Erin Simpson, principal at Overlook Elementary in Wadsworth, Ohio, will serve as a guest host for #mdeschat on Thursday, March 6th at 9 p.m. ET. Erin is a 2012 National Distinguished Principal. She was nominated for the award by a fourth grade teacher who stated, “I have been in this building for 11 years and I have never had a principal who has had such a good rapport with kids. She brings the most out of every student and every teacher and every parent involved with the school.” We sat down with Erin to find out what’s happening in Ohio.
Tell us about yourself.
I am a very proud mom to two elementary age daughters, a first grader and fourth grader. This is my ninth year as a building principal, sixth in my current building. Prior to becoming a principal in Wadsworth, I taught in a neighboring district for eight years. I live in the community in which I work and love the community pride in our school district. Every day I am very proud to be a Wadsworth Grizzly!
You are a National Distinguished Principal. What was that experience like for you?
Being named a Distinguished Elementary Principal by our State Association, OAESA, and a National Distinguished Principal by NAESP was humbling. The NDP celebration in Washington, D.C. was an amazing weekend to highlight our profession and I was so proud to be included with and meet all of the other honorees. I made connections that will last a lifetime and I was proud of the honors bestowed upon our profession. I truly believe every principal deserves to be honored in that manner.
There are five elementary schools (K-4) in your district. What major instructional initiatives are going on there?
Currently in our district we are transitioning in many areas. We have a new teacher and principal evaluation system in our state, OTES and OPES. We are implementing the Common Core while still tying in our previous standards because our state assessments have not yet changed. We have new report card indicators which have changed from a performance measure to a growth measure. We are also facing a new Third Grade Reading Guarantee in Ohio and are required to retain any third grader who does not achieve a set score on the spring reading Ohio Achievement Assessment. All of this makes for a very busy year and uncertainty in many areas.
What are the biggest challenges you face on a day-to-day basis?
My biggest challenges center around time. I love being in classrooms, in the cafeteria, on the playground, and greeting children as they arrive each day. These become priorities, so much of my other work takes place after school hours and I am not the best at balancing work and family time. Fortunately, I have a very supportive husband who is also an educator!
The new evaluation system has placed demands on my time with timelines and summaries to complete. I love the conversations that have resulted from the new system, it is just a very time intensive process. From start to finish, observations take about 3 hours between the pre and post conferences, the observation, and the write up. Almost every morning is committed to a meeting of some type, yet I feel there are so many times we start a great conversation and then the bell rings at 8:55 a.m. and the conversation halts. I am always looking for ways to make this better.
We are also facing large class sizes due to budget constraints over time and reductions in staff. This year my kindergarten classes have 30 students in them. First grade is the lowest with 24 in each and the others all range between 28-30. This is a challenge as we allocate resources and support and try to be sure that we have all our students on track so that we do not face the retention element from the Third Grade Guarantee.
How has teaching changed since you entered the profession?
The changes I have seen in teaching over my nine years in the role as principal are monumental. The pressures on our students and teachers alike have grown immensely. The inclusion and development of technology has advanced opportunities for students and teachers. I can only imagine what the future of education will hold for us in ten years. Teaching is much more focused on the individual student. I often tell my teachers that I could be a great teacher if I returned to the classroom because I have learned so many wonderful techniques and approaches from them.
Can you describe the qualities you look for in a new teacher?
Something that I always keep in mind as we interview and hire new teachers is that a critical piece is to hire good people because they will make great employees. I can always coach to improve instructional skills and strategies, but I can’t instill that spark or passion or love of children and commitment. I also believe that there has to be a right fit for the school and the new teacher. I look for the candidate who has the spark, energy and enthusiasm … the “it” I hear many people refer to. We have a very rigorous hiring process and truly find the best candidates. Since implementing the new process we have not had a bad hire.
What is one book every educator should read?
Wonder by R.J. Palacio should be read by every educator. This book will make an impact on how you approach your job and every child you are blessed to be in contact with. The theory to “Choose Kind” is one that our school has embraced and would make the world a better place if everyone embraced it as well.
Thanks, Erin! We appreciate your involvement and commitment to the profession!
Erin Simpson can be followed on Twitter @ehuthsimpson.