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Yearly Archives: 2013
Here are a few tools that you’ve shared with me over the years. I’ve tried to describe some lessons you taught with these tools….metaphorically that is. Normally I would be sure to put your tools back where I found them but I’ll hang onto these and pass some along to your grandchildren and the kids I work with at school.
Level – Approach challenges without flying off the handle. Maintain a personal balance in life. Things tend to be interrelated. If something is out of level in one spot, it’s probably wrong all over.
Hammer – Take aim and hit a nail carefully while avoiding damage to everything around it. Be careful when and where you use force or authority.
Pliers – Get a firm grip on challenges that come along. Try to understand an issue before you rush in to fix problems for others. It’s easy to get carried away and bend things out of whack. If you do need to make adjustments, do so with care.
Saw – Take time to get a sharp blade and take good measurements before you start hacking away at things. It’s easy to damage others if you go sawing away indiscriminately.
Loppers – When in doubt, thin things out. Life can get pretty cluttered with activities. Trim things out that are not working and make more space for good activities to thrive. If something doesn’t improve your life and the life of those around you, lop it out and thrown it on the burn pile.
Ruler – Take careful and accurate measure of yourself but don’t be too strict in measuring others. Avoid comparing yourself to others and realize that all people are of equal measure in the sight of God.
You have always taken accurate measurements and used tools carefully so that things fit together and are made better. Some people would use these same tools to cut down or injure others. While none of us use these tools perfectly, you’ve set the example of building others up and making the world a better place.
Imagine fifth grade students filled with excitement about writing two weeks after state testing? The Fifth Grade Poetry Slam at Alma Intermediate School builds enthusiasm for writing and adds a new instructional focus at a time of the year which might easily suffer from an emotional dip. “The experience was awesome! Reading in front of everyone got my spine a-tingling,” said one fifth grader. The poetry workshop is funded through the Arkansas Arts Council Mini Grant Program.
Nationally recognized guest poet, Clayton Scott, spent one week working with fifth graders in poetry sessions and taking students to the next level in their expressive writing. Mr. Scott met with all 260 fifth grade students each day. More than 1,200 poems were written by students during the week. Scott taught a variety of poetry styles and techniques along with creative tools that help even the most reluctant writers engage in the process.
A major focus of the week was encouraging students to “confront their inner chicken.” Students were challenged to stand up and speak out as they wrote and shared their poems. “I liked writing my poems and learned that fear shouldn’t keep you from doing something. I learned to confront my inner chicken and how to write better poetry,” said one typically reserved fifth grader.
Mr. Scott used an eagle graphic to represent a balanced approach to writing. For students’ writing to “soar” it takes a balanced effort by both wings. One wing contains the mechanics of good writing. Mr. Scott doesn’t dwell on these elements because they should be in place and are accomplished in editing. He places great emphasis on the creative wing which contains sensory imagery, power words, simile, metaphor, and many more. According to one student, “The experience was awesome. I learned how to use expressive language in all of my writing.”
Students had writing assignments each night based on poetry techniques taught that day. As students shared their poems the following day, Mr. Scott coached students on speech, delivery, and expressive reading.
The week culminated in a Poetry Slam open to the public. Finalists from every class were in competition on the final afternoon. Students were selected to act as judges for the Poetry Slam. Students were designated as masters of ceremony and filled other duties for the event which gave a strong sense of student ownership.
A total of twenty-six finalists performed in the Poetry Slam along with Clayton Scott. Five students were selected as overall trophy winners. It was noted that some students who had not exhibited outstanding writing in the past came to the forefront in the poetry competition. It was a great chance for students to celebrate the successes of their peers. One finalist said, “At the poetry workshop I learned that you can have courage and express the stories of your life through poetry.”
Courage and creativity are exactly what our children need! Alma Intermediate School has found that poetry is a tool for helping students acquire both of these qualities.
From a speech given by JD Finley for Alma Intermediate School 5th graders on May 23, 2013
JD Finley graduated from Alma High School in 2012 and is currently a student at UAFS.
