One year ago Keith Stewart and Mark Lofgren were about to embark on on professional path they had never traveled, school administrators. The pair were hired and charged with combining the PLT Middle and High School into a 6-12 campus and to try and bring stability to a revolving door of administrators and staff.
This week the pair sat down with Aroundptown.com to look back and reflect on a year that saw a myriad of changes on the campus. “It was a good experience, very rewarding, but it was a lot of change for me personally and a lot of change for this campus,”said Stewart.
The pair started their tenure impressively as they had two student involved service days planned and funded before they officially began their duties on July 1st.
“The word of the day last year was “change”, the word of the day this year will be “stability”. “I think we’re heading in a good direction,” added the principal.
One of the biggest challenges was changing a perceived unstable culture in the newly formed 6-12 campus. Stewart said the change had to start with, “a sense of mutual respect between teachers and between teachers and administrators. That is the golden rule. I can’t ask to be respected if I’m not going to show respect to my students or my staff.”
The new administrative structure of having one principal and one dean of students for the entire campus was a huge change. Lofgren said the feedback he received about the change was very positive. One of the familiar themes he heard early in the year was the need for students to “have a voice”. “By the end of the year I heard a lot of positive feedback that we as administrators had addressed many of their concerns.”
In aligning the two campuses, a concern of some parents about interaction between middle school and high school students was not an issue according to Lofgren. “The concerns within the student body were very minimal.” He added that one of the bigger challenges was getting away from an “us and them” mentality within the students and staff and getting them to buy into a “we are all on the same team” way of thinking.
In terms of goals set and accomplished during the first year Stewart said,”It’s always a moving target, there’s always another hill to climb.” “I think some of the things we have done with the physical campus have been great.” He cited the updating of the tennis courts, new batting cages, and other improvements to the athletic facilities. Those improvements were very important saying, “athletic facilities are the face of the campus, and it is where 90% of the community and parents interact with our school.”
Academic success is also a top priority with Stewart relating it back to creating a culture of respect, especially between administrators and teachers. He emphasized the importance of teachers being open to feedback and trying new things in their classrooms. “It was extremely gratifying to see many of the staff responding positively to the culture we are trying to establish.” Stewart said he had a lot of frank discussions with staff emphasizing working for the good of the entire campus.
Other issues that the administrative team will continue to address include improving SAT scores, lowering the dropout rate, and raising the attendance rate. Initiatives included restarting a summer school program, which was attended by approximately 20 students, giving staff clear directives, and reaching out to struggling students. A mentoring program was established for high school students who could receive credit for helping middle school students.
Lofgren said he had some profound experiences with students who found success during the summer school program. “It is rewarding to see students who realize, “I can do this, and people care about me”. That’s the stuff I’m here for, reaching kids who have potential that has not yet been unlocked.”
Lofgren and Stewart both agreed that one of the most rewarding days of the year was a final in-service day where the staff of the 6-12 campus generated multiple pages of ideas that they would like to see implemented in the future. “In those notes you see how excited our staff is to be directly involved in continuing to improve the education process.” The most difficult piece of any program is getting everyone involved to “buy in”, said Stewart.
The pair share a passion for seeing success with every student on the campus no matter what their circumstance. “We have to build a system that works for them,”said Lofgren.
Looking forward Stewart said he plans on continuing service days twice during the school year which let the students work on community projects with funding being provided by the Moore Foundation. He said major emphasis will be placed on continuing to make students academically successful and to understand respect and responsibility. The campus has a set of core values: Pride, Respect, Integrity, Diversity, and Excellence, which are the underlying foundation of all programs.
“There was a lot of experimentation and figuring things out last year, but I think the biggest thing is, we have established what we’re trying to do, and we will continue to figure out ways to grow those programs,” said Lofgren.
Stewart said he did not follow the general rule of a new administrator, which is to simply observe, but feels that jumping in and making significant change worked well.
“I’m excited about the second year it was probably quite shocking for a lot of internal stakeholders who were used to the status quo. There was a lot of change, structural change, policy change, just everything,” said Stewart.
Classes resume on Wednesday, August 14th.