I promised I would catch this up, and here it is – my accounts of my very interesting and enjoyable visits to Warrensburg High School and Maple Grove Elementary. This was truly a day of opposites, as I got to see both our students’ first and last stops on their journey through Warrensburg’s school system.
First, Maple Grove is, well, cool. There is no other way to say it – it’s just cool. It’s our newest building and appears to have been built with safety, sustainability, and, of course, usability in mind from the very first brick. As a testimony to its success, the building was awarded the U.S. Green Building Council 2012 LEED Gold Award. From the rain-fed water feature to the sustainable paint choices, this is by far the “greenest” building in the district, and the pride that the k – 2 students and staff have in their building is evident from the very first step through the doors.
Mr. Finnane, the principle of Maple Grove, met me at the entrance with two absolutely wonderful and very energetic children who were to serve as my guides. As they showed me around, he explained how they choose the shyer children, the ones who need that little extra support, as their student ambassadors. The whole philosophy of this school is that kids need to be kids, and that is the most effective way to teach them, so the hallways are active, the children and teachers are smiling, and hallways and even Mr. Finnane’s walls are absolutely covered in well-labeled artwork done by the students.
If I had to pick two things that really stood out to me, they would have to be the “magic mentors” – the policy that each adult (not just teachers, but staff as well) are discretely assigned to a child with whom they then connect daily, quite often just saying “hi.” The whole point is for the child to ask “why is this person always so nice to me?” and the answer is always the same – because you are you. It doesn’t get much better than that.
The other thing I saw that just amazed me was the classroom that was designed to be the most effective for Autism spectrum students. As the parent of a special-needs child, this impressed me. The blue lighting, padded floors, and sensory integration have led at least one non-verbal young person to become vocal during his time at Maple Grove. That is nothing short of amazing.
When I asked Mr. Finnane what he would like to see from a new board member, he responded by saying support for a continued policy of “broad-spectrum autonomy” and trust for the administrators and employees of the district to try new things. I think that the record at Maple Grove and the success of the children there is clear evidence that they should have that freedom, and I would absolutely support that kind relationship. My own teaching background leads me to value academic freedom – I think that teachers, and administrators, have to have leeway to express themselves so the children can express themselves, thereby become the best that they can be. At the same time, he asked that the board maintain it’s support, especially during the tough times like we see today. There are often unpopular changes that have to be made, especially in economic times like these, and it is imperative that the board support its schools with, as Mr. Finnane said, “fair-minded and practical assessment of the situation,” and a willingness to share the information quickly and accurately. Freedom is a great thing to have in a job, especially in one that tends to be so regulated as education, but when that freedom can not be had, support and communication are absolutely essential for an effective district.