Posted in Catholic leadership, Identity, School Leadership, Self-Care

The Benefits of Unicorn Status: Surviving a Job Change with Grace

I’ve made a variant of a Polish saying my mantra lately: this is no longer my circus, and these are now Father’s monkeys.

I say it a lot.

Whenever someone wants to fight over the gym and how and when it will be used?

Go ask Father.

Whenever someone wants to talk about the fish fries: Go ask Father (or, lately, the secretary he’s decided is in charge of them).

It’s not that I won’t help with these things; but the thing is my decisions have no meaning and are very short-term in nature.  The kids will be gone within two months and we’re none of us good at stretching work out.  We’ll be done with all we can do by May, easily, and yet we have contracts until June’s out.  Well, some of us do.  The rest of us are hourly, and I’d like to protect those hours, but heck if I know what it is we can all do.

Continue reading “The Benefits of Unicorn Status: Surviving a Job Change with Grace”

Posted in School Leadership

Going Back for the Others?

Jonathan Kozol once wrote semi-admiringly about free schools as a concept.  Free schools don’t mean public schools; there was a movement to do these kinds of schools where students do all the decision-making.  It’s kind of like unschooling, but in a school format.  It’s brilliant, but it presupposes a view of childhood that most people find unnerving: that kids can think for themselves and make good decisions.

In my experience, in fact, they can, once they get past the idea that they can, in fact, do nothing and have ice cream all day.  Eventually, when they get used to a life with no rules, they do like learning and eating real food, too.  Autistic kids thrive with choice since they seem to have this innate knowledge of what it is they need…society just likes to get in the way and interrupt this little voice that tells them what to do.  Anyway, sure, kids ought to be able to choose what they do and when they do it.  It’s a good thing to have children and teens vote on what happens next, and have them direct their own learning.

I’m sure, deep down, Kozol also would agree in theory with Catholic education because of the good it can do, especially in urban areas.  It gets some kids out, and helps them move to the middle class.  When you think of individual children, homeschooling, choice schools and Catholic education and other options are always a wonderful thing.  He is not remotely a fan of it in practice, though (or possibly not even in theory; sometimes it’s hard to read his work for me because of this).

But he said something about free schools that has stuck with me for years.

He compared them to the commandant’s children playing in the sandbox near Auschwitz.

Continue reading “Going Back for the Others?”

Posted in Catholic leadership, School Leadership

Routine

Most everything to be done is on hold or being done by people higher up than I am.  The Diocese is working on spinning this.  My pastor is on a two-week vacation.  We can’t very well merge the kids right this exact moment, and so we wait.

My days are filled with throwing away things that should have been tossed eons ago and shredding.  A lot of shredding.  A lot of questions as to why this is even here for me to shred, and then I realize it; this was a very bad school.

My nights consist of trying to exit the building as close to 3 as possible, getting into my nightgown, and moving into bed, watching Survivor reruns while I game a little on a laptop or just stare mindlessly.

I sleep better than I have, but not enough.

When I can move forward, I have energy to keep going.  When I am stuck, waiting and worrying, I feel anger and frustration.  I feel abandoned, and useless.  I can’t use my Autistic powers to plan a solution because I must wait.

And in the meantime, we’re on the front page of the paper; below the fold, at least, but still.  With a half-true account concocted by the Diocese who is scrambling to figure out just what the heck my boss did before he left.  Whatever he did do, as I understand it, it was not exactly what he said he did, so we’re guessing a lot, and the story that they gave is wrong in several places, and I can’t correct it.

It doesn’t matter.

See, the thing is, to me, what’s happening right now is what was meant to be last year.  The school I inherited was a bad school, where gossip and malice and the other tools of the devil ran rampant.

We changed that.

But not fast enough.

Continue reading “Routine”

Posted in School governance, School Leadership

Learning From Those Who Came Before You

Here’s some advice if you’re currently leading a school.

Do a checkup on your cumulative files.

