Open School with a WOW! - Steve Barkley

Open School with a WOW!

When presenting at the Wow Academy for Pioneer RESA in GA. I met Julia Mashburn (principal) and Page Arnette (assistant principal) at Riverview Elementary School in Dawsonville, Georgia. They shared how they had planned WOWs to establish a school culture.. Here is their story.

Riverview Elementary School opened last August (2010). We are located approximately 60 miles north of Atlanta and serve 310 students Preschool-5th grade. Our staff is a composite of people from the other 3 elementary schools in Dawson County. With tight school budgets, many staff were “planted” at Riverview. So, the opportunity to invest in establishing a school culture in which our staff could thrive was both a unique and very exciting opportunity.

Reading the WOW’s in your book WOW! Adding Pizzazz to Teaching and Learning became a source of inspiration. What if every day could be like the week before we let out of school for the summer? What if every week could be like the week before a fun holiday such as Christmas or Spring Break? What was it about those weeks that brought excitement and engagement to not only the students but our staff? Certainly a holiday is good motivation, but it was more about the atmosphere and the enthusiasm of what took place in the building…in the classrooms. Traditional teaching approaches were set aside for more experiential learning.

We brought that idea forward to our inaugural Leadership Team and then the first Faculty and Staff group of Riverview, challenging them to brainstorm the possibilities of “WOWing” students, parents and each other.

We branched off on an opening day idea from the WOW! Book. (The Red Carpet)

As mentioned before, our staff would be a compilation of people from the existing elementary schools. The leadership team coordinated the following:

• School Banner: Riverview Premiere
• Using butcher block paper, we prepared a “red carpet” from the front curb to the inside of the building and the local movie theatre allowed us to borrow line guides to rope of the red carpet.
• Music and balloons provided more decoration.
• An assortment of top hats, boas, glasses etc. were provide to staff for their star-studded entrance.
• A photo was made of each Riverview Star by the premiere sign. As each staff member arrived on the first day of pre-planning, leadership team members (paparazzi) greeted and cheered for them and photos were snapped as they walked the red carpet into the building to start our first year in our brand new building together. We continued in the same spirit as we greeted our families two days later for our inaugural Open House. As children and parents arrived, they received the same greeting as our staff did. What a memorable experience for everyone.

As we prepare for our students and families return this year, we are going to use a birthday theme to start our second year. While all the details are not firmly set, the idea is to invite them to our first birthday party (in lieu of an Open House) in August. We are planning to have cake, birthday decorations, balloons, and all the birthday trimmings to set the stage for their welcome. Instead of bringing gifts, we plan to register at our local department stores for items the school and/or classroom needs. We also hope to continue with the same theme as a backdrop for our welcome back assembly that we hold on the first day of school. We are also hoping the “classroom present” idea shared in your book will find its way into homerooms to start the year.

We are so proud of our first year at Riverview and have come to highly value the effects of a positive culture in a school environment. One side note: this past year, an external review for school improvement was conducted at Riverview known as the Georgia Assessment on the Performance of School Standards (GAPSS). A total of seven school standards are measured in this review. A report is then issued giving the school recommendations and commendations for each standard. One of the school standards measured as part of GAPSS is School Culture. We were so pleased to be given the highest rating of “High Operational” on that standard with no recommendations for improvement suggested. Needless to say, we have become enthusiastic advocates for school culture because we have experienced its positive impact.

Thanks Julia and Page for sharing your story. Congratulations on the recognition of the culture you have created and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

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