The teachers came back Tuesday morning for the start of a new school year in the Franklin County School District, and there was no mistaking what they heard from a new administration.
We’re a team, and let’s work together, and support one another, in a real and positive way, so we can “Successfully Educate All Students.”
The acronym for that phrase is SEAS and while that’s mainly a catchy phrase to ignite the energy of the new year, the welcome back message at breakfast from Superintendent Traci Moses, and Franklin County Schools Principal Jill Rudd, both embarking on their first full school years in their jobs, was earnest.
It’s a message that was ignited Monday, as part of a team building exercise, with a smaller group of teachers, composed of several of the 18 new ones who are joining the staff, partnered with veterans. They raced around the county as if on a treasure hunt, learning about places of interest, meeting new faces, snapping selfies together on the beach, each bonding together on teams with names like Osprey Oldies, and the FCS (the Fantastic Corps of) Superheroes.
The Ham Hawks, composed of the new Spanish teacher Ruben Uribe, new elementary dean Shelly Miedona, new middle school phys ed teacher Kevin Cox, and veteran teachers Stacy DeVaughn, and Kati-Morgan Hathcock, ended up winning, so each got a Yeti cup donated by Ace Hardware in Apalachicola.
We all need to work together if we’re going to succeed, resonated the spirit of the first two days. And each of you, the teachers, is a vital and appreciated part of the team.
It wasn’t all words, there was a tangible gift too, a starfish key chain, that the administration shared Tuesday morning with the teachers, as an ongoing reminder.
“We know the struggles you have every single day at Franklin County. We have to be a team,” urged Rudd in her remarks, as she stressed hat both she and new Assistant Principal Rob Wheetley, are each just one year, at most two, out of their previous roles inside of the classroom.
“Our job is to support you in every respect,” she said. “Your job is to support the students.”
The welcome back message of unity carried it with a dynamic that can probably be described as consistent branding. Moses unveiled a new logo, created by the school’s digital design students, that will embody the county’s logo, taking its place alongside the original drawing of a soaring Seahawk created by the late Jonathan Riley.
“We want to have all students working towards knowledge and success,” said Moses.
As part of the freedom being afforded the new leadership, the school board voted Monday evening to give the school administration leeway to craft a more flexible cellphone policy that makes some specific allowances while continuing to limit their presence and use. That policy will be unveiled at the open house at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 3.
Probably the most inspiring message came from the current Teacher of the Year Natasha Pennycuff, who admitted her own shyness when she came forward to deliver a presentation focusing on the tenets of family, team, positivity and persistence.
“When we step out of our comfort zone that’s where your greatest learning begins,” she said.
She reminded her colleagues to remember they are “The I in family,” and to work every day to keep that a reality.
“We sitting in this room are a family,” said Pennycuff. “Don’t take the I out of the word family.” We need to enjoy each other’s company.”
In the remarks by Moses and Rudd, each pointed to their own children, and their successes, a parent’s pride that underscored the message that each and every schoolkid must be treated by their teachers with support and devotion, like a by a parent.
She stressed the importance of “positive perception,” about how things change when you change how you view them.
“You have a choice over how you do it,” she said. “Sometimes we don’t see the possibilities of how the situation can change.”
Pennycuff closed with a saying stemming from the famous one about how the mountain will come to Mohammed. “You have been assigned this position to show others it can be moved,” she said.
Following the breakfast, which was attended by School Board Members Pam Marshall and Carl Whaley, the teachers attended the first of a rotation of four sessions, together with the teachers from Apalachicola Bay Charter School, held over two days.
The four sessions addressed “conscious discipline;” the new FOCUS system that combines grades, attendance and disciplinary actions in a computer program that parents are encouraged to keep abreast of; the Marzano method for teacher evaluation; and a follow-up session on the Florida Standards Assessment led by Dr. Orapallo.
The breakfast ended with an impromptu dance session led by Rudd, designed to help teachers relax and have fun amidst an intense day back.
Rudd is promising lots more of these enjoyable surprises throughout the year, all part of a stress on fulfilling the awesome task of educating every single student.