Glencairn Principal Discusses Elementary Reconfiguration Impact

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Monday, October 13, 2014, 8:08 am
Rebecca J. McAndrews
A painting created exclusively for Glencairn Elementary by Ware's niece.

Reconfigurations within East Lansing Public Schools (ELPS) for the 2014-2015 school year have not only impacted students, but have left a significant mark on faculty and staff within the district as well. Glencairn Elementary Principal Lorraine Ware is one of those staff members who faced substantial building, student body, and faculty changes. ELi sat down with Ware to discuss what her move from Red Cedar Elementary to Glencairn looks like six months after East Lansing School Board’s (ELSB's) vote in favor of modifying the landscape of ELPS.

Glencairn, previously designated as a fifth- and sixth-grade building, now houses Kindergarten through fifth-grade elementary students as it did over a decade ago. Sixth-grade students attend McDonald Middle School in a newly built separate wing of the building. A large portion of students who previously attended Red Cedar Elementary (now closed) attend either Glencairn or Whitehills Elementary, and approximately 100 students who attended Marble in the 2013-2014 school year are students at Glencairn now.

One of the traditions Ware has chosen to carry over to Glencairn from her days as Red Cedar Principal is “Morning Celebration.” The entire Glencairn student body meets with all faculty and staff from 8:50 am – 9:02 am each day in the gymnasium, with the singular focus of building a community, or “school family” as Ware calls it.  Faculty use this time to make announcements, use multimedia tools to teach proper behaviors and instill values, celebrate accomplishments, and learn about each other’s multicultural experiences. In an effort to recognize what individual members of the Glencairn community are doing throughout the year, students from a Daisy troop might sing a friendship song, a teacher who ran a race might wear her medal to show the children, or students participating in Special Olympics might display a trophy.  Students have responded positively to playing “The Name Game” with faculty and staff in their attempt to name them all, with the purpose of developing a family community. Ware says this helps students recognize the significance of every role in the school, whether that person is in the classroom teaching full-time or cleaning the halls. 

Over 40 countries are represented in the student body at Glencairn, and a portion of Morning Celebration is dedicated to weekly study of one of those countries; students from that region might assist faculty in doing this by playing their national anthem, displaying pictures of their country's terrain or famous landmarks, teaching about animals or plants indigenous to the area, and eating foods regularly served there. An expatriate herself, Ware lived in several different countries including Brazil and Guatemala, and seeks to make all children feel welcome in her school no matter where they come from. She maintains an open-door policy during the gathering, and says parents are often observed lining the walls to watch and participate in the celebration with their children. 

Birthdays are also emphasized during the assembly. Students and teachers celebrate their birthday by joining one another at the front of the room, while the entire school sings “Happy Birthday.” Ware says this accomplishes two things: first, it formally recognizes a child’s special day, but second, it ensures that that student or teacher is greeted with birthday well wishes throughout the rest of his or her school day.

With over 25 years' experience in the classroom, Ware says she never imagined herself becoming a principal when she first went into teaching. At the urging of the previous ELPS superintendent to apply, however, Ware found herself in the unique position of a new principalship at the very school where she spent many years teaching: Red Cedar Elementary. In the months leading up to her first school year as principal, Ware read Best Practices of Award-Winning Elementary School Principals by Sandra Harris, a book which profoundly impacted her in many ways and one she gives as a gift to friends in her field. One consistent practice of excellent principals named in the book was the establishment of school community through the coming-together on a daily basis in one physical space and establishing a positive tone in the morning.  Ware pitched this idea to her colleagues at Red Cedar and Morning Celebration was adopted as a pilot.

As she has watched her teachers take ownership of the assembly and help it evolve into what it is today, Ware emphatically states Morning Celebration is the thing she is most proud of implementing during her time as principal at both Red Cedar and Glencairn. She loves that “no matter what [a student’s] morning was like…we start with every child being greeted by each other and their teacher.” Fourth grade teacher Marc Finger found the words to a “Peace Pledge” on the Internet and composed guitar music for it. Special Education teacher Renee Olance and fourth grade teacher Lauren Anderson are teaching the pledge in sign language to the entire school. This pledge is now the closing portion of Morning Celebration. 

Another practice Ware encouraged at Red Cedar and is implementing in various ways at Glencairn is to “roll out the welcome mat” to students, parents, and any visitor to school grounds. A freestanding sign amongst decorative flowerpots near the front door reads “Welcome to Glencairn” and points visitors in the direction of the Main Office. A banner on the roof states “Glencairn School Welcomes You”. A piece of art greets visitors as soon as they enter the hallway with “welcome” written in various languages. The “Cozy Corner” is a new addition to the school, an area faculty and staff designed for students to gather together on couches and chairs outside of the lunchroom. Ware’s own niece created a painting hung at the entrance to the Main Office specifically for Glencairn, which states, “We all smile in the same language.”

Welcome sign located in Glencairn Elementary's front hallway.

Resident concerns regarding Glencairn’s facilities have been a point of discussion during ELSB meetings over the course of several years leading up to the reconfiguration.  A Site Ranking Comparison & Recommendation report was presented to the ELSB on August 11, 2012 and has been debated at length by members of the community, members of the ELSB, and most recently at the ELSB candidate forum on October 8. In the report, construction managers noted concern with circulation and parking, outdoor facilities, location and access, and site size and topography. Some families of students attending Glencairn indicate the play structures are not ideal for the younger student body that now attends the school and there are significant drainage problems all over the playground and the entire property.  Parking is extremely limited and increased vehicle and foot traffic (only one bus delivers students from Spartan Village to Glencairn) on Harrison Road has some residents and employees concerned.  If the school were to hold a nighttime program, families would need to park along surrounding residential streets since the parking lot is pushed past capacity with employee’s vehicles alone.

The effect of the reconfiguration transition on students has also been widely discussed within the East Lansing community. Besides Ware, eleven of the fourteen faculty members at Glencairn previously taught together at Red Cedar.  Approximately 85% of the entire staff (secretary and custodians included) moved from Red Cedar with her.       

Ware says she and her staff are dedicated to ensuring that all students, no matter what school they may have attended previously, feel welcome and loved. She indicates teachers are remaining vigilant and addressing issues as they arise. For example, when it became apparent teams of former Marble vs. former Red Cedar students were playing soccer on the playground, teachers gathered their students together to ask “who are we as a school?” and “how should we do teams?” Teachers of older students have encouraged their class to take ownership of creating their new school identity by allowing them to come up with solutions (like purposely sitting next to someone new at lunch) and to implement them on their own. Some teachers have even done away with their seating chart and encouraged students to sit in a different seat, next to different people every day. Ware says she is observing students become more comfortable with one another and, as students break down their conceptions of one another, she has witnessed parents and families following suit and offering play dates or getting to know one another. Ware states she has been “impressed by how thoughtful parents have been of one another” and a group of Glencairn parents has plans to sell t-shirts to encourage students to identify themselves as a “Glencairn Scottie.”

When asked what her vision for Glencairn is in five years, Ware mentions physical changes to the building such as a more welcoming, obvious entrance, new play structures, and increased parking square footage.  She also envisions a strong sense of community for Glencairn students and parents, and hopes she can still be a part of that “family” as their principal in the years to come.    

This article originally appeared in a slightly different version on October 9.  At the request of Ms. Ware, ELi introduced a few minor corrections and amended a two-paragraph section.

Disclosure: Rebecca J. McAndrews has two children who attend East Lansing Public Schools and is a substitute teacher for the district.

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