Because there is a good chance a non-educator will be sending out cumulative files in the future, I’m using this time to sort them out and get things out of them that need to be removed.  While doing this, I’m also learning a few things.  Here’s some of what I learned.  If you’re a parent, this will tell you what to watch out for.  If you’re a teacher or a school leader, this will help you to understand what not to do (as well as what to do!).

Continue reading “Learning From Those Who Came Before You”

Posted in Catholic leadership, School governance, School Leadership

Protection

I write, once in a blue moon, about my boss, but only indirectly.  He’s a priest, and heads our parish, of which the school is a ministry.

He has a lot of strengths and people generally like him.

But he has some weaknesses.  He doesn’t like confrontation (and heck, neither do I…who is supposed to do the confronting if neither of us can?) and he seems to have a whole lot less faith than I do in the parishioners and what they can do, if asked, and in God and what He can do.  But I accept that sometimes I’m a little too Pollyanna (Hayley Mills version, at any rate) or Anne Shirley about things, and so I can accept that maybe I might be a little too sure that God can work through our parishioners to save us when the lesson might be, “look, guys, you gotta close.”

Yesterday, though, I learned that this decision was botched badly, and the Diocese is in the process of advising me on how to work through it all because, since my boss is gone for two weeks, there are (as you might imagine) things to do, things that would have been better handled had we taken these two weeks to get our ducks in a row first and then announced our closure second.

There is little vindication in being right about how this should have gone down.

There is little excitement about doing the right thing here, which is protecting his career and making sure that parishioners are okay with his authority to the extent possible.  That’s what the Diocese and I are doing now.

My family says I should let him deal with the mess he created; and I will…later.  He can fix the parish.  But at this point, my job is to try to save this for the kids, to try to focus on getting them into another Catholic school and arguing for the money necessary to pay for them to go to school there and for the jobs necessary for as many of my people as possible within the Catholic schools here.  If I’m going to work on getting them as much money as possible, I can’t very well destroy things here in the meantime.

If I don’t focus on doing something, it’ll be like Agamemnon (and yes, I am dramatic).  The kids loved this story: the story of having no choice but to fight to get Helen of Troy back due to a pact he made when he was a suitor to Helen (they didn’t pick him), then he can’t get the wind to sail so the oracle tells him to sacrifice his daughter, which he does, then goes off on a boat to Troy, fights the war, and brings back Cassandra (the prophet cursed; she spoke the truth, but no one believed her) as his mistress, and tells his wife to take care of her, as he’s gonna have a bath.

Not surprisingly, Agamemnon’s wife, Clytemnestra, conspires with her new boyfriend to stab Agamemnon in the bath.  Of course, the Greeks can’t let this stand, so her two surviving children will do her in later.

But heck, I get why she’s mad.  It’s not bad enough he has to fight to reclaim an old girlfriend, he kills their child, then comes back with a mistress, like she’s nothing to him.  And (this is the point I am actually making here) she’s had time to stew about it.

That’s what we’re fighting now.  Two weeks to stew about how messed up this is, is quite possibly not going to make any of us happy campers when he returns.

But if I can focus on the kids, and the Diocese can focus on the PR and logistics, well, maybe we can compartmentalize our anger in such a way that we can direct it to help him learn from this, rather than having us instead set fire to what’s left of the parish.

Metaphoric fire, of course.  We do understand that a real fire would be bad.

This is the strangest lesson in leadership: what to do when your boss really messes up, but apparently this is the one I get to learn…hopefully.

 

Posted in Catholic education, Catholic leadership, School governance, School Leadership

School Courtship: Hoping to Beat the Odds With Careful Planning

When Catholic schools close or consolidate, most everyone ends up in public schools, no matter how careful the planning.

We have a unique situation, though, where the ones who wanted to give up already gave up last year, and those who remain would really rather stay together, if they could.  We are also within a mile of two other Catholic schools with a third slightly further away than that.

So, we’re courting the closest, our first “daughter” parish, the second oldest school in town.

