The Third Principal: Now It's Nancy
Nancy Picard's primary goal "was empowerment; I believed that it was the principal's job to empower teachers, students, and parents both as a means for creating a quality school and as an end in itself." This empowerment meant removing barriers and expanding what had been started under Lucianne and Clif. "I put something of an academic focus on and tried to model this at Morning Meeting. I felt like my job was to empower people around me."
To make teachers feel appreciated and valued, and to know that they were important, Nancy encouraged special events such as a parent-sponsored potluck lunch for teachers on the first day of school. "You'd hear kids say, 'We don't do that at Dibert.' I wanted teachers to say with pride that, 'We do this at Dibert; I teach at Dibert.'" New school T-shirts were created using a kindergartner's design and a kindergarten coffee was initiated, where Picard would speak to different parent groups and invite them to the school for a tour given by Dibert parents. It was an effort at public relations, and "it gave the teachers a chance to show off." All these activities were directed toward the goal of increasing teachers' self-esteem.
Nancy's strategies included communicating to teachers that they had the power to set goals and that the school as a community would support them in accomplishing those goals. Nancy takes pride in the Arts Connection program as an example of the way a sense of empowerment developed among teachers at Dibert. Teachers were interested in writing a proposal to get a program to provide more opportunities for children in the visual arts. "The fact that teachers would work on their own to seek an arts grant and then plan and execute the program was a testament to the accomplishment of my personal goal at the school, which was not simply to establish an arts program but to establish an atmosphere and a mind-set that would encourage and enable others in the school to establish a program as well."
Another goal Nancy accomplished was that of removing administrative procedures that interrupted teachers' instructional activities. "My message to teachers was, 'You are professionals. I value you for your work with students. I don't want you to have to spend any more energy on other tasks than necessary." Her efforts resulted in limiting non-instructional tasks required of teachers, and providing structures for shared decision making and teacher professional development.
During Nancy's tenure, parents contributed time and took responsibility for projects at the school, thus freeing teachers to teach. She involved parents in the process for lunch money collection. In this way, Nancy moved toward empowering parents as well as teachers. Improving the parents' bulletin also helped to involve parents. The monthly bulletin was upgraded with pictures and a logo, nicely printed and mailed out to parents, local businesses, and to community people monthly.
Encouraging the elimination of anything that detracted from teaching, Nancy takes some credit for the computerization of the daily attendance report required by the district. She developed a weekly faculty bulletin to eliminate administrative items that took time in faculty meeting. Included were celebrations and praises for children and teachers who were doing those kinds of things she liked to see happen, making sure that over time she mentioned something about each teacher. The bulletin reduced administrivia and highlighted activities she wanted to foster in the school.
Under Nancy's administration, a new report card was designed that was both administratively easy and reflected what the school was trying to do with the students. Nancy reviewed every child's report card and modeled the type of comments she felt teachers should include. She developed "a handout with suggested ways of communicating difficult messages to parents in a positive manner." The new report card eliminated duplication of record keeping by teachers and more "adequately reflected the skills that were being taught at each level." Teachers were highly involved with Nancy in the process through "many lengthy and loud discussions of curriculum, child development, grade levels, etc. We produced a new report card that reflected our curriculum, our expectations for our children and was easier to complete in the bargain."
Nancy surveyed parents to solicit their suggestions, comments, concerns. This was done in concert with the school's management team she organized, including the lower- and upper-grade chairpersons, special education chairperson, a union representative, two parents, a university professor, and a community person constituted the first team. The management team was designed as another way to reserve Faculty Study for teachers' professional development needs. The team represented the teachers and was a smaller body of people that would be more efficient in soliciting information and making decisions about how the school would operate - decisions that their colleagues would support.
Nancy sought to empower students as well as teachers and parents. The Dibert student council conducted meetings where junior high principals from across the district came to inform Dibert parents and students about grades and other requirements of the various schools. "I wanted students to know they had a choice about what they could do with their lives, the direction they could take, the schools they could choose, etc."