August 13, 2014 - Middle school is a challenging time for students as they merge into one class after six years at elementary schools across the district.
Principal Elizabeth Walker, at right, and Assistant Principal Jennifer Johnson are getting ready for a new year at Sashabaw Middle School. Photo by Phil Custodio
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Getting them to work and learn together is the job of new Sashabaw Middle School Principal Elizabeth Walker and Assistant Principal Jennifer Johnson.
"It's important to set up the right atmosphere at the start so they can congeal as a class in the two years they're here," said Walker, who joined Clarkston Community Schools in 2011 as assistant principal at the high school.
"This is a large school – it can be a struggle for students," said Johnson, who served as interim principal last year. "It's an anxious time, as they make friends and become part of Sashabaw Middle School. I love the age. This is a great place to be."
The administrative team's plans to accomplish their mission includes an introductory camp for the kids. They'll also form students and teachers into teams so they can work with the same people as much as possible and get to know each other.
"We'll keep it as small as possible for students and staff," Walker said.
They'll continue to focus on implementing Culture of Thinking at the middle school through professional development training for teachers.
"It's teaching students how to learn," Walker said. "We'll review why it is important, why we do it, the steps involved in improving instruction. We'll break down what works well and what changes to focus on."
Teachers will also keep journals, reflecting on their development and recording ideas to share with each other.
"We'll plan out what it looks like in the first few days of school," Johnson said. "If want kids do it, we have to do it as adults."
Walker learned a lot as assistant principal at Clarkston High, experiences she'll use at the middle school.
"I learned about the culture of Clarkston schools, its values and ideas, and a lot about the community," she said. "As large as it is, Clarkston is a community with a family-oriented feel, a small town atmosphere. It's fantastic."
She facilitated the Project Zero conference at Clarkston High School, which brought together educators from around the world to discuss and learn about the Culture of Thinking teaching philosophy.
"It was an amazing experience to present at the conference and bring Culture of Thinking to the staff," Walker said.
Johnson and teacher Brett McCall, who served as interim assistant principal last year, will help maintain continuity during the transition.
"We'll get to know each other until we're a well-oiled machine," Johnson said. "I can't wait until this is all old hat. I look forward to that. It's something we'll carry over for the kids."
Walker has 11 years experience in education and was a teacher leader at Lake Fenton Community Schools before joining the Clarkston district. She earned her masters in Public Administration at the University of Michigan
Johnson has 15 years teaching experience, with four years in administration. She taught sixth grade science in Dryden before joining Clarkston Community Schools.
"I love Clarkston. As large as it is, it has a small town feel. You can connect with people," she said.
Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.