On paper, this is a good arranged marriage: fact one, they need us.  They need our kids and our money, such as it might be, because they are the next to go, on paper, if they can’t right themselves financially.  Unlike us, however, they have more reserves since families were wealthier when they began and they have had the time to grow and nurture that investment.  They have the time that we didn’t.  We have an interesting dowry, too, with a whole lot of books that are new, and a nice endowment of our own for scholarships.  And a parish who will be feeling guilty soon about how they let this closure happen, so I’m hoping to negotiate for more scholarships besides.  We think, but are still investigating, that a merger means they get credit for our Title I kids, and all of my kids were Title I eligible so they will get increased Title I services, if this is the case.

Beyond that, they are the most liberal, educationally-speaking.  We were caught in the 70’s, and the school that “everyone will say” we should join is lagging behind by about two decades.  They have already failed one of our students (she will never go back there) and their unsportsmanlike behavior and bullying have gone unchecked; I have family that has just said, well, that’s the mean class…as if that’s okay.  Meanwhile, our intended school has historically been more progressive, educationally, so it is arguably the best match philosophically.  They have had fidget toys in the classroom for nearly a decade and used to use a popular program called “the Daily 5” (maybe I’ll find they still are!) which encourages choice and independence in educational decisions, though with more scaffolding than we’ve managed to build in, so it tends to be easier for parents to understand.  I believe they use the same math books, or have in the recent past.

Then there’s the aesthetics.  Their school was actually built before our current building, but has many of the same features: big rooms, high ceilings, natural light, and they boast a bigger, but traditionally set-up church, with real aisles and stained glass instead of what I jokingly call “theatre in the round.”

Finally, because there’s no guarantee our parish won’t close next, they are the most likely to be ready to take on Hispanic ministry, should the parish merger ever occur because they are more progressive socially and have a native speaker of Spanish on payroll to teach Spanish.  We are hoping that, if this works out, we could encourage these parishes to join, if they must.  They are both downtown, after all.  Alternatively, if all goes well, we believe they would be better able to help guide what happens to our old building if it should be repurposed as a school again in the future because they have an older building as well and will have connections who understand managing these beauties.

So, after talking to their principal, we’re beginning the courtship this week.  It’s Catholic Schools Week, the Catholic school equivalent of homecoming, and they are having a dance at school, with littles and bigs together.  My middle schooler will love being able to stand off to the corner and talk to his friends (he has two there now) instead of being in the office with the adults.  My tiny kids will love dancing with friends their own size.  And their kids will LOVE that we might be bringing them more kids in the very age range they have lower numbers.

And he’s invited the parents and wants to come to us to meet with them and talk, too.

He’s also interested in my teacher, if he has an opening.  Multi-age teaching experience, much less love for it, is hard to find in a teacher.  She is eager to make a good impression, because she wants to stay in town with Catholic education.

So we will begin dating, and see if we will marry.

One of my parents, the one who already was thinking she’d be pulling her child out at the end of the year, is thrilled by this, and wants us to end the year AT this school.  She wanted more kids around, and this will solve her concerns.  Another was also considering moving her child at middle school because of numbers as well.  This would increase the numbers for them, too.

On paper, it’s the perfect match.

We’re praying this courtship turns into love and marriage to follow, because if I can keep these kids (and hopefully their teacher, too!) together and beat the odds, that will still be a very big win.

Posted in Catholic leadership, School Leadership

Open Doors to Our Neighbors

Sometimes I know people judge us for being a Catholic school.  Sometimes it’s the specific tenets of our faith, but often it’s because we’re told we take all the good kids and the public schools thereby have to suffer.

Of course, I believe all kids try to be good.

This last week, something happened that might illustrate how my school matters, even for the public school kids down the street.

A young girl from the neighborhood stopped by on Monday.  It was 2:00, and the public school actually gets out later than we do, and we were still in session for another hour, so it was odd, timing-wise.  I let her in and learned she needed to go to the bathroom and that mom called her home early, but this was the first day.  On her way home, she pointed out where she lived.  I thought nothing of it.

