I think one of the best parts of being a principal is when a fleeting comment becomes an idea, an idea becomes a conversation, and that idea then becomes an integral part of your school’s DNA. These ideas and conversations might answer the question, “How do we make this better?” or, “What’s the next big thing?”For us, the next big thing involved taking advantage of our space through partnerships that expand learning opportunities for students in our school and others in the district.
Coffee, Banking, and Unified Sports
In one instance, we converted the underutilized indoor concession stand into a coffee shop for students and staff at Caesar Rodney High School (CRHS). The Brew & Gold Café is now in its fourth year of operation and is a partnership between our culinary program and the John S. Charlton students at CRHS (the Charlton classes are for students with intellectual disabilities). The café is open each morning for faculty and student customers. This allows the Charlton students to have a sheltered work experience with customer service, while the CRHS culinary students produce the pastries, quiche, and baked goods. The culinary students who support the Brew & Gold Café have also used this experience to cater multiple events, including Delaware Governor John Carney’s cabinet meeting and the annual Board of Education dinner held at our school. We’re also proud of the fact that Charlton satellite classes have opened other Brew & Gold “franchises” at Postlethwait Middle School and Air Base Middle School.
Many ideas have come from staff. A conversation with a teacher about financial literacy led to a partnership with Del-One Federal Union that placed a bank branch in our cafeteria. “Del-One in Rider Country” is now open daily during lunch for staff and student use. It occupies a corner of the cafeteria and includes professionally encased glass walls, carpeting, wired bank security, and a customized teller station designed to hold the Diebold safe. Student tellers serve the branch with support from Del-One representatives and teachers in our business department. Our tellers are bonded and trained through a paid summer internship at a local Del-One credit union branch. Our student tellers also have extended their reach and leadership skills into our local elementary schools by teaching lessons about financial literacy.
At the suggestion of an assistant football coach, CRHS served as a pilot school for the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association Unified Sports Program four years ago. Unified Sports is an inclusive sports program that unites Special Olympics athletes and partners as teammates for training and competition. The program continues to flourish at CRHS, with Unified teams practicing and competing during all three seasons (flag football, basketball, and track). These efforts have led to our school being profiled in a video by Education Week to support inclusion, Special Olympics, and Unified Athletics.
Community and College Readiness
Heading into its sixth year of existence, Truckin’ Back to School is one of our district’s newest traditions, thanks to CRHS. We launched the program during our centennial year. Before the start of the school year, food trucks, a DJ, yard games, bounce houses, clubs, and teams set up tables in a casual atmosphere. The energy at Truckin’ Back to School is exciting and contagious, and it’s open to all preK–12 students and families in the district. The annual event draws over 4,000 people and is so well known that food trucks now call our school, eager to participate.
We also wanted to promote college and career readiness by creating a traveling dorm room to share the social aspect of campus life. We took an old school bus and gutted the seats, painted the interior, and decorated the bus with furniture donated by Delaware State University to simulate a dorm room. The ceiling of the bus is also covered in the college pennants of our recent graduates—hence, “Riders Storm the Dorm” was born. The dorm bus is on display during Truckin’ Back to School, Rider Pride Day, and College Application Week. However, we realized that this understanding needs to begin even sooner than high school, so the CRHS Dorm Bus is available for use by all K–12 schools in the district for their college and career readiness activities.
What do all of these ideas and events have in common? They were born out of conversations with dreamers and doers at CRHS. They allowed our school to harness the energy, enthusiasm, and talent of a variety of community members, families, students, and faculty. And these ideas have allowed us to continue to maximize space, opportunities, and memorable experiences for our entire student body.
When you’re the building principal, the wheels are always in motion. However, it’s important to take the time to seek out conversations with staff that answer the questions, “How do we make this better?” or, “What’s the next big thing?” Answers to these questions often allow the building leadership team to maximize the space and human capital that exists in your school and the larger community.
Dr. Sherry Kijowski is a 1990 graduate of CRHS and is the first alumnus to serve as the school’s principal. In 2014, she was named Delaware’s National Distinguished Elementary Principal for her work at the Caesar Rodney School District’s full-day kindergarten center. She then joined the staff at CRHS in July 2014. She was named Delaware’s Secondary Principal of the Year in 2019. She is the only principal in the state of Delaware to be recognized for her leadership efforts at both the elementary and secondary levels. Follow her on Twitter (@PrincipalCRHS).