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Facing the First Day

Principals help organize, train and give teacher support during the last days of summer.

The first thing Principal Michele Freeman does when she enters Rosa Lee Carter Elementary School every morning is walk the halls to see what supplies were dropped off during the night. Each day, supplies from books to furniture have been arriving at the new school and Rosa Lee Carter’s staff and faculty have been working hard to make sure the school is ready when students arrive. At the helm of the school and the organizational team, is Freeman, who has been Rosa Lee Carter’s principal since January.

"The teachers came back Wednesday and we moved in the day before," Freeman said. "We’re in so that’s a good thing, but we have a lot of work to do."

Rosa Lee Carter is one of the three new schools that will open its doors for the first time this year, and so, on top of her regular principal duties, Freeman finds herself shelving books in the library and learning about the new sound system being installed in the gym.

"There are no typical days here; every one is different," she said. "It is sort of like building a new house. We each have our own part, but we step beyond our typical roles to get done what needs to get done."

GETTING ROSA LEE Carter ready for the first day has become more than a full-time job, with Freeman and other members of the staff staying as late as 9 p.m.

"We have to stay on top of organizing materials," she said. "There are anywhere from 100 to 400 pieces of materials or furniture on each truck that arrives here. I can be overwhelming."

Having had several months to plan for the first day helped Freeman. While at the administration building she was able to schedule what materials would arrive when so that she could plan her organizational tasks accordingly. Freeman said parent volunteers have also become invaluable to her and the staff in the last few day.

"Next week we have parents coming in to organize the books for the classrooms," she said. "We had 10,000 books delivered for the library and it only took three hours to shelve them because we had such a turnout with parent volunteers."

In addition, Freeman is meeting with the fire marshal, doing walk through inspections of the school. She also has to look at parking to make sure there is enough spaces for staff and visitors, make drop-off maps for parents and create fire evacuation plans.

"Every system that you have in place for a school that makes it a safe environment for children, we’re doing," she said. "We’re really building these systems from scratch."

OVER AT Broad Run High School, long-term Principal Edgar T. Markley is also hard at work preparing for the first day. Instead of only having a couple of weeks in his school to prepare, however, Markley has been working in his office since school ended in June, in a cyclical process that has been developed over many years.

"Early in the summer, I sit down with my leadership team and go over graduation, the honor roll numbers, everything," he said. "I ask, is there anything we want to change? What are teachers saying? Do we want different responsibilities for the next school year?"

Everything that will happen at Broad Run in the weeks leading up to the first day, Markley assigns to members of the staff early in the summer, including schedules, class sizes, registration, ninth-grade orientation and building maintenance. One of the big things this year, is Broad Run got all new digital clocks, so for the first time each clock in the building will give the same time.

"Every year it is something," Markley said. "And we’re going to try and make it better."

WHILE HE BEGINS his work for the new school year as soon as the previous one ends, Markley does not rest during the summer, taking only a couple of weeks of vacation during July. Once he has to report at the beginning of August for Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick’s administrators meeting, the school year officially begins for Markley.

"That meeting sort of sets the tone for the year," he said. "There’s not a real beginning and end to things, they’re constantly moving forward and being tweaked."

Even after years as an administrator, Markley said he couldn’t imagine resting on his successes of the past. Instead, the 12-year Broad Run principal said he focuses on staff development and new programs to improve student learning. To do that, Markley looks to his committees, such as the literacy committee, to come up with new ideas to implement in the classroom.

"Four years ago we started doing 15 minutes of reading during flex time," he said. "Doesn’t matter if you are in English or P.E., if you are student or a teacher, we all take 15 minutes and read."

Two years ago, Broad Run implemented activities in each class that the students would begin the moment they entered the classroom.

"It’s anything you work on right away," Markley said. "It could be a hands-on activity, a review of yesterday’s material or an introduction to new material."

This year, Broad Run’s faculty will focus on note taking.

"The literacy committee is presenting these strategies and they are preparing strategies for every department," he said.

IN BETWEEN organizing her office and her school, Freeman is also working on staff development and creating a framework for education at Rosa Lee Carter.

"I have been working collaboratively with the teachers around the ideas of respect self, respect others and respect property," she said. "We need consistency from the beginning and we need the kids to see us already have a thought-out plan in place."

Everything being done at Rosa Lee Carter is based on the three principles Freeman has laid out.

"This is our school," she said. "Anything that happens in it is coming from us and so there’s a bit of ownership and pride there. It’s ours and we’re going to make sure it what we feel is best for kids."

In addition to holding a general staff meeting, Freeman also used the interview process as an opportunity for one-on-one time with each teacher, learning what they would like to see happen in their classroom in the coming year.

"I am feeling confident that we are building something that is going to be good for the kids," Freeman said. "It is wonderful seeing it come to fruition."

AT THE END of the last school year, Markley also took the time to meet with each of his teachers. In May, he made the color-coded master schedule for every class, which covers one of the walls in his office.

"Teachers know what they are teaching so in the fall, they’re ready," he said. "Teachers also have input in any special programs or projects they might want to do."

As the first day of school approaches, Markley is preparing to visit every classroom, something he does the first week of every school year. At the end of the first two weeks of school, Markley will begin meeting individually with every teacher, a process that takes him through September.

"Then I begin observing classes in October, which goes through April," he said. "Then I get the final numbers for the next year in April and begin the schedule for the next year."

Markley said that even after all of these years of working at Broad Run, nothing ever stops moving.

"There’s always something," he said. "If you sit around and wait for thing to come to you, you’ll be busy, but you won’t move your school forward. You’ve got to be proactive. It’s about the kids, that’s why we are all here."