Friday, March 19, 2010

Notes from Principal

When I first came to Pine Glen School this summer, I told staff my first priority was the student safety. My second priority was improved literacy performance which would require coordinated instruction planning from grade level teams. I have solid data that has shown me improved literacy scores and this week I have an excellent exemplar of a staff that works like a team to ensure student safety and instruction.

Early Sunday morning (March 14), I went into school to do work. On the ride in I encountered a detour on Rt. 62 in Burlington as a result of flooding and witnessed several hoses outside of people’s homes removing water from basements. The little voice inside my head thought this was an ominous sign that things did not look good. Upon arriving at Pine Glen, I went into the building and noted there was no water and things were quiet. I worked for a couple of hours and left to go home. Typically on weekends and late at night when I am working my friends the turkeys stop by my office (please see attached photos). The birds were not around. I often find that sometimes animal’s instincts are more informative than any other meteorological predictor that events are about to happen. When I arrived home late that afternoon, I learned that my hometown of North Andover had received 7.5 inches of rain that weekend.

On Monday morning when I arrived at school I went down to the first floor of the academic wing to meet the head custodian. Ground water was coming up through the floor and tiles were popping up from the water pressure. The Pine Glen School was built on a swamp. Over the course of years the first floor has become a crescent shape. If you think of a crescent moon, turn it 90 degrees. The fat part of the crescent is the two classrooms you meet going down the stairs where Mrs. Redfern and Mrs. Gonzalez’s classrooms are located. The two ends of the hallway where you find the exit doors are the ends of the crescent. At these two ends, water started coming in quick at around 7:30 A.M. In fact, 5 inches of water came into the kindergarten closest to where students enter the building at drop-off and pick-up. The other end of the wing near the art room was experiencing similar water. Students were in buses and parents were in cars on their way to school.

We immediately called for assistance and several custodians and other facility department personal to came over with wet vacuums to assist. I called a meeting of all staff in my building to my office. Several staff that morning could not make it to school as a result of the rain or were calling in on their cell phones informing us they had been on the road for up to 2 hours and were still not in Burlington. This was particularly true for staff coming from Billerica. At the meeting we developed a matrix and saw to it that all children had a dry classroom to go to for instruction. Similar grade level classrooms were doubled up.
Once the students were in the building and instruction was taking place, I issued a Connect Ed. call home to parents to inform them of our situation. I then went back to visit classrooms to check on the staff and students. The custodial teams were filling up wet vacuums and dumping the water out of the building like bailing out a boat.

Mrs. Gosselin had the keen insight to think of the storage closet and managed to save all the materials that we use for the Winter Carnival. The PTO’s biggest fund-raiser of the year that supports a countless list various supports for the students throughout the year. The storage closet area had developed a crack in the floor from all the ground water coming up through the floor.

Around noon time I smelled a particular odd smell like something was burning from the area where the water was. The fire alarm was not going off but, I did not want to take any chances. I immediately got on the PA system and asked for all students and staff to go to the gymnasium located on the other side of the building and alerted public safety. The weather outside at this time was pouring cat and dogs and the wind was blowing very hard. In less than two minutes, the Burlington police officers and fire fighters met me at the front door. Mrs. Agati (one of our music teachers) was in the gym singing songs with the entire student population and faculty. The fire fighters and police were very impressed at how quickly and quietly all the students had assembled and were being so well behaved in the gymnasium. They were also very impressed by our quick and very appropriate response.

The public safety members and I investigated the burn smell further and found a wet vacuum had overheated and some of the plastic was burning. The vacuum was removed from the building and the students went back to classrooms. The students were in the gym for at the most 10 minutes. I have worked with the police and fire departments this summer in examination of pick-up/drop-off procedures and throughout the year (DARE, fire safety etc.) and feel so fortunate to work with such an amazing and professional team of talented men and women.