My name is JD Finley. I graduated from Alma last year as one of eleven valedictorians, which means I was at the top of my class. I had all A’s every year of school and graduated with Honors. I played football and threw discus until I tore my ACL my sophomore year. I have a sister. I love Reese’s Cups and bacon. I love to read. And I like short walks to the refrigerator.
One of my passions is for kids your age. When Mr. Warnock asked me to speak here, I panicked because I was afraid of you guys. I know I’m a big guy with a beard, but I was scared of y’all… still am a little bit. I also don’t like speaking in front of people, but I got to praying and thinking about it and I decided that I would “cowboy up” and speak to you guys with the hope that I might be able to make your education more beneficial and give you some tips that will help you reach your goals.
I sat down and came up with an acronym for the word REAP, R-E-A-P which means to harvest or gather, I’ll come back to why I chose that word at the end but for right now, I want to begin with the R which stands for Respect.
What we just did by clapping for your teachers was show them some respect for all that they’ve done for you. But I’m not just talking about giving them a round of applause when I say respect. I am talking about showing them respect in the classroom for their authority. They became teachers to help you and educate you in preparation for life. Yes, I’ve had a few teachers that I didn’t really enjoy or get along with, but I always shown them respect. I think if you asked every teacher in here what they thought the biggest non-academic problem was they’d say disrespect. If you want to make the most out of your next seven years, not even that but the rest of your lives, respect goes a long way with anyone you come into contact with.
I don’t mean just respect for teachers, I mean fellow students as well. No matter how different you are from someone else or how much you disagree with them, you should always show them respect and compassion. I don’t know how many of you have heard or read about the Good Samaritan, but it was an example used by Jesus to explain what it means to show respect and compassion for another person. The story is told in Luke chapter 10 verses 25-37 but I’m just going to read 30-35.
In order to understand just how compassionate and respectful this act was you must first understand that the man who was beaten was Jewish, and the rescuer was a Samaritan. And Jews and Samaritans were bitter enemies. This would be like if I was beaten by robbers and left on the side of the road. An Alma person passes me by and does nothing. A Van Buren person passes and looks away, but a Greenwood person stops and takes care of me. As much as I don’t like Greenwood, that’s true compassion, to be able to think and care for someone else regardless of how different you are.
To have ethics means to live by a certain code or rules that govern your behavior. I believe having ethics is important to obtaining a healthy education. Part of living by a set of ethics is striving to have character and knowing right from wrong. Like one of my heroes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Intelligence, plus character, that is the goal of true education.” If you will start now developing character and doing the right things, people will notice. It may be hard sometimes but there is nothing more rewarding on earth than having a clear conscience and knowing you did the right thing.
When I was an 8th grader I had a teacher that gave us a test and left the room. Everyone in that class started talking about the questions and answers, passing them back and forth. I was tempted to do the same because the teacher would never know about it. But I didn’t give in. I sat there and never said a word even though some of them were trying to talk to me. I knew that they would probably all have higher grades than I did on that test, but I would still have my clear conscience.
I abided by my set of ethics and did right rather than wrong. I kept my character while everyone else compromised theirs for the sake of a test grade. I wanted to do my best at everything even if that meant me getting a B or a C, but MY best, not someone else’s best, which is what I would be doing if I cheated off of another person. I cared more about who I was on the inside – my character, because that lasts a lifetime rather than my grades which only last a semester. I said all of that to say that education is not enough if you do not do the right thing as well. An educated person who has character is an extremely powerful combo….. okay on to the next letter… A.
Aspire. To aspire means to hope, dream, or to strive for a goal. One of the biggest things that helped me in my school career is goal setting and management. I believe it is a central key to unlocking wherever you want to go in life. It is not enough to just dream about something, but rather make an action plan to achieve that dream. That’s what aspiring is all about.
