Saturday, July 27, 2013

6 Lessons Learned from Opening a New School

It seems like a long, winding path finally came to an end as our community celebrated the first day of school this past Wednesday.  Actually it only seems like a long and winding path because it indeed WAS very long and very winding.  Here are a few thoughts on what was learned from opening  Camarena Elementary School this past Wednesday.

1.  We have definitely proved that you need to get the right people on the bus. - The teaching and support staff at Camarena are exceptional in every way.  They bring skill, dedication, and devotion to creating a great school for our community.  As the leader, I'm inspired and motivated to help build the culture that will support this dynamic staff and their lofty goals.

2.  Infrastructure is Invisible and Essential - We had some plumbing issues the first week - nasty plumbing issues!  Are there any other kind?  It reminded me of the critical importance of the infrastructure that we often only notice or appreciate when it doesn't work.  Our IT department installed a robust wireless system that will make it possible for us to connect all of our students with the information and experts that can enhance their learning continuously.  People like Barbara Uribe, Beth Hart, and Antwon Lincoln helped us prepare devices and plan our roll out for maximum impact on learning.  That is only a small segment of the army of people who helped get this school ready for 950 students on opening day.  There was the Human Resources Department that helped us hire our staff.  There was the purchasing department and the impressive Ann Pering who ordered materials, chased down vendors and kept track of PO#s and deliveries like an expert wedding planner.  And this is only a sampling of the countless folks who had a hand in this massive undertaking, and whether they were ordering and delivering textbooks or planting sod on the fields, they all had a contribution to the final product that our students are enjoying.

3.  Communication needs to be constant, varied - Our school website has successfully connected with many in our community to help them stay abreast of the changing dynamics of our school opening.  We gained visitors and viewers all summer until we peaked at 650 visitors and over 5,000 views on opening day.  Our communication is still FAR from perfect but it was important to use a variety of channels including website, phone, e-mail, and community forums to reach out to as many families as possible.

4.  Details matter, but don't sweat 'em too much - Wayne Kibbe, the building superintendent from Balfour Beatty really impressed me with his knowledge of and attention to details.  He left no stone unturned in getting our magnificent building and grounds ready.  As we approached the final hours of preparation, there came a moment when it was time to head home and leave well enough alone. It is possible to get too focused on minutia and lose sight of the big picture.  I have always love the expression that says you can put a dime so close to your face that it will block out the sun.

5.  Media attention is nice but I'm looking to make more substantial connections - Since we were a new school, we attracted attention from local media and it was gratifying for our community to get some positive press on the opening week.  However, my hope is that we will make far more connections of the type that will bring experts and fellow learners into our classroom through virtual tools and social media.

6.  Relationships First - My last 20 minutes with the staff at the end of 7 days of professional development focused on Teacher Student Relationship Quality.  That is the most important aspect of our work and the foundation for positive and productive learning for our students.  Our teachers value this highly and got off on the right note Wednesday morning with positive greetings.  My point was that we may not get everything right and probably didn't, but we must get that teacher/student relationship, and indeed the parent/school relationship right every time.

These are just a few of the lessons that I've learned from opening this new school.  I must say I'm a little glad to have the pomp and circumstance behind us so that we can now focus on the reason why we came together in the first place - to create a learning environment where every child can thrive and our neighborhood will be enhanced.  Looking forward to the next step in our journey here at Camarena Elementary.