by Kirby Lindsay, posted 9 July 2012
On June 29th at B.F. Day Elementary School an era ended as soon-to-be-retired Susan McCloskey wrapped up fourteen years as B.F. Day principal, and transferred the mantle of leadership in the most prosaic of ways – by changing the name on the voice mail to that of Katie Pearl.
Pearl planned a short summer vacation – one week that included the 4th of July holiday – before she will report back to B.F. Day on Monday, July 9th as principal of Fremont’s own public school.
A Background To Build On
In May, Seattle Public Schools administration announced the appointment of Pearl as the incoming principal. With 11 years in education, Pearl has spent the last four in administration at Asa Mercer Middle School – most recently as an Assistant Principal.
“I didn’t think to be in administration,” she explained. She studied to be a Special Education teacher, and has taught as one, but “I found the impact you can have, the influence you can have is so much greater in administration.” Luckily training to work with children with special needs does carry over into administration – specifically the methods of intervention and, “looking at the broad view,” she said.
She’s taken a broad view of her transition to B.F. Day, and the role of principal to a school that just celebrated – in May – it’s 120th birthday. “I think any transition is school specific,” she said. She has already made significant efforts to learn the culture, climate and community specific to B.F. Day – a school known for its strong sense of family.
A Background Well Built
McCloskey has built a dedicated following that could be tough to sway, but she started with a similar challenge when she first arrived at the school. Carole Williams, another award-winning principal dearly beloved by staff, parents, students and the broader community, retired a year before McCloskey arrived. For a year in-between, the selected replacement for Williams faltered badly – never finding a footing and establishing few connections. When McCloskey reported as a second replacement, the school community was reeling from two huge let-downs, and she quickly earned the respect and appreciation she needed to successfully lead B.F. Day.
On June 29th, McCloskey also observed, “I didn’t plan to be a principal,” although that’s exactly what she has done for 25 of the forty years she has spent working in education. “I taught at Catholic Schools,” she explained about her early years as an elementary school teacher, “and it didn’t pay enough to live on.” She went into administration to draw a living wage, and found her calling.
When asked about the biggest challenges she has faced in running a school, she admitted that, “dealing with the instability of budgets,” has been hardest. While she, and her dedicated staff, work hard to build a quality curriculum – budget cuts can suddenly cut a teacher, or a program, and throw the whole effort off-kilter. Nearly every new school year she had to seek out outside funding for a program – or teacher – she refused to sacrifice.
All For the Care Of the Kids
“Our philosophy is that every adult is responsible for every child,” at the school, McCloskey explained, “that was the way it was when I came.” She may have inherited that attitude, but she has also reinforced it. Among her students, McCloskey has been seen frequently talking, teaching and praising them – by name.
Called the ‘Family School’, a unique bond of fond fellowship exists among the staff. “They like each other, and enjoy each other,” McCloskey observed about the staff, “and the parents…oh, the parents are so supportive!”
Pearl has a tough job ahead, but she seems genuinely ready to embrace every challenge. “The close knit of the community isn’t intimidating,” she responded, when asked. “I know the value of it, the strength of it,” she said, “It’s an open door policy.”
McCloskey praised Pearl’s hard work, right from the start, to learn the names and faces of staff and students by studying photos. Also, “I walked with Carrie [Bauer] and Diane [Weibiling],” Pearl explained about a recent walk with the school secretary and family support worker around Fremont, “and they pointed out all the businesses that support the school.”
“This is a new place for me,” Pearl acknowledged, “and it’s a matter of pride to know that I don’t know everything.” She plans to ask, and to participate. “It’s about being a leader, but also a player,” in the daily life of the school, she said.
All For The Love Of The Kids
Both women love working with the kids. “They make you laugh,” explained McCloskey, “you never go home saying it was a boring day.” Pearl said she admires the impulsivity and creativity that children bring with them. Her ability to work with children she sees as one of her real strengths, and stated that, as an administrator, “every decision should be about the kids.”
“I’m so thrilled to hand B.F. Day over to Katie,” McCloskey said in the last few minutes of her era as leader of our school, “I think it will be a seamless transition.” McCloskey then laughed, “I want to work for her!”
Pearl invites comments, concerns or input from parents, staff, and/or interested members of the Fremont community. “The pressure should be on the leader,” she said, “so the teachers can focus on the students, and doing the best for them.” Contact Pearl at firstname.lastname@example.org, or talk to her in the halls, on the playground or on the sidewalks of Fremont, as she becomes a part of our community.
Change can be difficult, and having to say farewell to Susan McCloskey has been downright sad, but it is reassuring to know that Pearl doesn’t come to us by random happenstance. It was her choice; she applied for the position at B.F. Day. “This is the one school I wanted to be at,” she admitted, and hopefully we can all make her feel welcome at the public school at the Center of our Universe.
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©2012 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.