When I was in the 5th grade I got knocked out of the school wide spelling bee close to the end. I told myself that by the end of my 8th grade year I would win Crawford County and go to the state bee. So each year I studied harder and practiced longer for it. Each day after that I made sure that I was doing all that I could do to put myself in position to achieve that dream, and you know what? I did it. I made fourth place my sixth grade year in the county bee, third place my seventh grade year, and my eighth grade year I won the Crawford County Spelling bee and ended up being the 20th best speller in the state, all because I aspired for that dream.
The same thing happened for me to be a Valedictorian of my class. When I was an eighth grader I saw the valedictorians together on stage at graduation and I decided that I would be one of them when I graduated. So I did everything I could to put myself in that position. I wasn’t the smartest by any means, but nobody on that stage could have said that they worked harder than I did to be there. All because I set up a plan to make that dream a reality.
Whatever you want to be in life, whether that’s a doctor, or a lawyer, or a trash guy, or maybe a mail man, or even the President, set up a plan to achieve that dream and get after it. Nobody is going to just hand that to you, you have to work for what you want in life. So set a goal, make a plan, and work to achieve it. Aspire higher…. Now for the last letter P, probably my favorite.
I chose the word passion because I wish that I had developed a passion for learning when I was your age. The dictionary definition of having a passion for something means you have a strong liking for or devotion to some activity or concept. But I would put it like this: If you have a passion for something it means you would be willing to do it for free because you enjoy it so much.
Your passion is whatever you do when your work is all done and you have time to yourself. I have multiple passions in my life, but it wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I truly enjoyed learning about every subject. Until that point my two favorite subjects were History and English. I didn’t like science and hated math. But when I became a Junior I heard a speech by Mr. Valentine, the high school principal that totally changed my view of learning. He said “If you truly want to succeed in life and make a difference, then see to it that you know EVERYTHING about something, and SOMETHING about everything.”
Now I’m not telling you guys that you have to know everything about something yet, because that will come later, a lot later. I still don’t know everything about something. What I am hoping you will take from this is the knowing something about everything part and seizing the opportunities to learn between now and your last year of high school. I really wish that I had paid more attention during my middle school years to science and math. It would have helped me when I got to High School. If you struggle with a certain subject or are weaker in an area like I was in math and science, don’t just give up on it. Try your hardest to understand those concepts. Put more time into those weaker subjects because I promise you it will pay off in the long run. If you develop a passion for learning you will never cease to grow.
So to sum it up, if you put all four of these principles together you get Respect, Ethics, Aspire, and Passion. R-E-A-P. Reap. Respect everyone, Ethics in the classroom, Aspire higher, and Passion for learning. When you apply each of these concepts to your life, you will gain the benefits of being a well-rounded student, and not only that but a well- rounded human being.
I hope that maybe this has made you guys think about what kind of person and student you want to be. If you have any questions or just want to talk I’ll be here for a little while after the assembly so feel free to come by and say hey. I’m kind of shy but I’d love to answer your questions. Thank you guys for listening!
I had great parents but didn’t realize this until around age 25. They’ve become more impressive to me with each passing year. What made them great parents? I’d like to list a few things that stand out to me.
They were there… My parents made an effort to attend performances and sporting events I was involved in. More importantly, they were there emotionally at home. We had conversations and they let me know that I was an important part of the family….not the center of attention….not the center of their universe, but an important part of the family.
They had expectations of me. They gave me jobs around the house and expected them to be done. They expected me to do well in school. They expected me to work and earn a living. They expected me to respect others. The list goes on but you get the idea.
My parents treated each other with respect. They may have gotten a little cross or edgy on rare occasions but always in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
My parents loved me unconditionally but also let me experience negative consequences. They never cared less about me because I made a mistake but they did require that I face the consequences of my actions. Consequences could be unpleasant but I knew they loved me no matter what.
Parenting is a difficult task! My parents have often said they weren’t perfect but I don’t think perfection is required. Giving yourself to the job of parenting and doing the best you can each day is the key.
As an educator, I’m thankful that parents are willing to trust us with their most precious possessions, their children. Children will someday recognize the good work their parents and teachers do and we will have the satisfaction of seeing their continued growth and learning.
