Kay Wejrowski

It’s All About the Leadership

Recently, I dropped off more than 100 certificates for our principal, Mat McRae, to sign for winners in our high school's March Into Reading challenge. For the contest, students could draw or paint a new cover for their favorite book; create a book out of metal, wood, clay, or the medium of their choice; or create a graphic design that promotes reading. When all the entries were in, we had nearly 300 projects to judge, out of a school of 650 students. Our principal's response to the overwhelming participation in our school was, "It's all about the leadership."

Teachers promoted the competition in their classes, and some worked side-by-side with students, assisting with the multimedia creations. In our school, literacy, reading, and library activities are threaded throughout lessons, driving cross-curricular interdisciplinary projects.

  • Students in AP World History classes read How Do You Kill 11 Million People? Why the Truth Matters More Than You Think by Andy Andrews, examined genocide that exists in the world today, and then used Prezi to inform classmates about these atrocities.
  • Composition students read Andrews' book, along with The Hunger Games, The Lottery, and Schindler's List, drafting reflections about the similarities in each.
  • Family relations students read Crazy Love and learned about domestic abuse.

Finally, all of the students came together to raise thousands of dollars for the Child Abuse and Neglect Council, putting together pinwheels, parking cars for donations, and raising money through a penny drive. Each of them recognized abuse throughout history and in the world today, and discovered what they could do to fight it.

On the heels of these projects was an all-school fundraising assembly for our After Prom program. Students could purchase tickets to "pie" their favorite staff members in the face, and then watch the students challenge staff in volleyball and basketball. The entire staff was involved. A year ago, the After Prom assembly featured a flash mob challenge between students and staff. Again, the entire staff participated, doing their best to follow the choreography of their assigned dance in front of the whole school. Did they do it because they like to dance? Hardly. They took part because they want to keep our kids safe on prom night.

Earlier this year we sponsored several Distracted Driving programs, and next week we will have assemblies to address the dangers of drinking and driving. Multitudes of our students volunteer for both winter and spring Special Olympics, tutor youngsters in our community, raise money for charities, and work as camp counselors. Our senior project, required for graduation, challenges students to tie research to leadership and community projects that benefit others. All students are involved in this process, facilitated by Principal McRae.

People, Not Programs

At our National Honor Society Induction ceremony this year, Mr. McRae discussed his experiences at the recent ASCD Annual Conference in Chicago. He talked about the 10,000 educators from more than 30 countries who came together to improve education for our students. He shared a message about "individual greatness," and told students and parents that greatness can be found in "someone in the present who we admire from afar" and often in "someone we see every day." He asked each person to think for a minute about the characteristics of great teachers. He talked about some of the award-winning programs our school offers and explained, "it is people, not programs" that define a great school or organization. He reminded students about the great teachers they have at home in their parents, as well as the dedicated teachers they have in our high school. He talked about the outstanding programs we have in our school, including the library, and reminded students to show appreciation for all of the great people who contribute to their success.

McRae closed with a message he learned from ASCD conference general session speaker Maya Angelou. He said:

In her poetic voice, Ms. Angelou told her story, which was marred with one adverse situation after another. Of course, she noted that adversity does make us stronger, but added that, on our darkest days, we must be grateful for the ... rainbows that force their way through the clouds. She poetically referred to her grandmother and several of her teachers as the rainbows that kept her going.

It was then that I realized that this amazing woman was not there to share her personal story ... she simply used it as a preface to thank the 10,000 plus educators for being the rainbows in the lives of so many children.

Her message to us, and the message I would like to convey to all of you, is that you all enter this world with the same potential for achieving "greatness." There is no universal definition for this term, but I agree with Maya Angelou that it is based on the degree of impact we have on others; whether it be in the classroom, at the dining room table, or on a global scale.

Ms. Angelou concluded her presentation by reminding us all that attitude is the key to success ... if you have an attitude of gratitude you can see through any clouds with a little help from your rainbows.

Our staff continues to be inspired, to work with kids on Habitat for Humanity housing projects, to rake leaves and feed the hungry, and donate blood and serve on mission trips. Our principal has taught us that.

And we realize he is right. Truly, "It's all about the leadership."

Mat McRae is whole child partner American Association of School Librarians' 2012 Administrator of the Year and principal of Swan Valley High School in Saginaw, Mich. Kay Wejrowski is the library media specialist at the school. Swan Valley High School is the recipient of the 2012 MAME Library Program of the Year Award, is a 2011 Follett Challenge Winner, and was awarded the 2010 Citation of Excellence from the Library of Michigan.

Comments (1)

Curtis Hunter

July 21, 2013

There are many great points that the principal makes.  Most importantly in my opinion his statement of “it is people not programs” that define a great school.  This is a great example of how leadership at all levels and in all departments helped foster a very positive school culture.  The service projects are clear representations of the students themselves displaying leadership, most likely due to the leadership that is displayed in their school by the faculty.  It is apparent that these students and the faculty take pride in their work, their school, and their community.

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