The next day, she came back, and this time, she didn’t need the bathroom, but she did ask if we had candy or gum.  We didn’t.  We said goodbye and sent her back out on her way.

It was odd, but given the relatively high crime rate of our neighborhood, and given we’re on the way home from her school, I figured it was good she stopped by, even if it meant she stopped by every day.  If she visited, then we knew she at least had gotten to our place, enroute to home.  One thing people don’t always know is that while “after school” until 6 (when, presumably, parents come home) is one of the most dangerous times for kids, being on the street alone during the school day can be worse.  We have a lot of sex predators in our neighborhood, too.

Continue reading “Open Doors to Our Neighbors”

Posted in Catholic leadership, School Leadership

Marketing Blues: How I Wish I Could Tell You All Where I Am…

I’m in the midst of intense marketing season.  It’s customary for Catholic schools to start open houses and open admissions during the last week of January, to coincide with Catholic Schools Week, where we celebrate who we are.

I’ve been spending the last couple of weeks, and all weekend, working on marketing, from postcards to the website, and planning awareness campaigns and open houses.

I enjoy telling our story to the world, though there’s a lot of pressure because we have to grow next year, even a little, or Father will start to worry again, which means we shut down.  It means Autistic me worries a lot.

I have this wonderful place where I can talk about what we’re doing and have some of these ideas fall on the exact “ears” I hope will hear me, but if I’m more specific about where I am, I may well destroy the blog because of negativity that seems to surround my school.  Negativity which we feel like we’re finally almost free of, at least on the inside, but claws on the outside, waiting for our defeat.

Ableism was rampant at this place last year, under the guise of somehow being safer for those with different ways of thinking.  Whereas the other schools made no accommodation, it looked like we did, and instead we’d scream and yell at children for nonconformity and banish teachers into two groups: the “chosen ones” and the rest of us.

It’s not like that now.

But the popularity of groups like Autism $peak$, which is really a hate group, not a help organization, reminds me always that those people will be out there, wanting us to destroy Autism, not create a haven for it.  The people who think you can beat kids to get the ADHD out (assuming it’s a real thing anyway) are everywhere.

We provide a different way of looking at things.  Not only are ADHD and Autism very real, Neurodivergent students need a place to learn who they are first, and to know they are loved children of God, and as they get older, they can move out into a world that is hostile to them and, together, make it better for the next generation.

My school matters.

My marketing doesn’t tell you exactly that message.  Plenty of parents aren’t woke just yet.  But I have hints for those who are woke, and it’s still an approachable message for those who are not.  But my goal is happy children who love Jesus and love themselves for who they are.  This is a place where kids learn to know themselves and then self-advocate.  The academics are strong; we’re a college-preparatory school, after all, but we break it down so that everyone, regardless of academic skills, can get where they need to go.  That’s an important part of loving yourself; learning that you can understand material, even if you have a learning disability or have trouble focusing and that it’s our job to help you.  We don’t do conventional grades, though if we eventually have high schoolers, we will have conventional grades even if we find them useless.  So many colleges aren’t quite ready for portfolios and standards report cards yet.  But when kids are older and can understand that the specific letters aren’t everything, they won’t hurt them so badly.

They really can derail children and young teens, though.  Either their grades are low and their self-esteem takes a hit, or their grades are high, too high to make mistakes. Either way, they don’t communicate how much anyone knows, and what areas, if any, are places that cause students to suffer.

We have increasingly educated people (either through academics or through self-reading and reflection) in my area who know that these things are important, and I’m hoping to get the word out to them, those who have heard that grades are only part of the story.

But I can’t tell you where we are.

This is an uncomfortable feeling.

Thank you for reading this blog, and for showing your support through your web traffic.  It helps me to know that you care enough to read and learn and grow with me, on this journey of learning to educate, parent, and lead Neurodivergently.

Posted in School governance, School Leadership

Snow Day

We live in the upper Midwest.  That means snow, sooner or later.

