Last week’s column

Pub­li­ca­tion: Free­dom — OCR - Pla­cen­tia News-Times; Date: March 24, 2017; Sec­tion: News; Page Num­ber: 3

Start­ing small to make the big pic­ture better

I’ve been think­ing a lot lately about the kind of view we take of things, from the big pic­ture, to the close-up. For exam­ple, we can look at Pla­cen­tia as a city, cit­ing sta­tis­tics and mak­ing gen­er­al­iza­tions about “most of the people.”

Or we can look at each person’s life in our city and see if we can make it better.

It was an idea that was dri­ven home this week when I got to par­tic­i­pate in the Pla­cen­tia Yorba Linda Uni­fied School District’s “Prin­ci­pal for a Day.” Peo­ple from the busi­ness and gov­ern­ment sec­tors were invited to shadow a prin­ci­pal, and learn what they do.

I was assigned to Sierra Vista Ele­men­tary School, where I met with Prin­ci­pal Shirley Fargo. Not know­ing what to expect, I brought some books as presents. I was very excited to be there, and was ready to do any­thing I was told.

They could have asked me to sweep the floors, and I would have said yes.

I thought I knew what a prin­ci­pal does. In a way, I equated it with upper-level man­agers, who mon­i­tor per­for­mance and dead­lines, and report their depart­ment to the next level in the chain.

Ele­men­tary school prin­ci­pals just do it in a kind, upbeat way, per­haps sur­rounded by Dr. Seuss books and plush animals.

I was sur­prised to see how involved Ms. Fargo was with all the stu­dents. She knew their names and greeted them all in the morn­ing, not an easy feat when you have almost 500 names and faces to remember.

We spent our time vis­it­ing class­rooms and talk­ing to stu­dents. I got to see all of the tech­no­log­i­cal advances they have imple­mented to help the chil­dren learn. In between, she answered a few calls to the office to han­dle this or that prob­lem. I tagged along, try­ing not to insert myself.

The prob­lems were minor. A cou­ple of stu­dents were too rough with each other, not because they were angry or mean, but because they are young and bois­ter­ous and don’t always have self-control. Par­ents were called, stu­dents were coun­selled, and the school day went on.

One lit­tle boy was new to the school, and the teacher rec­og­nized imme­di­ately that he was strug­gling with the mate­r­ial in her class. She sprang into action, along with the admin­is­tra­tive staff, to get infor­ma­tion from his pre­vi­ous school and make cer­tain he was in a class where he could succeed.

The inci­dent hit home for me, when I thought about our schools. There is an over­all, big pic­ture view of these mea­sured enti­ties, con­sist­ing of grade point aver­ages, test scores, atten­dance records, etc. I used to believe these were impor­tant, to be able to tell whether a school was “a good choice.”

Now I’m not con­vinced. The school I saw today was made up of chil­dren, smil­ing faces who wanted to learn. The teach­ers were lively and involved, doing any­thing they could think of to keep the stu­dents motivated.

And the prin­ci­pal, plus her staff, were com­mit­ted to keep­ing each child from falling through the cracks.

Today, if I was look­ing for a school, I’d search for the one that teaches each child accord­ing to their abil­i­ties, encour­ages their curios­ity, and mod­els kind and thought­ful behav­ior. Would a more suc­cess­ful child move the sta­tis­ti­cal needle?

I don’t know, but maybe if each person’s life is bet­ter, the big pic­ture will look brighter.

Long­time Pla­cen­tia res­i­dent Gayle Car­line tracks those moments that shape her days as a wife, mom, com­puter whiz and horse­woman. E-mail her at [email protected].

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