With all the fuss about new standards and assessments, teacher and principal evaluations, and other outside pressures on schools, it's easy to lose sight of a well-balanced approach to our classrooms. Washington Montessori, in Greensboro, North Carolina, is working hard to meet the challenge of focusing on the whole child. The school is the 2014 recipient of the Vision in Action: The ASCD Whole Child Award.
Principal Sharon Jacobs says of her school that "our teachers are the magicians and the children are our superstars." Jacobs has a quiet assured presence. Dressed in school colors, a warm smile, and long strands of pearls, she speaks with unguarded passion about the teachers, families, and students of her school, the journey they have taken together over the last several years, and her hopes for the future.
Jacobs brought an enthusiastic team of educators with her to the ASCD conference to receive the award: Paulita Musgrave and Shanta Buchanan from the curriculum team; Gillian Hill, Erin Deal, and Eileen Martin from the teaching staff. I don't think anything made me smile more over the last week than seeing the faces of these women when Ms. Jacobs told them about the award---the secret finally shared with the larger audience. For Jacobs, the work is not solely about the whole child, it is also about the whole teacher and the whole parent.
Teachers list Jacobs's strength as her ability as a communicator. She often begins conversations with "I need your help..." or asks what staff need in order to meet the needs of students. The school has changed greatly over the last decade. Not only has it had to rebuild from a threatened shutdown due to poor performance, it has transformed to Montessori methods and the staff has grown from 20 to 70. Eileen, one of the teachers, was originally a paraeducator and bus driver for the school. Jacobs understands how to grow people---how to help them recognize and build on their assets.
The positive effects they've had on student learning are not solely because of the principal, as she is the first to admit. It has taken effort on the part of everyone to make this difference. There is a lot of support from parents and families in the classroom and in the district. Parents from the school now lead sessions on Common Core and other topics for parents across the school district. Students also help by teaching parents at family nights. They set out the lesson materials and lead the learning experiences.
Principal Jacobs also speaks to the legacy of her school---part of the building was constructed in 1915 and she and the staff feel a responsibility to keep the story of the school alive. More importantly, however, is the legacy they are building in the abilities and dreams of their students.
This school is magic, indeed. Congratulations, Washington Elementary!