I then issued a second Connect Ed. call home to parents to inform them of the situation. Students continued to have quality instruction and I continued to walk through and inspect classrooms. We then noticed water coming through the ceilings on the second floor. We immediately called facilities and they dispatched a roofer to go on the building and seal the roof particularly at the seams where the water was likely coming in and penetrating the roof. At this point in time, I was thinking back to the school committee meeting recently when I was presenting the budget proposal and the talented high school students who went on ahead of me and performed some numbers from the musical Titanic. We had water coming up through the floor and the ceiling.

Late that afternoon I requested the Dr. Conti issue a Connect Ed. call to cancel school tomorrow as we still were having ground water enter the building. On Tuesday, teachers came into the building and we started on clean-up while our custodial staff was still fighting incoming ground water.

Although we did not have students on Tuesday, we were able to have the DARE graduation (please see attached photos) as the gymnasium and cafeteria are clearly above the water line and did not experience the water. I was so proud of our 5th graders at the DARE graduation. Officer Shepard and Officer Cross did a great job with the graduation as did the students. When I left the building at around 10:00 P.M. that night, we still had ground water coming up through the art room and storage area or the ends of the crescent.

On Wednesday we needed to double up the kindergarten classrooms again to put all the materials back into the rooms. I have to thank the kindergarten teaches in particular who have put in countless additional hours to plan for doubled up rooms to ensure instruction is taking place and clean up of their rooms. We are so fortunate to have such a dedicated kindergarten team.

We were also delighted to have high school students come to Pine Glen and perform scenes from Titanic (please see attached photos) on Wednesday. The Pine Glen students were captivated by their performances and likewise analogies were made to structures taking on water. I am eagerly looking forward to seeing the premiere performance tonight. The students also took great pleasure in seeing all the Pine Glen alumni in the cast.

Thursday morning all kindergartners were back in their classrooms and the water had stopped entering the building. Thursday was also the day that Pine Glen hosted Administrative Council at our building. The Administrative Council meetings are composed of the principals (elementary, middle, high school), curriculum heads, superintendent, other central office administrators, and two invited teachers (different for each meeting). Each building takes a turn hosting the meeting and this week was Pine Glen’s scheduled turn. Part of the meeting time is devoted to the administrative team doing walk-troughs of the classrooms. Throughout the walk-troughs all members were very complementary at the excellent instruction they witnessed and the condition of the building. They could not believe that the meeting room we were in and some of the classrooms earlier in the week were in ground water.

Last night I attended the Science Center’s 25th Anniversary Celebration. It was a lot of fun to see pictures over the years of students doing experiments and the various animals the center has provided home to over the years. I was thinking how lucky we are in Burlington to have this incredible asset to enhance the children’s science instruction.

Every day, I am eager to leave and head out the door to Pine Glen. I leave knowing I work with an incredible group of teachers that work together as a coordinated team at the building and grade levels. A group of teaches that even in flood conditions value literacy to such a degree that quality instruction does not stop. Teachers that are so devoted that on a canceled school day are still in the building working with the principal to talk about instruction and getting the building back in place. I also know I work with an unbelievable central office. A facilities manager, Craig Robinson, who has spent countless hours helping us maintain the building this week and deal with the onslaught from mother nature. In all my conversations Mr. Robinson has first at the top of his mind the students in the building. A superintendent, who is a talented leader and likewise always focuses on student’s learning and achievement. (I am currently working with Mr. Robinson and Dr. Conti to develop plans to aggressively be prepared for another attack from Mother Nature in the future.) A secretary who cares so much about our children she saved the Winter Carnival. A Science Center who fills our instruction with hands-on material and likewise enhance our curriculum. Richard Connors, middle school principal, told me yesterday it is not what we say we will do but, what we do. I want to thank the parents of Pine Glen students for letting us have the opportunity to do so much with your students. We are so fortunate to have a community that supports us and allows us to put students first.

1 comment:

  1. Laurie A. LaPriseMarch 28, 2010 at 7:18 PM

    Thank you for handling the flood and the unknown smell so remarkably well. I am impressed and appreciate your efforts to put safety first. Laurie LaPrise