Live Blog from Lilja School Principal Forum

Natick Patch will be live-blogging from the Lilja School Principal Forum, which begins at 7 p.m. Updates will be posted here throughout the evening.

8:55 p.m.: Scott Williams is the final candidate tonight. Prior to going into teaching, Williams worked in the business world. He says that one thing that convinced him to go into education is hsi experience as a Big Brother.

He currently is the principal at the F.A. Cleveland Elementary School in Norwood.

He mentions that he met the staff at Lilja on Feb. 15 and notes that they are very experienced and really love what they do.

Question about mismatch between student and teacher.

Williams mentions needing to talk to the parent in this instance. He says the parent knows the child best, and he also would speak with the teacher. He said it would be a team approach.

Why are you leaving Norwood?

I'm not dissatisfied. I'm looking to grow. I was a finalist for the Brown School four years ago, but I had only one year experience as an assistant principal.

What is the principal's main role?

Leadership. Collarboration. Teamwork. Presenting yourself as an advocate for the child. Don't forget the child. We talk abotu MCAS scores, but they don't always capture the potential for a child's academic success.

What are your strengths?

You have to work horizontally and vertically. I think I'm very adept at that, very skilled at that. Working across the district. Assistant superintendents, curriculum folks. Working with the teachers.

I'm here for the children. When I left the business arena, I took a 40 percent paycut. I'm here for the children.

Question about his area of expertise.

Williams says writing was his area in academics. He was a communications major in college. He has some different types of advance writing training.

Teachers here are very loving and caring, as our principals have been. How will you make the students feel that way?

Williams uses how he has lunch duty with 3rd, 4th and 5th graders this year and says he know all their names. He reiterates that students are not MCAS scores.

He tells a story about how he has a 10-year old chair named "George" who he passes to a different classroom each week for different reasons.

Williams also reads to children. He has lunches with them. He says he's really worked hard to get to know his students in Norwood.

Biggest challenge facing elementary schools in bullying prevention and how would you involve the community?

The first intervention is Open Circle. Williams is Second Steps trained and Open Circled trained. Also mentioned another training he has.

He gives an example of a boy self-reporting a bullying incident yesterday. He said he spoke to the other children involved. He says he focuses on the behavior, not the child.

Williams also notes that bullying has been a word "overused" a bit, but that it is a serious problem. He mentions educating children on what it is so they don't do it is an important step to success.

Why Lilja?

Looking for a long-term fit. He likes the diversity. He is looking for a place to establish roots, and mentions that he means that sincerely.

What impressed you on your visit?

Williams says the kindness tree really impressed him. He likes kindness. He says the staff was really open.

"You can't get to the root of the problem if there's not an open dialogue," he said.

He said he had a very positive conversation with literacy teacher. He said she was very passionate. He said she asked a lot about his business background and how that could help here, and he had said skills such as multi-tasking were things he learned and could bring from the business world.

8:22 p.m.: Heather Smith is the third finalist to enter the cafeteria. She's worked in Rhode Island and Massachusetts with a range of ages. She's currently the assistant principal at Jordan/Jackson Elementary School in Mansfield, where she's been since 2010.

How would you deal with a [mismatch] between a student and teacher?

Smith talks about a team process in placement between administrator, counselor, teacher and any other staff member that may be necessary. If it doesn't work after all these things have been done, then it should looked at more.

Question about communication.

Smith says two-way communication is very important. Also, students need to be involved in communication. Students can be advocates for themselves. She likes structure so that communication can be clear.

Question about support between teachers and principal.

Smith talks about what she did when she got to Jordan/Jackson. She went and looked at every position to see how they worked and got to know them.

She gives an example where her current school had concerns with the school not meeting all of the social/emotional needs of the students. They formed professional learning committees within the building and developed a curriculum within about four months to work in with the Open Circle program at the school.

Smith says the principal needs to work in the trenches and be actively involved.

Question about aligning across grades.

Smith mentions she was previously an English/Language Arts teacher. She goes to meetings about vertically aligning the curriculum, also horizontally aligning standards.

Question about her strengths.

Smith says one of her strengths is developing relationships. She spends a lot of her free time reading. If there is something that she doesn't know she spends time trying to learn about it.

What can we do to better support our students? Knowing how to ask those questions is how you start the school improvement process.

What are the biggest challenges facing elementary school bullying prevention and how would you involve the community?

Smith is the head of her district's anti-bullying. She says you build relationships. You create a positive school culture. You make students feel safe. Her current school has Open Circle. She talks about prevention. Recognizing positive behavior. How can we recognize positive, pro-social behavior. That's fundamentally what promotes schools with fewer bullying behaviors.

Smith also mentions teaching what bullying is to kids as being very important.

How do you develop relationships with students?

Children absolutely need to know their principal. They need to know all the adults in the building care about them.

I'm responsible for 1,000 students right now, but even so I've managed to make it so students know where they can find me.

The school needs to be a nurturing environment. Knowing each child and making that connection is important.

7:48 p.m. Susan Frederick is next. She has a background in mental health in addition to education.

She begins by talking about how she grew up in upstate New York and pronounces "Aunt" like "Ant" and used to cheer for another baseball team that she won't mention.

Question about vertical alignment within the grade.

Frederick talks about "rowing the boat in the same direction." Where are going? Where do we want to go with our children? She thinks it's important that each class doesn't have to necessarily get there the same way, but they want to get to the same place.

