Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Glue That Binds

As I have been reflecting this last month on my years at Chets Creek, I have written about so many of the people who have influenced my life at the Creek -  our Principal Susan Phillips and founding Principal Terri Stahlman, the magic of our Media Specialist KK Cherney, the sparkle and shine of Julie Middleton at our front desk, and some of the faculty that inspire me every day (Elizabeth Conte, Lori Linkous, Karen Morris, Liz Duncan, Lauren Skipper, and our head custodian Ms. Pat), because they don't just observe life, they choose to live the life they have been given with such a difference... but gosh, there are so many others.

Two of those that come to mind are Suzanne Shall and Lourdes Smith, who each in her own way has really provided the glue that keeps everything together. They are the supports that strengthen us and the ones that we turn to with our questions, when we are anxious, and when we are frustrated.  They are also the ones that we want to celebrate with when we've tried something new that works!  Suzanne, who had been our Assistant Principal, left Chets this year to be Principal at her own school (how fortunate are those teachers!) but her influence remains.  Lourdes is our Dean of Students and what these two have in common is their energy, commitment, and dedication.  They hit the road running the minute they walk in the school door. They work hard every minute of every day. They are often the last to leave as the sun goes down and too often with an armload of "stuff" that still has to be done.  They are both super organized and if they tell you they will do something, you can guarantee that it will be done.  If you ask a question, they respond immediately and, considering their jobs, that is miraculous.  They follow up and they do not hide from the difficult assignments. They both can see the big picture but are also just as engaged with the details.  They care about children and speak with parents with respect and ease, but they also really care about teachers.  They remember and hold on to, even though they are now administrators, what it was like to walk in the shoes of a teacher.  They hold teachers accountable for what is expected, but they are also the first to realize when too much is being asked. They both started as teachers at Chets, were both inclusion teachers, left for a while (Lourdes to have a family and Suzanne home to PA for a while to be closer to her family), but both returned to Chets and stepped into Administrative roles. They both have supportive nuclear families who love and adore them and put up with their need to do their job well.

Lourdes Smith clowning around.
It probably is no coincidence that both Suzanne and Lourdes took on the Presidency of Chets' PTA while they had their own little Creekers here.  I will never understand how it was possible for them to juggle the PTA, their administrative jobs and their family, but they did it with an ease and expertise that honestly, amazes me.  Of course, there have been days when each of them looked tired, when you knew they were working too hard and were beaten down, but they never seemed to complain.  There were times when they seemed to be carrying the weight of the world and yet they somehow persevered, as if they knew something the rest of us didn't. Don't get me wrong, they can also both be feisty and have a bold, angry outburst at injustice, but it is just the passion of their commitment, and it's always short lived.

In other ways Lourdes and Suzanne are complete opposites. Suzanne is a tall striking blonde and Lourdes is a petite Cuban who wears heels to be taller than most fifth graders.  Lourdes speaks both English and Spanish with ease.  She is a safe harbor for our Spanish speaking families and their children. I can't imagine what we would do without her.  She is as gifted at talking to the innocent kindergartner as she is to the savvy street-smart fifth grader.  She speaks her mind at the Leadership table, when asked. She's quick to celebrate others and to recognize those that take risks or those that are going "over and above."  Lourdes leads with passion and by example, solidifying relationships everywhere she goes.  She is loved and adored by our staff, by our families and by the children.

Family is a priority.
Suzanne reads to a group of children.
Suzanne on the other hand, rarely waits to be asked her opinion.  She always has a response and she doesn't mind sharing it.  She believes that people should do what they say and they appreciate knowing when they mess up.  Of course, it took her a while to learn that they don't really want to know!  I think she was surprised to learn that lots of folks would rather put on rose colored glasses and pretend everything is okay rather than face the brutal truth! However, she has figured that out now and never backs away from a difficult situation. She's smart. She's brave and she's fun to be around. The thing about Suzanne is that it is really difficult to hurt her feelings.  She is one of those very rare people that can take criticism at face value and not let it seep into her soul.  She recognizes it for what it is.  She hears it, evaluates it and then she jumps to solutions.  Suzanne synthesizes faster than anyone I know.  She usually doesn't mull over problems very long, but is quick to go about fixing them.  It's one of the things that teachers always loved about her.  Suzanne was
so very well respected by us all, but she left at the end of the year last year to run her own school. Not only is she a manager, but she is a teacher, an instructional leader. She left a gaping hole at our Leadership table. Most people thought she was irreplaceable.  However, as it always happens, Chets is full of people who have the potential to lead at that level but just haven't yet had the opportunity.  With her absence you can already see the hole beginning to slowly fill with people who have risen to the challenge and who now begin to fill her shoes.  For me, as much as I know she was ready for this new journey, she is missed as a learner, as an outspoken observer, and as a friend.

Family first.
The truth is that no large school runs successfully without people like Lourdes and Suzanne who really are the glue that binds everything together.  They are hard working and serious but they don't take themselves too seriously. They laugh easily and know how to live in each moment. They are on a mission to make a difference.  They touch teachers daily and they strengthen both the highest flyers, weakest links and all those in between.  They know that they need to stroke their high flyers as much as they need to touch base with the weakest link.  They realize that the weakest link simply needs more support and they make sure that the support is there.  They are the secret weapon in a large school.

A school like Chets Creek is really about the synergy of the whole.  No one person is able to produce results alone.  All of the pieces have to be there and they all have to fit together. It's the leader's role to make sure that happens. To be a great school is one thing but to maintain is something entirely different and as Jim Collins wrote in How the Mighty Fall, high flyers can't begin to believe their own press!  They have to continue to strive and to climb mountains and never stop at the plateaus.  So... here's to the many mountains still to climb!


M Rush said...

<3 you all so so so much!

Mrs. McLeod said...

Absolutely adore both of these women! They have made a monumental impact on both my professional and personal life. Thank you for putting into words how exquisite and spectacular these ladies truly are!

Anonymous said...

This is the ULTIMATE compliment! Tears were streaming down my face. No response can even begin to explain how honored I am! I am speechless. . . and you know that doesn't happen very often. I am just a drop of glue in the bottle that helps create the Chets Creek masterpiece. I am truly blessed to work with you, dayle! You have enriched our lives in SO many ways. You may be walking out the doors on Jan. 29th, but your presence will ALWAYS remain within our building AND IN OUR HEARTS! ~Lourdes :)