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December 3, 2010

A Tribute to Great Leadership

Joe Charlebois

Not often in life is one so astonished at how quickly great leadership can turn around an organization like the one I’ve seen over the past two years at my children’s elementary school.


Prior to the arrival of Principal Jason Anderson, Monocacy Elementary parents were fleeing this elementary school in search of other local elementary schools and parochial schools much like sailors looking for a suitable lifeboat prior to abandoning a sinking ship.


The staff at the school was experiencing rapid turnover, and it was evident to parents that those who did stay were demoralized.


The current makeup of the school is similar to the makeup prior to Mr. Anderson’s arrival. Nearly 46% of all students receive reduced price or free lunches; nearly 14% don’t speak proficient English; nearly 11% receive some sort of special education; and there is over a10% turnover in the student population during the school year.


In comparison the neighboring Yellow Springs Elementary has little over 3% with limited English; 13.3% receive reduced cost or free lunches; and there is very little turnover in the student population. Over 12% of the students receive some sort of special education. To put it simply, Monocacy Elementary qualifies as a Title I school. Whittier and Yellow Springs do not.


Even though statistics for race are included in Frederick County Public Schools statistical analysis, the color of one’s skin is not a factor when determining how challenging an environment the school has when trying to educate a student. Matters of income and the ability to speak proficient English are much more representative of the challenges that educators have when teaching these elementary school students.


Single parent households or households with parents holding down multiple jobs are not conducive to providing parental support at home. The ability for parents to communicate with their children if they themselves have not received extended education isn’t conducive to providing parental support either. These are the challenges that teachers and administrators in schools like Monocacy, North Frederick or even Lincoln have to deal with.


The life breathed into this once dying school is so tangible and noticeable that Monocacy Elementary, its leadership and parent organizations were featured in a week-long series by Marge Neal, of The Frederick News-Post in August.


Why the excitement? Fifth grade has become departmentalized for more specific enriched math, reading and writing. The school has instituted a STEM program that provides enrichment in science, technology, engineering and math. Mr. Anderson has provided the spark and forward thinking that was lacking previously. Children in every grade are receiving enrichment tailored to their needs even more so than before.


Prior to his arrival, teachers, much like disenchanted parents, looked to put in their time and then transfer to other “better” schools. Now, in a little more than a year, teachers are not leaving, but, to the contrary, are specifically choosing to come to Monocacy Elementary because it is an environment that is rewarding to the students, teachers and administrators alike.


The attitude that emanated from the very top was one of acceptance. Accepting that based on the population of students lower scores were to be expected and that expecting anything more was asking too much.


The new attitude scorches that theory and expects all of these children to excel. If they are advanced, they are pushed even harder; if they are behind, they are pushed to catch up to grade level; if they are in the middle of the pack, the teachers and staff expect many of them to be advanced by years’ end.


Statistics back this up. According to Progress Report #22 Vol. II, every single category of student showed progress, if not significant progress, in every category of 3-5 Grade MSA scores. In reading scores, 36% scored in the advanced category versus 26% and 28% in the previous two years. In the math category, 31% scored in the advanced category versus 24% and 23% in the previous two years respectively.


The teachers wanted to provide the best education possible; the parents wanted the children to get the most out of their elementary school and prepare them for middle school. It wasn’t until the introduction of a great leader and visionary that put the tools and “can do” spirit in their hands and said “let’s go!” before the magic was back.


Mr. Anderson is an example of how a positive outlook, providing a great atmosphere to work, and engaging the community can work in any environment.


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