Why are you going to a lateral move (another principal job), as opposed to trying to move up?

I think you can learn from every job. Eventually would want to move to central office position. Mentions her current school district only has three schools- not much of a place to advance.

She also misses being in a smaller school. Her current school has 650 kids. She doesn't know most of their names. She misses that.

What do you enjoy most about being a principal? What do you enjoy least?

Nothing more than when a student comes in the door and wants to show off when they learn to read something. She loves when kids are excited after they learn something. Those sorts of things, in her words, remind her why she does what she does.

Her least favorite part of the job is conflict. That's the part of the job she likes the least. She's happy after you've solved the problem, but dealing with it can be uncomfortable.

Speak a little about your communication style. How accessible are you to parents?

I think that's important. If we don't communicate neither of us know what's going on. I do a newsletter. I try to have an open door policy. I try to have a 24-hour rule: if a parent calls I want to call them back within 24 hours. Sometimes it does stretch to 48 hours, but if it gets more than that I think that's disrespectful.

Question about what she would do with developing Lilja's common core.

Frederick states that she would need to see what Lilja has already done and how it's going by speaking with teachers to see what the strengths and weaknesses are.

Question about biggest challenges facing bullying? How do you address challenges?

I think one of the biggest challenges is [sorting out] bullying from
bothering. Also, getting bystanders involved.

You have to address it proactively. This is where the kids learn these foundation skills.

If I have a report on bullying I take it seriously. After the investigation, how do you protect the 'target' (notes she doesn't like that word) and how do you work with the child who did the bullying.

7:17 p.m.:Jill Barnhardt is the first candidate to enter the room and take the microphone.

She has 12 years experience has an elementary school principal before her current administrative position. She also holds three Master's Degrees and a Doctorate, as well as a certificate in reading, which she points out is very important. She feels making sure children have a solid background in reading and writing is very important.

"I really do like children," Barnhardt said. "That's why I want to come out of central administration."

Barnhardt does say she learned a lot from working in central administration because it gave her more of that "big picture perspective."

Excited about technology.

"Biggest thing is school culture. What kind of environment do you have when you walk into a school?"

Barnhardt mentions "Open Circle," an anti-bullying philosophy used in the Natick Public Schools.

Question from parent about Vertical Alignment and Consistency across the board.

Barnhardt says that's important, but there are such strong teacher that you have to allow them to be individualized too. She also mentions that there is certain materials that are expected to be taught in each grade.

What made you leave being a principal to go into being an administrator?

Two reasons: one is that Rhode Island had a pension system that worked well for her. Her husband was unemployed at the time and she knew she needed to come to Massachusetts.

Anti-bullying question about biggest challenges facing elementary school students and how would she work with the public on this problem?

I think communication is a big issue. The other challenge I find is that a parent might say that their child is being bullying when they don't fully understand the definition of bullying. As a parent you get upset when your child comes home and is crying, but there is a very specific definition of what bullying is.

Barnhardt believes in being very upfront with students on what is bullying ahead of time so they understand what they are expected to do and not to do.

Question about accessiblity to parents.

I have a reputation for being accessble. Barnhardt mentions she has in the past usually waited until after school to return phone calls as that has worked best for everyone with the children still in school, unless of course a message mentions it being important.

She also mentions that she has been known to work very long hours, telling a funny story about her former secretary's firefighter husband seeing her car parked at the school late at night and her secretary and her having a running commentary of her being asked what she was doing at the school at 7:45 the night before.

What is your vision for using technology in the classroom?

My very strong belief is we need to have a plan. It should enhance teaching and learning. Use it in a meaningful way, not just to say we use it. Helping them see they can use technology in a helpful way.

That was the final question.

Barnhardt thanks everyone, wishes everyone well. Says she would be "thrilled" if she were the person chosen to be the next Lilja School principal.

7:05 p.m.: Superintendent Peter Sanchioni begins the night by thanking so many people for coming out (the cafeteria is nearly full). He notes that the principal, in concert with the teachers, many of whom are in attendance, is the most important person to a successful school.

Sanchioni says that 36 people applied for the job and 16 were given preliminary interviews. Eight received interviews after that.

All parents and teachers in attendance were given a sheet with brief bios of the four candidates. The other side of the sheet has questions for people to answer related to what they feel the candidates' strengths are, any concerns or questions they have about the candidate, any thoughts about the candidate and one question about an overall reaction.

The candidates will each speak for about 10 minutes and answer questions for about 20 minutes.

The four candidates are:

  1. Jill Barnhardt, who is currently Administrator of Curriculum, Instruction and Staff Development for the Whitman Hanson Regional School District.
  2. Susan Frederick, who is currently principal of the Elmwood Street School in Millbury.
  3. Heather Smith, who is currenly the Assistant Principal at the Jordan/Jackson Elementary School in Mansfield.
  4. Scott Williams, who is currently the principal of the F.A. Cleveland Elementary School in Norwood.


Tonight Natick Patch will be live-blogging from the Lilja School Principal Forum, which is expected to begin at 7 p.m.

The forum gives teachers and parents the opportunity to ask the four finalists questions, as well as hear them speak about themselves and their educational leadership philosophies.

The Natick Public Schools originally received 40 applications for the position. 15 were given preliminary interviews, with eight of those receiving a more in-depth interview.


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