I believe involvement in the arts will help students learn in other areas. I also believe that the arts are valuable in and of themselves and of great value to children’s creativity, social, and moral development.
I got this opinion honesty….from personal experience. My own path of learning, academic improvement, and work-habits can be traced to involvement in music. The following includes just a few lessons learned. Some are valuable and others not so much.
All I Ever Needed To Know I Learned In the Band
- I learned the importance of persistence: “Again from the top, please…”
- I learned that self-esteem is developed by meeting challenges: “Mr. Cooper, our band director, really believes we can play this piece?”
- I learned you can do almost anything you’re passionate about if you try long and hard enough. “Yes I just love practicing the 26 snare drum rudiments. Oh yes, scales are fun, too!”
- I learned the importance of flexibility. “You want us there at what time?”
- I learned to suspend judgment: “You don’t know if you like this piece until you can play it!” – Mr. Cooper, our long-suffering band conductor.
- I learned the importance of showing up no matter how you feel. Every person is important. If you’re not there, it hurts the whole group.
- I learned to be on time. There is nothing like the “Cooper stare” if you hop into formation late.
- I learned organizational skills. What other class requires that a student show up on time with 27 separate uniform parts, music folder, clothespins, snacks, and at least two drum sticks (hopefully a matched pair).
- I learned to use the resources at hand: Sometimes a piece of duct tape will get you through a performance.
- I learned to appreciate the great outdoors. I have fond memories of those early morning winter marches on the parking lot. “I hear sound coming from my drum, but I can’t feel my hands.”
- I learned that success depends on how you use your time. “The best bands are the bands that fix mistakes the quickest.” – Mr. Cooper
- I learned to keep going no matter what. I remember the roar of laughter in a Little Rock stadium after one file took a countermarch 20 yards early. We just kept going and regrouped at the majorette feature tune. “Take real big steps and we’ll get this back together,” several unidentified seniors were heard to say.
- I learned that there is more than one way to hit a drum. “Yes, I know those are marimba mallets and you’re playing timpani, but that’s the sound I want.” – Mr. Cooper
- I learned how to ad-lib. “Forget what is written, drummers. Just make it sound right.” – Mr. Cooper
- I learned the importance of consistency. “You’re not getting better because you make new mistakes every day.” – Mr. Cooper
- I learned the importance of a compliment, no matter how small. The tension and suspense after a halftime show lifted completely when Mr. Cooper turned and simply said, “Good job.”
- I learned to change clothes quickly and in any location. “Just hold that blanket up for a second.” I’m not sure why this is important but it could come in handy.
- I learned to travel in varied accommodations. Experienced travelers by school bus will do fine in any third world country.
- I learned the importance of a group effort focused on a common goal. “Take aim and push your sound all the way to the press box.” – Mr. Cooper
- I learned that it’s OK to be a little arrogant as long as you don’t take yourself too seriously. We really were pretty awesome!
- I learned the power of music. I’ll never forget the first time I heard the Symphonic Band open up on “Russian Christmas Music!” It changed this drummer’s life.
- I learned that success feels good and failure feels bad. If you take success for granted, you’re headed for failure. If you learn from your failures, you’re headed for success. I remember a split rating (I-I-II) we had difficulty understanding. Mr. Cooper didn’t knock the judge; he just worked us harder. The next ratings were straight First Divisions all the way across (I-I-I).
- I learned that while perfection might be the goal, you have to go with what you’ve got. I’ve heard a lot of great imperfect performances. Mr. Cooper once remarked as we listened to a reel-to-reel performance tape, “It’s amazing that a bunch of kids playing noise makers can make music that gives you goose bumps.”
Thank you Mr. Hal Cooper for a lot of great memories and a few musical goose bumps along the way!
A few random thoughts by Jim Warnock written in 2000 (revised in 2013)
EHS Percussion, Class of 1974
Principal at Alma Intermediate School
A young man in front of me began thumping intricate rhythms on a book with his fingers. A moment later a kid down the row began doing some nice rhythms on his chest and legs. Sitting in that concert hall at the University of Arkansas, I realized I was among kindred spirits. A room filled with drummers!
