POV: Did you screen the film at your school? What did parents and students have to say? What kind of responses have you gotten from your local community and others to the film?
Kerry Purcell: Since I am no longer the principal at Harvard Park Elementary School, I was not able to screen the film at my school. However, I did do a special screening for all Harvard Park Elementary School staff on Friday, September 11, 2009. I felt that it was very important that I created an opportunity for a shared viewing for those who desired or needed that. As anyone who views the film quickly discovers, the content of the film is, at times, heavy and emotional. The scenes beautifully, yet emotionally, depict the heart work that occurs within the walls of not only Nash and Harvard Park, but within the walls of all schoolhouses across our great country. For the most part, the reactions of staff members after the initial viewing were positive. Folks felt as though the film was honest and real. They also felt as though it was about time. About time that the story of heart work came out to those policy makers, community members, etc. who make decisions about public education, yet may not ever get the chance to step inside a school. Those who viewed the film were also left with the feeling of wanting more. They felt as though there were so many untold stories that make their work "hard work" stories of the heart that those who are willing to listen must hear.
In terms of the local community's reaction to the film, I must say that it has been pretty quiet. There was a small article in the newspaper and a local radio interview that only occurred because they were a host site to an NPR interview which I participated in to support the film. I feel that this is unfortunate as we, as a school staff, feel that the film doesn't just represent Harvard Park but the larger community as well. I am very anxious to see the community response once it premieres on local PBS networks.
POV: How are you enjoying being a consultant? What schools have you visited in your work as a consultant? Do you miss Harvard Park? If viewers are interested in helping the students at Harvard Park what can they do?
Purcell: People often ask me if I enjoy my new role as a senior consultant with Focus on Results. I would say, overall, that I enjoy the job very much. I find the work of supporting districts and schools across the country to be challenging and rewarding. Focus on Results works with districts and schools across the country as they strive to close the achievement gap and raise expectations for all students. What's great about our work is that it is not an "out of the box" program. We look at ourselves as service providers for district and school teams and work in collaboration with them to enhance their practices through data analysis, identifying a focus, selecting best practices, providing targeted pd and time for teacher talk, reallocating resources, and engaging families. It's exciting, challenging and fun because the work looks the same, yet different, everywhere. My current clients that I feel so blessed to serve are located in Mt. Sterling, IL, Pittsburgh, PA, and Worcester, MA. I learn something from each place I visit as we work together to support the needs of every child, in every classroom, every day no matter what!
As much as I enjoy my new work, I miss Harvard Park more that words can describe. I cannot watch the film without feeling a huge sense of loss. Leaving Harvard Park was probably the most difficult decision I have ever made in my life. Harvard Park is part of me and I will always and forever have a special place in my heart for the school, the staff, the students, and the families that make up that most wonderful place.
Like any school, Harvard Park is faced with the uphill battle of meeting AYP while attending to matters of the heart. With that said, what the community can do to support the school that would have the greatest impact is to get involved. The whole idea of "taking a village to raise a child" is so true. The work that teachers and principals have to do has become so overwhelming that without community support; they will quickly burn out and ultimately give up. I would encourage anyone who can to consider making a financial donation that could be used to buy books for children without books at home. Or perhaps they would rather give the gift of time by serving as a volunteer at family events, which are typically held monthly. If neither of those is of interest, then perhaps someone might be interested in forgoing their office party during the holidays and using those funds to adopt a classroom where they would host a holiday party for those kiddos who may not get to celebrate elsewhere. And for those who want to jump in with both feet, become a mentor to a child. This, by far, is the ultimate gift of service in the life of a child.
POV: What advice would I give to new principals starting their first year?
Purcell: So, here's my top ten list (in no specific order) that I have given to new principals that I have had the honor of welcoming into the wonderful world of administration.
- Lead with your head and lead with your heart.
- Remember that before you lead you must manage. The culture and climate must be ready for learning and that takes time, thought, and a commitment to establishing rituals and routines that foster a safe learning environment.
- Build relationships — real relationships. People don't care what you know until they know that you care.
- Get in classrooms. There is much research to show that it does make a difference when you strive to be in classrooms 50% of the instructional day.
- Get a mentor or coach. The principalship can feel very isolated and lonely. Find that person who can be your support and your critical friend all at the same time. Meet regularly with that person.
- Advocate for your school community. And don't forget to bring the data with you. People will listen more closely when you talk using the facts.
- Set high expectations. Set them for yourself, your staff, your students, your families, and your community. Then watch people rise to the occasion.
- Establish a focus, set your goals, make a plan, and then get to work Overloading the buffet plate with a lot of initiatives and programs just won't do it.
- Open the door and communicate. Listen to understand and speak to be heard. Remember that you set the tone for the building and that people want to "do the right thing" for you. Tell them. Show them. Support them. Celebrate them.
- Keep the balance. You can't be good to others if you aren't good to yourself. Airlines remind me of this everyday. They tell you to first put your oxygen mask on before you try to help the person sitting next to you. A good life lesson for everyone.
POV: What advice would you give to parents concerned about their children and their schools?
Purcell: Get involved. Get involved. Get involved. Parents are a child's first, last, and most important teacher. Don't be afraid to walk into their child's school and support it however they can. With that said, families must try to listen to understand. Remember that teachers and principals are trained to educate children and that they drive into the school parking lot each morning with the expertise to do just that. They also know and believe that in order to help all children achieve high standards that they must engage families. Now more than ever schools are opening their doors and providing opportunities for families to learn ways to support their child's learning and ways to grow their own learning. Take advantage of those opportunities. It is the greatest gift you can give to your child to be engaged and involved in their education which is the key to unlocking their dreams and making them come true.