rings strongly for me. I am a service leader. For perhaps the first time in many years, I truly am "here for the kids", and here for the community, a lovely, river fed, sun kissed community where the school is a focal point. I'm so blessed by dedicated teachers, support staff and parents I often feel as if I am living a dream. I guess I must be, one where horses neigh in the distance, goats bleat and zebras….squeak. Yep, zebras. It's gotta be a dream, but I'm not going to pinch myself. I'll stay right here.