This reminded me of Ms. Break, my 4th grade teacher (whom I loved….and feared). She often scolded me for drumming on my desk. I tried to be courteous by pressing my ear against the wooden top to amplify the sound while avoiding disturbing others. The metal book box below the seat was a fantastic drum and offered a variety of tones depending on where and how it was struck.
Years later I was playing timpani at the First Methodist Church in my hometown. Ms. Break hollered down from the choir loft with a laugh, “You never did stop that drumming!” While she did scold me about drumming in her class, she never let little idiosyncrasies interfere with our relationship. She made space for me to be who I was and that meant a lot.
I enjoyed seeing the percussionists warming up before the recital at the U of A but also enjoyed the informal and spontaneous rhythmic performances occurring out among the audience prior to the concert while thinking of my early drumming days.
Drummers are a strange breed! You’ll rarely see trumpet players buzzing their lips or violinist bowing the air, but you can always spot a percussionist, whether a fourth grader, college kid, or adult.
The following article about my parents is a testament to the power of love and commitment and how two people can influence so many. It’s also a good story.
‘All this for just half a nickel’
Valentine’s vase commemorates 63 years of love
By: Joan Hershberger – El Dorado News-Times (Posted here with permission)
One date and Jim Warnock wanted to do something special for Elsie. With Valentine’s Day nearing, the red heart-shaped planter with a live plant caught his eye. He bought the planter and took it the next time he went to date Elsie.
As students at Ouachita Baptist University, Jim, a senior, and Elsie, a freshman, had first noticed each other in the fall of 1949. They smiled and greeted each other, but nothing happened until early February 1950. “My roommate and I wanted to double date with her. It cost a nickel to make a phone call, so we called up and made two dates to church with that one nickel,” Jim Warnock said.
“I was infatuated and needed to do something. ‘It’s Valentine’s Day,’ I said. I needed to get her a Valentine. That vase caught my eye. It was red.” Jim said he bought the vase and presented it to Elsie with a live, growing plant inside. “The plant probably did not last to the next week – well maybe into the summer,” Elsie laughed.
But she did take the vase home from college and left it at her mother’s house. The red paint quickly began to come off. They tried painting it before they realized the red could be scrubbed off to show white glaze underneath.
Elsie and Jim had talked about marriage, then the Korean War began and Jim, who had been in the ROTC at OBU, was called to serve. “We were going to wait to marry, but then on Tuesday night we decided to marry and on Saturday we were married. I had a lot of friends who helped us put it on. They went to the ravine and got greenery for the arch and, I hope, asked the neighbors for their daffodils. It was a very pretty church wedding,” Elsie recalled.
“We had our honeymoon at Camp Polk in the bachelor’s quarters. It sounds elegant, but it wasn’t,” Elsie said. “He shipped out two weeks later. I stayed, went on to school and finished college. While he was gone, there was one professor who kept saying that the life expectancy of a second lieutenant was 28 seconds,” she recalled.
“We tell folks that we are the only couple we know that never had an argument their first two years of marriage,” Jim said. They couldn’t argue – he was serving in Korea. Instead they wrote letters back and forth to each other. Because of the inconsistencies of the mail, sometimes Jim’s letters from Elsie would pile up at the post office. “I would get upset because she was not writing to me and then a bunch would come,” he recalled with a rueful grin. “I saved all his letters and wrote a book about his time in Korea,” Elsie said. “I can’t believe I didn’t save any of your letters,” Jim shook his head. “You were in the infantry and moving around,” she shrugged it off.
Jim returned from Korea and Elsie graduated. The two found jobs as teachers in south Texas where they made their first home. Jim taught and was the school’s assistant coach. Elsie, who had trained to teach high school, taught in the elementary school.
Elsie brought the vase to their first home. And in February, Jim took it out each year to fill for Valentine’s Day. “Some years it had daffodils, other years arrangements or yard flowers. It was not a big deal that we had to have it. It just was always there and it had lasted another year. Jimmy has surprised me at times by getting it and doing a new arrangement. It is always on display through the month of February. But, we do not have to have a new decoration every year,” Elsie said.
