As part of the search for a new principal at Beecher Road School, senior search consultant Mary Broderick published a leadership profile for the school with information gathered last fall from focus groups and a public survey. The profile presents a snapshot of how the school is viewed, from within as well as from the sidelines. It is posted on the school’s website, https://d15k2d11r6t6rl.cloudfront.net/public/users/Integrators/5eb55a21-9496-46ce-8161-f092fc9def23/woodbridge/2019-12-19/Woodbridge%20Leadership%20ProfileFINAL.pdf.
Some 191 participants offered input, 36 of those in person, she told the Board of Education when she first introduced the profile at the December board meeting. “The data collected do not constitute a scientific sampling,” she said, but “nevertheless the information yields some useful insights for the search process.”
Overall the picture that emerges is a positive one: Teachers and parents alike value education, enjoy the company of mostly adjusted kids and an administration that encourages initiative. “Participants talked about ‘the Beecher Way,’ where a strong, supportive community generates a spirit of caring, love, inclusivity, and support for children and staff alike,” Broderick wrote. And, even though the school building is large, it is child-centered. “This warm culture is combined with very high expectations and a deep commitment to excellence. High standards are maintained without stressing the children,” she said.
One hundred and eight current parents responded to the survey, and 29 parents of former students. About half of the teachers (33) participated and ten support staff; 51 Woodbridge residents also took the time to respond.
Ninety-one (91) focus group and survey participants mentioned the excellent staff as one of Beecher Road’s greatest strengths. Teachers at Beecher are considered “top notch,” highly skilled, caring professionals who have a great deal of expertise. Many participants (18) mentioned the Multi-Age Group (MAG) in particular as an exceptional learning option. This program offers project-based, collaborative learning with students in Grades 1 to 4.
Broderick also spoke warmly of the larger community. “Beecher Road School is the ‘crown jewel’ of the town, and its heart,” she wrote. Many residents are highly educated and support education. Parents have high aspirations for their children and want to contribute to the school. Open House events draw nearly 100% of the parents.
The PTO raises about $70,000 annually to support the school. “Parents want to be a part in shaping a positive culture at the school.”
Challenges: These strengths can also present challenges, especially for an incoming administrator. Differentiating instruction for instance, aims to build interest and growth in naturally curious youngsters. But with anxiety, depression and trauma on the rise, more time is spent dealing with emotional needs instead.
“Students are generally more socially anxious, manifesting effects of depression, anxiety, and trauma. Social media and the internet in general seem to play a role in generating anxiety. Students are also at school, in some cases, from early morning into evening. The results may be risky or extreme behavior and disruption to the education process,” she wrote. Teachers are increasingly challenged to provide the social and emotional support students need while addressing learning needs of students at all levels, and are looking to administrators for direction.
At the same time the administration, pressed by the town to keep budget increases low, is trying to avoid outplacement costs, and choosing instead to accommodate youngsters at the local school. The situation creates concern among some parents that resources are diverted from regular education to special education. “Eleven (11) participants would like to see more resources and programming for high achieving students and encouragement for students to exceed expectations,” she wrote.
It also becomes an issue of morale and school climate. Respondents have pointed out the challenge of dealing with this trend with just one principal and one assistant principal. “It’s hard to focus on a school vision when you also are responsible for curriculum development and implementation, professional development, PowerSchool, the budget, policy development, student discipline, human resources, parent relationships and communication, and making school feel like a community. The principal is also responsible for conducting about 30 teacher evaluations each year. “In Woodbridge, the position is considered a 24 hour/seven day/week responsibility because of all the responsibilities coupled with the high expectations of the community,” the profile reads.
That said, besides functioning without sleep, the most desired quality survey respondents wanted to see in the new administrator was “Cultivates and promotes shared vision to move all students to excellence” (28.9%); followed by “Builds trusting relationships with students, staff, and community” (21.1%). There was a tie for a distant third between “Is responsive to concerns or suggestions raised by stakeholders” and “Has broad base of knowledge of educational issues & practices” (both 9.2%).
What they are looking for is an accessible person who will be visible in the school and the community. The successful candidate will be a passionate educator, leader and manager, who will build an inclusive environment. “The position will require careful balancing of competing demands,” she wrote. “The successful principal will love the work…and a challenge.”
As far as the search is concerned, School Supt. Robert Gilbert said the Search Process is moving into the Interview phase. “Over the next month, we will review applications, select candidates to be interviewed and will conduct first and second round interviews.” The committee is comprised of representatives from the Board of Education, parents, teachers, teacher assistants and administrators.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent