Lessons and memories as I head to retirement

As I retire from the Northmont Schools this year, with 37 years of experience, I thought I would share some of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the years as a teacher and administrator in three very different school districts.

— Children are full of surprises and keep you on your toes:

Teacher: John, why are you doing your multiplication on the floor?

John: Because you told me to do it without using tables.

Teacher: Susie, name one important thing we have today that we didn’t have ten years ago.

Susie: Me.

Schools need good leaders at all levels. Normally one thinks of leaders as administrators, but the best districts have teacher leaders, parent leaders, student leaders, and community leaders who are actively engaged in the district.

Good problem-solving skills are taught and modeled by us all. Our children witness proper language, appropriate tone and actions every day. As parents, grandparents, and community members struggle with issues on a daily basis, students are watching how these issues are handled.

One very important factor that affects student success is attendance. Most of my students who have not been successful have had high absentee rates. It’s impossible for a student to keep up if he or she is not physically present.

Extra-curricular activities are valuable educational experiences. Research shows, and I’ve seen it, that students are most likely to graduate and go on to college or successful careers if they are attached to the school district through extra-curricular activities. It doesn’t have to be sports related; it can include drama, music, service activities, Science Olympiad, DECA, ROTC, and all types of club activities. Students learn discipline, cooperation, how to work as a team, confidence through public speaking or performance, and make friends with students who have similar interests so they feel appreciated and supported.

School finance is mind boggling, difficult explain, and aggravating to experience. School districts receive little or no growth on the tax money their local voters approve. Therefore, in general, there is no money for new state and federal mandated programs and requirements and no new money as the costs of goods and services increase. State education dollars could also help, but Northmont Schools got zero increased dollars this year from the state.

Too many community members are unfamiliar with their elected school board members. Fortunately, Northmont’s current board members are excellent, but over my years as an administrator, in other districts, this has not been the case. Board members are responsible for the oversight of millions of dollars of school district money, and policies that govern thousands of students. It can be a thankless job that pays very little for the time and effort, but if the wrong person is in that job, it can devastate a district. Be informed!

Being responsible sometimes means people don’t like you. Borrowing from former Secretary of State Colin Powell, “Command is lonely.”

I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything and at the end of the day, I know I can walk away knowing I made a difference.