“The kids knew about it. After a while we wrote the year on the bottom and that it was the first gift Jim gave me as my first Valentine from him. We displayed it at our 50th wedding anniversary celebration,” she said. “I may have taken it to a Valentine Banquet once,” she said. “But it was too risky. It is not so much that it is valuable as it is of sentimental value to us.” This low-key couple agreed that they do not make a big event out of Valentine’s Day. Sometimes they go out to eat on Valentine’s Day, but, “We do not HAVE to do something,” Elsie said.
Although the vase remains special to them, they have not made a big production about it other than to pull it out every Valentine’s Day for the past six decades to fill again with flowers. Last year she posted a picture of the vase on Facebook as a way to wish her Facebook friends a Happy Valentine’s Day.
Someone has commented that they never seem to be angry. “What good does it do? I really did get angry once, but he did not notice,” Elsie said. “When things are going especially well one of us will say, ‘All this for only a nickel,’ and the other will say, ‘for just half a nickel,’ Elsie laughed. “And when things are bad, we will turn and say, ‘All this for only a nickel’ and the other will say, ‘for just half a nickel.’”
In more recent years, Elsie wrote a book for family members about their life together. They started to write it together, but when Elsie asked him to write about his experiences, he would give her an inadequate half a page. She took his letters from Korea and re-wrote them for the book. “We have to go back and check on the book every so often to remember things,” she said.
After a couple years of teaching in Texas, Jim, originally from the Smackover-Norphlet area, began using his scientific training at American Oil. Over the years he also worked at Lion Oil, Tosco and El Dorado Chemical as an environmental control analyst.
Elsie stayed home when their son and daughter were young and then began teaching at the El Dorado High School (now the old EHS building). She also taught at Barton Junior High and Rogers Junior High and was one of the first three employees at the developmental center where she served as the coordinator for 11 years under Rita Taunton.
Jim Warnock has served on the board of the South Arkansas Developmental Center for Children and Families for many years. Their son, Jim Warnock, is a principal at Alma, and their daughter, Martha Kyzer, is the office manager with BuyRite Foods in Benton.
The couple has lived in El Dorado in four different houses. They moved to one house to accommodate Jim’s side job of working with ornamental iron. Now in their 80s, the couple have few health issues and continue to be active in the community.
Forgive the shameless self-promotion but I wanted to post this so friends, relatives, and especially my mom would have access to it. It is pulled from the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators Newsletter. Michelle spent a good portion of a day visiting our campus and then wrote this feature. I appreciated her positive writeup.
By Michelle Hostetler, Communications Specialists for Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators
When Jim Warnock was hired as an elementary principal in 1993, he knew he needed three things: church pews in each hallway, a notebook, and time in classrooms. He had watched his mentor, Glynn Calahan, use these to become a successful principal who made a difference in the lives of her students. Ms. Calahan had a church pew on each floor of her school where she would sit with her notebook that contained information on her students (test scores, etc.). She would visit with students there praising them for good work and, when needed, encouraging them to do better. Mr. Warnock followed in her footsteps, purchasing old pews from a neighborhood church and proceeded to use the techniques Ms. Calahan used, including spending time in each classroom.
Jim started his career in education as a music teacher. His love of music started in high school where the teachers and students had a strong bond. His teachers’ hands-on approach to instruction was an inspiration to him. He knew that he wanted to go to college for music and he “didn’t think that being a rock star was going to work out” so he went into music education. Music continues to be part of his life as he plays drums in his church orchestra — maybe still working on that rock star dream??
Music isn’t Jim’s only passion. He also enjoys writing and photography. He uses his writing skills to communicate regularly with parents and staff through newsletters and memos. He has also had three articles published in the Urban Magazine, based in Fort Smith. He blogs and posts to a Facebook page for the Lake Alma Trail and the Ozark Highland Trail Association, where he serves as a board member. His love of hiking and the outdoors was evident when asked what he would be doing if not in his current position and his response was “hiking the Appalachian Trail.” Beautiful outdoor pictures line the wall of the hallway outside his office, all which were taken by Jim.
