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1/29/15

Building Administrators Making a Difference in Georgia Education - Richard Green

Building Administrators Making a Difference in Georgia Education - Richard Green


    The role of the building Principal in providing an effective and meaningful educational experience for students has long been recognized as a key to school success.  Great schools do not happen by accident, and are always the result of the vision, planning, hiring effectiveness and leadership skills of the building Principal.  One such leader is Richard Green, Principal of Aaron Cohn Middle School in Columbus, a new addition to the Muscogee County School District.  ACMS is in its second year of operation, and Richard was appointed its educational leader by the MCSD Board before the building was finished.  The building is located on Garrett Road in Midland, and is within the boundaries of Muscogee County.  ACMS has 34 teachers, 2 administrators, a total staff of 63 and 546 students grades 6-8.  About 36% of the students are FRL (free or reduced lunch), and the school has a 46% to 41% majority to minority ratio.  Richard remarked “we don’t have racial issues, but we do have kid issues.  Our students handle diversity much better than adults do, and they never make race an issue unless the adults do.  They serve as models for us about how to get along together.”  He mentioned that ACMS is not a magnet school, and that they take any student assigned to them by the MCSD Central Registration office. ACMS also participates in the MCSD Partners in Education program, and is sponsored by Pratt and Whitney, Chick-Fil-A Midland and Liberty National Insurance.
    Richard graduated high school from Tri-County HS in Marion County GA, and attended Columbus College (now Columbus State University.)  He is the 2nd of 3 children from a home where neither parent graduated high school. “College for me was always an expectation.  There was never a time my parents allowed me to think about not going.”  His Dad called himself a general contractor but was known for his ability to fix almost anything, and his “I can fix it” attitude rubbed off on Richard.  He saw himself as the center fielder for the New York Yankees, but his inability to hit a curve ball ended that dream soon after high school.  He began college as a PE major, but changed to Special Education after a chance meeting on a playground with a special needs child that changed his life.  “We were sitting on the playground, and the young man’s Mom was involved in a conversation with someone else.  The boy looked dejected, so I began talking to him.  He had a learning disability, and we talked for about 45 minutes. Both of us left feeling pretty happy.  After that meeting, I went home and talked about it with Mom.  She said working with special needs children was a gift, and it was pretty obvious to her that her son had the ability to communicate where others might lose patience.”  On the advice of his Mom and as a result of that chance meeting, Richard changed his major, graduated with his degree and was immediately hired to teach special needs children and coach basketball and football at Columbus High School.
    “I loved what I was doing” Richard said, “and loved being in the classroom, but it took me a couple of years to really know what it meant to be an effective teacher.”  “My one regret about my first years of teaching is I wasn’t as prepared for the classroom as I thought.  I wish I could go back and have the chance to re-teach those kids I had my first couple of years.”  He credits his friend James Wilson with mentoring him through his first few years of teaching.  James also encouraged Richard to continue on for his Master’s degree in Administration and Leadership at CSU.  “I had no intention of ever using it, but did get a raise for an advanced degree.”  Richard later moved to Shaw HS and continued teaching special needs students and coaching.  “I loved it” he said, “and probably learned more from my students than they did from me.”  When his friend James was hired as Principal at Midland MS, he asked Richard to join him there as a special education teacher.  “Two days before school started, James put me in his car and we rode around and talked.  He said there was an opening for an AP at Midland and he wanted me to fill it.  There was no question about whether I wanted to, just that he was going to recommend me.  I thought about it, and figured if James saw that potential then I would try administration.  I learned more than I thought possible about administration my first two years, but I was primarily focused on conformity.”   When James later moved on to become Principal at Northside High, he recommended Richard to take his place.  “I love middle school” he noted, and makes it a point to visit classrooms every day and attend every event possible.  “I learned that asking teachers what I could do to help them was much more effective than simply dictating what they were to do.  I also figured out that face to face conversation was much more effective than any other form of communication. I resolved that I would never forget what it’s like to be in the classroom” he continued, “and I would do everything possible to facilitate what teachers do.  They are the key to everything, and we can’t forget that.”   During his tenure as Principal at Midland, Richard was asked to have his school participate in the PAGE High School Redesign Initiative.  “It changed the way I think about school and about students” he commented.  “I learned to think of students and parents as customers in the educational process.  I also began to hire teachers that thought the same way.  PAGE provided in-service for me and my staff at a time when staff development money was almost non-existent for schools.  That learning changed the way we do things.”
