Tuesday, August 20, 2013

TOP STORY >> Principal gets into trenches

Leader staff writer

On the first day of school at Murrell Taylor Elementary in Jacksonville, students and parents alike wouldn’t have recognized Myeisha Haywood as the new principal.

That is because, as she said, “I want the teachers to know I’ll get in the trenches with them. We’re fighting the same fight.”

She started the day opening car doors to escort kids to the front doors and kneeling down to put wristbands on the bus riders as they arrived.

The wristbands informed teachers, staff and the students which bus the students needed to board at the end of the day.

Haywood’s next step was clearing the crowded and cramped school office of parents with children who were not registered or parents that needed related issues addressed. She patiently and politely ushered them to the media center, where everyone could sit down as they waited.

Then the new principal was off to make her rounds, offering directions along to the way to a few parents and students who seemed lost.

To one of the first classes she popped into, Haywood said, “I’m going to be visiting this classroom because ya’ll are leaders and you are always going to be doing what you’re supposed to be doing in this classroom, right?”

She turned to this reporter on her jaunt to the next room, explaining, “It’s good to take a few seconds for them to see my face.”

That face appeared to have a smile that just wouldn’t quit. It paired perfectly with Haywood’s booming, joy-filled voice.

One of her next stops was the wing dedicated to children with special needs. Haywood noted that the school has a high population of special-needs kids.

While most campuses have one or two classes, Murrell Taylor Elementary has four, plus a fifth class for students with behavioral issues.

It is in that wing that the new principal learned a paraprofessional did not show up for work and wasn’t answering calls. A teacher tells her the message on the paraprofessional’s phone says the number has been disconnected.

But nothing can shake the smile from Haywood’s face. She tells the teacher to send her an e-mail about the incident while assuring her it will be taken care of.

Later on, Haywood encountered the second problem of the day. A disgruntled parent came in wanting to know why her daughter was held back.

When the parent stepped out of the new principal’s office, she seemed satisfied with the answer she received. Haywood explained that she told the parent the student could be re-tested in a few weeks to see whether she should be held back or not.

The new principal continued her rounds, visiting all the kindergarteners and telling several of them, “Because you’re my friends, I expect you to treat each other nicely.”

Haywood explained that she had heard the school has a problem with bullying, and that is unacceptable.

After her rounds were complete, the new principal noted that this would be her daily routine, not just something to do on the first day.

Haywood doesn’t plan to be in her office much, and said she hasn’t even had time to organize things yet.

The new principal explained, “I’m going to be proactive. I am one who really believes you have to be in the classrooms.”

Haywood is already being proactive by making several changes, like putting a 45-minute intervention/enrichment period in the students’ daily schedules.

During that period, kids who are struggling can get help while those who aren’t struggling will receive a lesson challenging them to learn beyond the classroom.

Haywood has also changed the schedules of fifth- and fourth-graders to make their transition to middle school easier.

Fifth-graders don’t have just one teacher and one classroom anymore. There are three teachers in three rooms who handle their lessons.

There is one teacher for math, one for literacy and one for science and social studies.

Switching classes like this is similar to what they’ll have to do in middle school, Haywood explained. In middle school, students typically rotate to seven classes in different rooms with different teachers for 50-minute lessons.

To help fourth-graders ease into the fifth-grade schedule, the new principal said they have two teachers they rotate to. One of them teaches literacy and social studies while the other handles math and science lessons.

This arrangement helps teachers too by allowing them to focus on their strongest area of study, Haywood said.

She also praised her teachers for their efforts to go above and beyond.

Teachers have one 45-minute planning period each school day.

They were meeting for professional development — called the professional learning community — after school, but kept running into issues of teachers not being able to make it because of bus duty or other obligations.

So the teachers agreed to give up one planning period a week to meet for the professional learning community. Now they have one in-school meeting and one after-school meeting each week.

“I’m proud of my teachers for this. It lets you know the attitude and culture of the school is that of we do what it takes,” Haywood said.

About her approach to leading the school, she continued, “I can’t stand chaos.”

This is why another change the new principal has brought about is procedures that concern how things like bathroom breaks are handled.

Any activity that takes away from instruction time is governed by procedures designed to minimize how much instruction time is lost, Haywood explained.

“We want to account for all our time,” she said.

Those procedures include having students line up single file on the right side of the hall with their feet two tiles from the wall.

But what Haywood really wants to focus on is community and parental involvement.

“I feel like in order to reach kids we have to have the support of our community,” she said.

The school’s theme this year is “MTES ROCKS!” That is an acronym for “Murrell Taylor Elementary School Reaching Out to Catapult Kids to Success.”

Haywood said information is key to making this theme a reality.

“Every decision I make is going to be driven by data,” she noted.

Haywood continued, “This year, I want to see growth. When I say growth, I mean growth in student achievement. I want teachers to grow independently. I want to see growth in community partnerships and parental involvement.”

But she doesn’t want the staff or teachers to blame low test scores on a lack of community and parental support. Haywood said she, the other administrators, staff and teachers need to be accountable.

Haywood explained, “The buck stops here, and that’s the attitude we have to have.”

Her first day on the job was July 19.

Haywood was most recently a middle school assistant principal for the North Little Rock School District.

Before that she served as the Pulaski County Special School District’s dean of students at Fuller Middle School in Little Rock.

Haywood began career in education as a middle school teacher in the Hope School District.

She worked as a special education teacher and then as an elementary literacy and social studies teacher in Arkadelphia.

Haywood is certified as a pre-kindergarten through grade 12 building administrator.

She graduated from Henderson State University in Arkadelphia with a bachelor’s of arts degree in psychology and a master’s of arts degree in teaching and in educational leadership.