The respect the Alma Intermediate School staff has for Jim was easy to see while visiting the school. And his appreciation of the staff was also visible. He noted that he has an excellent assistant principal, Suzy Ferguson. He knows that he can rely on her to take care of things at school when his out. That allows him to participate in professional organizations such as AAEA, where he is a very active member.
“I would like to be remembered as someone who was committed to his students, teachers, and his family. Someone who continued to learn and grow. I want others to remember me the way I remember one of my mentors, Glynn Calahan. She recognized and reinforced the strengths in others and helped them build on those strengths.” – Jim Warnock
What is your favorite thing about your job?
“Helping facilitate professional growth which then has an impact on students.”
What is the most challenging part of your job?
“Helping teachers navigate change and finding time to have conversations on deep knowledge in teaching and learning.”
What do you enjoy doing in your time off?
“Hiking and photography.”
Advice for someone considering a similar career:
“Look at the reason you want to do it. If you are aspiring to be a principal and you are not excited about teaching, you should probably do something other than education. I also always advise an aspiring principal to check out the superintendent before taking a job. The key to success as a principal is the superintendent you get to work for.” Jim commented that he has had the opportunity to work with three awesome superintendents: Bob Watson, Charles Dyer, and David Woolly.
What is something you are proud of?
“I am proud to know that I am the principal of a school that I wish I could have attended when I was a kid.”
If you weren’t in your current position, what would you be doing?
“Hiking the Appalachian Trail.”
Where do you see yourself in five years?
“Still trying to figure out how to be a good principal.”
“When in doubt, take a step.”
One word to sum you up:
“Jim Warnock represents what a great principal should be. He is first and foremost the instructional leader in his school. The great majority of his day is spent actively engaged with teachers and students in the learning process. And the results show!”
— David Woolly, Alma Superintendent
What we do as educators matters and may change the trajectory of a child’s life long-term. I know I’m stating the obvious but, as this story illustrates, our actions have significant consequences on children.
A student moved into Alma last summer. The parents were unsure where their child should attend since she was being retained. They produced a letter from the elementary principal in another town and school district (which will remain nameless). The letter said the child was being retained in the 2nd grade because she had “not mastered the skills necessary to move on to the next grade level.” The letter went on to say, “Once a child is moved on to the next grade level, he or she never again has the chance to ‘go back’ and learn the skills of the previous grade.” This statement made me angry. Since when did grade-level skills become so specific, clearly defined, and easy to measure? Since when did children become consistently formed cogs that fit so tightly into specific grade levels in our schools? I’m continually “going back” and relearning things. Sometimes I learn things I missed or that became relevant to me later in life. The same thing happens with children and with much more fluidity.
I resisted the urge to scream “educational malpractice” after reading the principal’s letter and looked for evidence of the need for retention. I should give full disclosure here and say that I don’t believe repeating a grade is good practice in education. One reason I don’t care for this practice is that I have found no creditable research that supports retention. But, we looked at the evidence on this child.
- Attendance in second grade…pretty good.
- Grades in second grade….All As and Bs with one C.
- Light’s Retention Scale results….none had been done.
- Student attitude about retention….Neither the child nor the parents had been asked about this.
- Test scores from spring of second grade…. From 62nd to 81st percentile in various sub-tests in Math. Lower in reading with scores below the 40th percentile with higher scores being in reading comprehension. This would register concern about fluency skills and developmental delays which might be recovered with intervention and good teaching.
After having the parents complete a Light’s Retention Scale and consulting together about the results, we decided she should not be retained.
Since August we’ve seen this child engage in learning and enjoy strong relationships with teachers and her peers in our third grade. She is progressing at a good rate based on all assessment criteria.
How different might her life have been if she’d gone through another year of second grade? I think we avoided what would have been a long and negative trajectory because we made thoughtful decisions about this child and placed her with wonderful, engaging teachers. What we do matters.