I couldn’t believe that our half-day School Site Council district training was scheduled for September 13, 2001. Two short days after you-know-what had broken loose. When I called the district office to see if the meeting was to still take place I silently prayed, one of many prayers that escaped from my lips that week, that it would be cancelled. I assumed that since life had changed for so many of us that normal businesses would take a little extra time to commence. I was wrong, and when I remembered how I spent the morning of September 11 in my daughter’s school it confirmed that life, and school, would definitely go on.
Eddie had called me about 7AM to give me a brief synopsis (He was pretty busy downtown). At the very least, for now, I might not be going to work he said. I dispatched my six-year-old to her room to finish dressing, switched on the news, called my boss and tried to digest what was happening. My boss assured me that our three-story building in Burbank was not a target and I agreed to meet him there once I got Sam off to school.
Holding back my tears like other drivers that morning, I silently drove her to her campus. Gone were the clusters of pubescent students milling about discussing video games and new Disney-themed outfits waiting for the first bell to sound. Not knowing if anything else had occurred in my short drive to her school (I hadn’t dared to turn on 1070 in front of her to find out) I decided to walk her up to the vice-principal that appeared to be standing guard.
We were instructed, along with other stray children, to wait in the multi-purpose room for the teachers. Just like a rainy day schedule, or so it seemed. I continued along the path, picking up some of Samantha’s classmates along the way, straight through the double doors. By the time we got to the banquet table and benches that our class had assembled at, the swarm of children, and their quizzical looks, had grown.
Every space was quickly occupied with backpacks, lunch pails and the increasing sound of children’s voices. “What’s happening?” “Where is our teacher?” “Ginas way over there and she looks scared cos she can’t find us.”, “Why are the big kids pointing guns (fingers) at us?” I distracted them by playing Duck, Duck, Goose and asked them about their weekends, taking heart that they all knew and trusted me from working in their classroom. I left the weighty responsibility of explanation on the trained hands of their teachers, quite respectfully.
It was quite the scene until the principal appeared with a bullhorn that was not quite large enough to be heard throughout the room. He countered his voice with the two fingers on his free hand raised high over his head displaying the “Peace” sign. I quickly discovered that what we old-timers had used for “Peace” now meant, “Quiet”. I think that small sign calmed me down as the kids and staff around the room slowly added their own “Quiet” signal to his. Not unlike the waving American flags that are continually added to our own landscapes, it was beautiful.
Fast forward to the Site Council Training meeting that did take place and I was quick to learn that the education of our children doesn’t abate during a national crisis. By the end of the meeting I was to feel that fact more proudly.
I was lucky enough to hear from six of Newhall’s elementary school principals as well as our superintendent, Dr. Marc Winger. I learned that each school has it’s own goals and are very proactive in achieving them. One principal encouraged her staff to use post-it notes to jot down ideas for change that they’d like to see in five years time. This way ensuring that they are “beginning with the end in mind.”
The ELL (English Language Learner) that makes up a reasonable percentage of our student body is not ignored with the adoption of the English Immersion program. An ELL Advisory Council is in place at each school. One of our schools is able to donate an entire room for these children, and their parents, to familiarize themselves with the same learning tools used in the classrooms.
Forth, fifth and sixth graders that achieve outstanding scores on the OLSAT Ability Test, SAT9 and have strong teacher recommendation are enrolled in the GATE (Gifted and Talented) program. These students are encouraged to design, create, analyze and compare beyond their regular studies and make up the top 2% of the nation’s students.
If you had been there, from your own School Site Council, you would undoubtedly have differing notes from mine. Maybe you would have been most impressed with how the budget is actually managed amongst all of the programs our schools have. Or maybe the three-page list of acronyms and their translations would have kept you too busy. Or if you hadn’t read one of my earlier columns you would have spent most of your time reviewing the SIP program.
Suffice to say that I was duly impressed with the principals that make up our district. And convinced that if that crushing blow hadn’t hit us all on September 11 I would still appreciate that the best place for my daughter to be that morning was in the hands of the capable administrators, teachers and staff at her very own school.