The new “Santiam Elementary” was a curious mix of two staffs both of which knew each other, but were in some cases leery and in some areas dis-trustful of each other. The question was how were we going to bring these two groups together for the benefit of our students in two short weeks. After all, I still had to fulfill my roles of superintendent, maintenance director, transportation supervisor and support a high school principal who was finding it a challenge to shape a middle school / high school across the street.
Fortunately for all, both groups had a peer that the others all respected and listened to, and these professionals worked with me building a Leadership Team model that the staff would get behind during our initial in-service days. Our model survived, and gave voice to all parties while supporting our work and the initial rough spots. This would get us through the honeymoon, but what about our first challenge?
The first challenge came early, as the community was upset as were many of the teachers about the closing of Gates School. I was successful in finding a group of parents that were willing to establish a parent organization and help us do the community leg work of calming the families about the lack of a significant playground (let alone a safe one) for the new larger student body. We were able to make lemonade out of lemons and put together a group of parents that would work with teachers to design and find the funding for a quality playground and play structure to protect our kids from the Oregon rain. Neither Gates Elementary nor Mill City Middle School had an active parent organization so this was a strong first step in building trust among the staff and the community.
As the year progressed our staff worked with our Leadership Team and was able to blend the traditions of both schools, and even add some new ones as we slowly started to identify ourselves and as the Tigers of Santiam Elementary.
Our year ended with the school board funding the new playground/play structure along with support from some prominent local donors. The staff and PTO could look back on a tangible success that fostered their new identity, and instilled pride in their school.
What I learned in my Principal role at Santiam Elementary:
- Using my cultural awareness skills I brought together two school staffs that had argued against each other in having their schools blended to make one “new elementary” school of grades K-6. But “working” and “working together” took a full year with constant attention to integrating past traditions (expectations) from both groups into our current calendar and professional practices.