Six down, 44 to go. That’s what NASSP President Gregg Wieczorek might be thinking after a full week of visiting schools in late September in the first leg of Leading Forward: The Listening and Learning Tour. But Wieczorek is far from exhausted, even after touring eight schools in four days in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. He’ll resume the tour Oct. 12 with a swing through the Northeast

“To me, this is very energizing,” he says. “This has been the best week of my professional career. It gets my blood flowing seeing all these great things that are going on and all these cool ideas.”

Below, Wieczorek talks about what he hopes to accomplish with the tour and his initial impressions, followed by brief highlights from each stop.

In Search of Innovation and Connection

The idea behind the tour is to visit every state to highlight innovative programs and ways that schools are connecting with students and the broader community. When I visit schools, I ask two questions: What you are most proud of as principal? And what’s one innovation you’ve implemented that costs less than $1,000?

Here’s an idea from my own school. I have a portable desk. I put my computer on it, and I stand in front of the building and greet kids as they arrive each morning instead of sitting inside and doing emails. That desk was $800, but it has really improved my visibility in the school.

I got that idea from a former NASSP president who had done school visits. She told me about it, and I thought, ‘Principals are doing cool things all over the country!’ When I’ve told other principals about the portable desk, many say they plan to try it, too.

I’m looking forward to sharing what I learn with other school leaders. No one will try everything, but if we have 100 great ideas, maybe someone will try two or three of them.

Here are some ideas from the first schools I visited:

Good Hope Middle School, West Monroe, LA
Twainna Calhoun, Principal

GAP enrichment program

GAP provides an additional 25-minute enrichment period in the morning. Students report to a teacher-adviser and work on assignments from their classroom teachers. These assignments complement instruction in their regular classrooms and help prepare the students for greater success in them.

GAP features a different subject each day. Classroom teachers do GAP four days a week; on the fifth day, elective teachers take over GAP, which gives the classroom teachers time for department-wide collaboration.

Northwest Rankin High School, Flowood, MS
Ben Stein, Principal

30+ Club

While many schools hang banners of senior athletes in their sports venues, Northwest Rankin has a different approach: The school hangs banners of students with an ACT score of 30 or better in the hallways. Each year, the banners, donated by the company that takes school photos, are moved to the graduation venue to celebrate the seniors.

Classroom at New Albany Middle School
Classroom at New Albany Middle School

New Albany Middle and High School, New Albany, MS
Lance Evans, Superintendent

IMPACTO (Industry as a Means to Prepare for Academic, Career, and Technology Opportunities)

IMPACTO is a two-year program for juniors and seniors to explore careers. The district provides funds for students to do 100-hour internships, paying $8.50 an hour, at local businesses. Employers offer free on-the-job training, and students get a head start in workplaces where some get hired after their internships. The program has grown to more than 70 business partners, who now are more connected to and supportive of the district.

James Clemens High School, Madison, AL
Brian Clayton, Principal

Hands-on classes

The school gives students real-life work experiences through various academies. For example, when I visited the medical academy, students were wearing scrubs and working on classmates who pretended to have medical issues. The room was equipped with modern medical devices as well as full-size medical mannequins that simulated patients with real ailments.

Murray County High School, Chatsworth, GA
Gina Linder, Principal

Signing the principal’s graduation gown

When the principal took the helm 11 years ago, the graduation rate was 58 percent. Most of the focus was on students planning to attend postsecondary school. She worked to change the narrative and stress the importance of all students graduating. An idea that made the biggest impact was allowing graduating seniors to sign the graduation gown the principal wore during commencement. Today, those 11 gowns now hang from the cafeteria rafters. After graduation, many students get their picture taken with the principal while pointing to their name on her gown. The graduation rate last year: 96 percent.

Principal Gina Linder’s graduation gowns signed by students hang from the cafeteria rafters at Murray County High School in Chatsworth, GA.
Principal Gina Linder’s graduation gowns signed by students hang from the cafeteria rafters at Murray County High School in Chatsworth, GA.

Rock Hill High School, Rock Hill, SC
Ozzie Ahl, Principal

A split lunch period

All students and staff have an hour for lunch, which is split into two 30-minute periods. One half is for lunch. During the other half, students attend club meetings and get extra academic help from teachers who have office hours. Students sign up for which teacher they meet with each day.

Students’ artwork on display at Mallard Creek High School in Charlotte, NC.
Students’ artwork on display at Mallard Creek High School in Charlotte, NC.

Mallard Creek High School, Charlotte, NC
Jennifer Dean, Principal

Artistic pride

Student artwork is displayed in the halls and lobbies throughout the school. Even the principal has a wall in her office that displays artwork that is chosen by the students and changed periodically. The students’ respect for the artwork is evident as most of it is displayed openly; the school has never had an issue with it being defaced.

About the Author

Gregg Wieczorek is the president of NASSP and the principal of Arrowhead Union High School in Hartland, WI. Follow him on Twitter (@gregg_wieczorek).

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