Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Today Stunk

Today just stunk.

Don't get me wrong... It was not a bad day to be at our middle school, but due to the Redwood City Sims Fire, our normal fresh at-the-base-of-the-mountain air had a metallic, acidic smell for most of the morning and early afternoon. It proved for one of our most unique days of the school year. 

The school day began like any other. After our weekly Team Leaders, I spent the rest of the pre-bell moments talking ChromeBooks with a staff member. Their goal is to have a class set of 32 ChromeBooks for their classroom. We brainstormed some ideas on how to make this idea happen. I spent some time working with my amazing administrative assistant (upgraded her iOS to 7.0.4 for her iPhone) until the district's manager of food service stopped by our desks. He informed us that something was wrong with the air outside. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, we had little information through conventional websites. Instead, I turned to Twitter to find about the fire up the freeway in Redwood City. While our students and staff were not necessarily in danger from the smell, it was not something that we felt our students should be exposed to.

With twenty minutes until the bell rang for brunch, our Leadership team gathered for a quick brainstorming session on what was best to do. We checked in with other schools within and outside of our district to see what their plans were. We also coordinated with the district office to gather advice and keep them updated. After doing so, we determined our first three choices to be (1) do nothing, (2) keep the kids in 2nd period, or (3) send them directly to 3rd period. None of these choices felt like the right option. We began to share out our opinions and together created a fourth (and eventual chosen) method for today's brunch. 

I would make an announcement and inform our students that we would be ringing the bell shortly. However, on a change from our usual procedures, students would need to grab their snack and then head to their third period class. This decision, our Leadership Team had discussed earlier, would come with some secondary effects. Students need a break to stretch, eat, and socialize. Additionally, our teachers need time to relax for a moment and perhaps a bio break as well. For the student issues, we kept the bells relatively on time so as to provide social moments within their third period class. For our teacher concerns, we divided up all of the classrooms and stopped by to relieve the staff member as necessary. Other teachers with third period prep even helped out! Somehow, someway, it all worked. 

My next step was to send out a PowerSchool Messenger email to all of our families. In my message, I shared: "(To our community members), Due to the Redwood City Sims Fire, we will be holding our PE classes indoors today. Additionally, during brunch, we encouraged our students to retrieve their food from their locker or cafeteria and then immediately transition to their third period classrooms. I know that there is much concern about this situation; rest assured that we are taking every precaution while ensuring as little disruption as possible to your child's school day. All the best, Todd Feinberg, Principal." I've received a dozen, unexpected emails, all positive, from parents in response to the above email. ((A quick takeaway among the chaos for me: always send out the parent email and / or phone call... If one parent has a (reasonable) concern, assume a hundred have the same question. Also, better to over-inform than to share less.))

While we had solved our brunch concern, the decision of what to do for lunch and our 930 students loomed near. We could have decided to just have a normal, everyday lunch at this point. The smell, while still present, was fading away. We were unsure of how to hold all of our students indoors for the lunch period. One thing was clear: we needed the help and support of our staff. 

Another announcement was made, this time just prior to the lunch bell. We informed our students that we would be opening up the gym and the computer rooms in addition to the usual cafeteria, game room, and library locations. I explained why we would not be outside during the lunch period, how I wanted to make sure that they all found a safe space to spend their lunch, and then suggested to our staff if they would be willing to open their classrooms during lunch to house any interest students. I said these words lightly as I try very hard to not cross any contractual "duty free" lines within the teachers' contract. I just hoped for the best.

The bell rang and our Leadership Team dispersed to the various corners of the campus to supervise our students. While we were somewhat overflowing with students in all of our communal spaces, I was taken aback at how many teachers had chosen to give up their lunch period, open their classroom doors, and invite in their students as well as their friends. This would not necessarily happen at every school. We could not have made today work without their support. 

At the end of the school day, I sent out the following email to our staff: "Hi all, just a quick note of thanks for your support today during brunch, at lunch, and tolerating my repeated announcements over the loud speaker. I think I used up all of my allotted interruptions for the year today. Thanks again for rolling with everything today. I have already received a good number of supportive, appreciative emails from parents for all of our efforts. For tomorrow, we will not be having a staff meeting. Let's use the time to enjoy the breakfast Special Ed is preparing in the staff room. I'll send out the MiaM (Meeting in a Memo) in the AM. Thanks again for your support today! Todd"

Today proved just how resourceful our school team can be when faced with a challenge. Today showed that our teaching staff will always rise to the occasion and support our students. Today had our entire staff working together to address with a truly unique, unpredictable problem. Today really did stink... but in a completely amazing way.

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