    “We look at test scores” Richard said, “but it’s not who we are and I don’t obsess over them.  If our teachers are effective in what they do test scores will take care of themselves.  Ours are very good.  Neither is our building who we are - it’s the culture of the school that define us and what we do.  One of the things I’ve noticed is that parents don’t really choose a school based on test scores; they choose a school based on word of mouth from their friends and acquaintances.  That’s why the customer idea is key to building a true learning community.”  Richard hires teachers that mirror his beliefs in customer service, their love for students and for teaching, for a willingness to meet students where they are and move them forward and for learning to teach using ideas above and beyond lecture.  “Our BYOD (bring your own device) classes have been a great success, and we are fortunate to have a building that can handle the access.  We also have devices for kids that don’t, but most of them have better stuff than we do and love the opportunity to learn in pairs under the guidance of some very creative teachers.”  Richard also established a voluntary summer learning program for teachers.  They meet every other Monday at Chick-Fil-A and talk about different teaching ideas they’ve tried or would like to try.  “It’s a powerful thing when teachers talk to each other about teaching and learning” Richard said;  “it’s miraculous to see the ideas they learn from each other.”
    When asked about parents, Richard said “parents want to know what’s happening at our school.  We go a little overboard on communication, but I think they appreciate it.  Sometimes we do have to deal with an irate parent, but I’ve learned to listen and not get defensive about their complaint.  After I listen I check out the situation and look for solutions.  There’s always a follow up phone call or meeting with the parent to let them know what I found.  I also make sure that teachers are communicating regularly with parents.  They are an important part of our school community.  I try to be a good listener and non-confrontational with parents and teachers and students.  Back and forth yelling does little to solve any problem, and usually just contributes to it.  I’ve never found anger to be a prime motivator” he noted.
    So what do teachers say about Mr. Green?  Stephanie Fuerte teaches ELA and Pam Anders math at ACMS.  Both were enthusiastic about Richard’s leadership.  “He listens” said Stephanie, “and wants to hear from students, parents and teachers.  He also protects teachers from the adverse consequences of teaching ideas that may not work the first time, but encourages us to continue to be creative and not just talk at students.”  Anders agrees, and said “Mr. Green allows teachers to teach.  He doesn’t want to see silent classrooms, but expects student engagement in the form of students talking and working together.”  MCSD Superintendent Dr. David Lewis agrees, and said “Mr. Green is a consummate professional in every respect.  I have found him to be a leader who leads by example.  He is thoughtful, conscientious, highly committed and a person of high integrity.  Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay him is that I would have been pleased to have had him serve as the Principal of the school for my own children.”
    Richard doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about Common Core.  “It’s what’s expected of us” he said, “so that’s what we do.  The portability is useful since so many of our kids are from military families” he continued, “but I am concerned about the lack of teacher input in the development phase of the standards.”  He also believes the TKES teacher evaluation instrument is far superior to what was used before.  “It makes administrators get into classrooms” he noted.  “My goal is to visit every classroom every day, and I usually make that happen in spite of the other things that often require my attention.  I don’t particularly agree that evaluation should be tied to test scores when teachers have no control over who comes into their classroom, but there again, it’s what we have so it’s what we’ll deal with for now.”  When asked what advice he would give to Georgia’s Governor to improve education statewide, Richard answered quickly “I would like to see 20 additional days of instruction added to our school calendar.  That would make more difference than anything else we could do, and needs to be a priority.”  
    Richard said he attempts to make education personal for every teacher, student and parent at ACMS.  By any measure, he appears to be accomplishing that feat.

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