Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Why Middle Schoolers Like Gaston Day

Jennifer Newcombe, Middle School Coordinator, recently surveyed middle school students and asked what they like best about Gaston Day. The top vote getter, with a 39% response rate, was the good relationship that they have with their teachers. Second, with 33% response rate, was the relationship they have with their school friends and going to a school where everyone knows each other. Third, with 24% was the athletic program. Fourth, with 17%, was the quality education which is preparing them for college.

After these top four come a host of reasons with much smaller responses: the schedule, food, science (especially frog dissection!), field trips and dances, a clean school, plays, all these and many others made the list at lower response rates. Below are some quotes taken from the survey.

"The students and teachers respect each other."
"The arts here are amazing."
"The friends you make will last you a lifetime."
"There are a bunch of different sports you can do."
"Teachers treat us the age we are--they don't treat us like babies."
"Classes are fun and we get a lot done."
"You'll have lots of friends."
"Many opportunities and students are well behaved."
"P.E. is very amazing!"
"GDS prepares you for college."
"Middle School baseball is awesome. Please play!"
"Gaston Day has real spaghetti."

If you would like a copy of Mrs. Newcombe's summary of the results, please ask her for one. The results are revealing and encouraging.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lessons from the Storm

Just when I thought we were passed the prospect of a snow closing, the wind struck last week. It was certainly one of the worst power failures that I have experienced since coming to Gaston Day ten years ago, and it shut down the school for two days. Every new situation provides valuable lessons, and this one was no different. First of all, we learned that it is very difficult to communicate when you lack electricity. I arrived at school at about 5 am on Tuesday morning, hoping that there would be no power outage at school. Obviously, those hopes proved false.

How do you communicate with parents when phones and E-mails don't work? The answer is cell phones. We did our best to get the message out, relying on word of mouth and the power of cell phones to spread the news. Regrettably, we had about twenty families that did not get the message and showed up for school. All in all, however, we were pleased that the vast majority of our families received the school-closing alert on such short notice and with our standard means of communication shut down. Kristin Paxton-Shaw, Director of Public Relations, will be developing a cell-phone calling tree plan for similar situations in the future. She also is looking at some systems that are automated and broadcast news to cell phones from a central source.

The second lesson learned is that there may be cost-effective ways to install platforms for generators that could have had the school up and running on the second day we missed. Installing permanent generators would be too expensive. But with some reasonable preparation, we can have the infrastructure in place to bring in rented generators if this happens again. We are very interested in exploring this improvement. How many years will it be before we have an ice storm or a wind storm that knocks out power at Gaston Day? Who knows? But eventually it will happen.

We also realized that certain precautions that Bob Larkin, Director of Technology, has taken over the last 18 months really paid off. We have placed over 50% of all our computers and file servers on UPS equipment (battery backup), moved our E-mail services to an offsite facility, and consolidated all school and financial information at a site in Boston. These changes were made to simplify our technology infrastructue and allow for the continued operation of our school. This meant the school returned back to normal quickly and with minimal damage to our computers and systems when the power was restored at 9 pm, Wednesday, April 6th.

Finally, although we could never have anticiapted this, I am confident that many of the trees, recently cut down for the new driveway, would have blown down in this storm and created a major mess. The lesson here is that sometimes our decisions have unintentional, fortunate consequences.

On a personal note, I cannot stand for school to be closed when we are scheduled to be opened! When Gaston Day School is forced to close due to inclement weather or power failures, the school administration's entire focus becomes getting school open again as quickly as possible, while ensuring the safety and well being of our students. Our business is educating children: it is a serious task, and the less school we miss, the more our students learn. It is so good to be back at school!