When you’re a large school district, you get advisers to tell you what to do.  You also have district boundaries and general expectations.  Our bigger districts have a rule that if you can’t get there (teacher, student, whoever), the absence is excused, so then they can have school for those who need it.  It’s not a horrible rule, but it also makes some parents worry if they can’t get their kids to school that some attendance boogeyman is going to get them.

I grew up in a rural district.  That means I have been stuck on busses and been on busses going into ditches.  It’s not fun.  It’s also not un-fun, since you kind of joke around until the replacement bus comes and you then go off on your jolly way.  But I am also Autistic, so I recognize if I, myself, am driving the car, it’s going to set me up for a bad day since I’ll worry about what happens if the car goes into the ditch or flips or whatever.  It’s not like a school bus that has a “system” and procedure for what to do and replacement busses at the ready (and no, there’s no system for a flipped bus…just damage control at the district since they had school on a day that bad).

The small schools like ours usually wait.  And wait and wait.  We look to see what everyone else is doing.  The trouble is, I think the big school districts do that, too, since there’s peer pressure associated with school closing.  You are a wuss if you close school and the weather is fine.

Today is a little weird, too, being MLK day.  Some schools are in session, and others aren’t, so “checking out the neighbors” is a bit tricky on a day like this.

The thing is, though, leadership is knowing that it’s always better if kids are safe and knowing your kids and your families.  For some places, this will mean having school in a blizzard since that means someone will be able to watch the kids and it’s best if they’re not home alone.  For other places, it’s better to close since the kids are old enough to watch themselves/have siblings/have parents at home, or some other supervision nearby.

I have some kids who walk to school and the sidewalks will not be shoveled yet.  I have some who come from great distances (45 minutes or so on a good day, which this is not).

And the rest of us just want to stay home sometimes.  We work hard.  What’s a bonus day off going to hurt?

I closed before anyone else in my area today.  I’m okay with this because it’s best for my kids.  I’m the only Catholic school that closed.

But I’m also at the school that doesn’t take chances with people’s lives (we run with scissors when it comes to ignoring what schools are “supposed” to do, but so often THOSE things are more dangerous than what we actually do).  We’re the school that knows sometimes a snow day is good for us and beats the heck out of anxiety and worry.

Sometimes leadership is being the only one who does what is likely the right thing to do, regardless of the local peer pressure.

Good school leaders realize that good students will learn anywhere.  There’s a good chance my kids will read today, play some Lego today, and/or login to an online game where they can play with their friends in cyberspace.  Some will definitely help shovel, too and probably play a little in the fresh snow.

All these things are learning, too.

And a bonus day off?  Almost everyone loves that…in small doses.  While my kids do like order and routine, they do also like a day off the routine here and there.  We are currently debating the merits of year-round school since long breaks like summer are too hard on everyone.  But these unexpected days off to do whatever we’d like?  Fantastic!

Sometimes one of the most frustrating parts of education is having the whole summer off, but being very stingy with the snow days.  I’m not sure who that works for, but it’s not my kids.

If you’ve got icky weather and get a day off, enjoy it!  I know we will!

Posted in leadership, School governance, School Leadership

Leadership as Vocation

Last night, I found myself in the sub-basement of the school with our new maintenance volunteer head and, later, his wife.  He wanted to walk through again and look for building plans, and I’d sworn I’d seen them downstairs, but alas, we couldn’t find them there.

Regardless, we were actually there for the fish fry, so it was somewhat comical to be crawling around the basement when the place was full of people, but everything was covered and calm, so we could “talk shop.”

When he continued to prowl and she joined us, she and I chatted about the school and its future.

And yes, it has one, thank you very much (you all know that…but sheesh, I had to tell people who had heard that we were closing that no, that wasn’t the case).

Anyway, while we were chatting, I think she saw how overwhelmed I had gotten by all the junk still scattered all over the school.  10+ years of neglect will do that to a building as large as ours, where you can hide everything in some room or another.  She then switched to talking about vocation and how it was clear I was in the vocation I was called to be in and how lucky I was that it was the case.

Continue reading “Leadership as Vocation”