My #oneword has always been “balance”. Last year was an amazing one for me professionally, but lots of ups and downs personally. Professionally, I decided to leave a school that was operating on mostly all cylinders and had successfully changed the focus from best for teachers to best for students. We had improved our community outreach, our engagement and returned to “purposeful” learning driven by students, we focused on teaching to the needs of every student and saw huge improvements. Our in-house data jumped to over 81% student proficiency from the mid-40’s a few years earlier. Most importantly we created a school culture that ensured each and every school community member (kids, teachers, parents, and local community members) felt welcome and valued. We had family nights every month focusing on technology, literacy, math, or just pancakes. Our school felt amazing!
In April I decided to return to the district in which I had taught for 13 years. The district was looking for change in leadership. A new superintendent was hired with a vision similar to mine and I could feel lots of positive momentum in a district that has always been met with challenge. ACES, a new school, was being built and would open in the Fall of 2016. The school would continue to carry the level 4 determination from one of the 3 schools that were being combined in the new school. We (kids, teachers, community) knew that together each one of us had something to offer that could change the path. A new vision with a focus on kids was discussed and I wanted to be part of that team. We developed a plan, a vision, and in July set off to work. We hired energy and positivity. We quickly reconnected with kids and adults. We created opportunities for everyone to meet and greet and enjoy moments before the school opened. The energy was amazing!
August came quickly and we finally opened the new school. We were heading into the first ever meeting in the building to discuss the plans for opening, how we were going to utilize staff to build teams and how we would meet each students needs academically. I was very excited knowing this is my “wheelhouse”. A text went off in my pocket as I sat at the table next to the superintendent. I checked the message and it was from my wife, my Dad had a stroke. My initial reaction was shock and surprise, but I compartmentalized and the thoughts of “many people have strokes” and a calm of knowing my wife and I know people that will help my Dad back to normal. The meeting continued and the positive path was set. Immediately after the meeting we had planned a “hot dog pop-up” stand as a meet and greet for the school community. I threw the grill into my truck and headed off with a cooler full of 300 hotdogs, buns, water, and all the condiments to have an awesome time for the incoming kids and teachers heading to ACES in a few short weeks. as I unloaded the truck a Kenny Rogers song was on the radio and 2 geese flew over head. a quick vibration and another message from my phone stating, “You need to get to Vermont your Dad is not going to make it.” “How could I leave an experience I created for so many before it even started? What kind of a leader would I be to pass this responsibility off to others?”, were thoughts that went through my mind. I stayed, manned the grill, shook hands and gave plenty of high-5’s and silently prayed for my Dad to hang on until I could get there. I prayed for strength for my Mom. Minutes after the event we dropped off the grill at school and noticed a beautiful rainbow hanging over the sky. Moments later my car was packed and I was heading north, alone. Hours later, with the removal of a breathing tube my Dad still hung on. I parked at the hospital and ran in. He would never say a word to me or open his eyes and a day later he was gone. One of my “stones” was gone. Of course the pain has been insurmountable and amazing comfort, love and support has been offered by so many wonderful family and friends.
On a September Saturday, I delivered the opening speech of hope and positivity about our new school, ACES, in the morning to many future students, parents builders, and local dignitaries in attendance. Later on the same day in the afternoon, I presented my Dad’s eulogy to family and friends. It was an emotionally difficult balance and I still struggle with the events of that day. The extreme highs and lows. Through it all were my wife and kids. They provided the exact amount of strength and balance to survive through the day.
ACES opened successfully, intervention blocks have been established, PBIS has become more than letters, robots, 3-D printers, and positive experiences have started to be created. The focus to kids has happened. The vision is still in its early stages but incredible progress is visible. The Massachusetts DESE is happy with what our school has done to begin to meet the challenges. The countless hours put in by so many is paying off and positivity, teamwork and the kids will eventually win, but I missed it. I put my family second for so long and I missed it.
The Winter Vacation has been so very important to me and for the first time I put “school” away and focused on my kids, my wife, my Mom, and my extended family. I cried and laughed and listened, and watched every moment. As we head into 2107 my #oneword focus is 2 words “be present”. School is my passion and I love every second, but my family is my life and I need to be present so I don’t miss out…again!