In the race to manage a school building, the track may be different but the vehicle stays the same, even on opening day.
“What is driving your mindset is ‘How would this affect the kids?” said Michael Black, principal of Carlisle High School.
“What is best for them? How can you provide for them? You are constantly seeing this,” he said. “We are here to serve the kids.”
Coming into work for the first day of school Monday morning, Black noticed a delivery truck was taking up four spaces in the student parking lot. Though the windows were needed for the gym renovation project, upperclassmen seeking a place to park had priority.
Black put on his supervisor hat and called the district office of buildings and grounds. He also did a sweep of the gym lobby area to make sure the hallways were free of construction clutter.
“It’s a goal of ours every day to be out and about,” Black said. “You don’t know what’s going on if you are not out and about.”
A routine check of the stairwell in the Fowler building turned up a puddle of water on the steps. This increased the risk of an accident minutes before students were supposed to go from homeroom to their first-period class.
Rather than delegate the task, Black became the trouble-shooter who borrowed a mop and used paper towels to soak up the water. The hazard was averted with time to spare.
Black was promoted to high school principal in early July, and Monday was his first day overseeing a building with 1,500 students in attendance. Monday was also the first day of a new school year for the Carlisle Area School District.
As the principal, Black is in charge of four grade-level principals who are paired up in two buildings on opposite ends of the campus. Freshmen and sophomore classes are mostly in the David R. Swartz building on the east end while junior and senior classes are mostly in the Emma T. McGowan building on the west end of the campus.
Last year Black was the 12th-grade principal who also supervised McGowan. Back then his job as principal focused only on the day-to-day operations and student interactions within that building. His promotion to building principal ramped up the level of responsibility to include the overall picture in both the east and west ends and the Gerald L. Fowler building in the center.
That meant Black had to move rapidly between the three buildings to make sure the first day of school ran smoothly. He carried a portable radio wherever he went.
One thing he noticed right away was the lack of students waiting to see office staff about scheduling conflicts. This was a sign that the hard work put in by administrators to coordinate the schedules was worth the time invested.
At Carlisle High School, the first day of school is different from most every day in that students must first report to a homeroom. Years ago, the school discontinued daily homeroom in favor of students reporting directly to their first period class. Most days students watch the morning announcements in a news format broadcasted by Herd TV students.
Another departure from the norm Black had to deal with Monday was the ongoing project to renovate the Gene Evans gym. Not only did Black have to contend with the window delivery truck, he had to make sure a space had been cordoned off for a tractor-trailer to offload the new bleachers into storage units.
“It is more responsibility, but the day-to-day situation is the same deal as a grade-level principal,” Black said. “You interact with kids. You talk to kids. You pay attention to their transitions.”
“Transitions” could mean everything from monitoring students between class periods to working with guidance counselors to help students cope with difficult home lives.
Ever wonder how a high school principal spends his day? A Sentinel reporter and photographer followed Black through the first two hours of Carlisle High School’s opening day.
Below is a timeline of his activities:
6:53 a.m.: Black arrives at his office in the Fowler building of Carlisle High School.
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6:54 to 6:58 a.m.: Black hands over the key to the Large Group Instruction room to a Penn State Mont Alto professor teaching economics to a class of high school students. Black talks with maintenance staff about adjusting the building’s air-conditioning.
6:59 to 7 a.m.: Black calls the office of Tom Horton, director of buildings and grounds, to check on the status of a window delivery truck in the student parking lot. He saw the truck on his way into work and wanted it out of the way before students start to arrive.
7:01 to 7:04 a.m.: On his way to the Gene Evans Gym, Black is intercepted by the professor who could not find a wheeled dry erase board. A quick search turned up the board in a storage room. Black also ran to his office quick to retrieve some dry erase markers.
7:05 to 7:07 a.m.: Black is on the move between the Large Group Instruction room and gym lobby. Part of his job early Monday morning was to verify that the gym area had been cleaned up from the ongoing renovation project.
7:08 to 7:12 a.m.: Black looks outside and notices vehicles in the student parking lot. He talks with the work crew about getting the lot cleared and cordoning off an area in front of the school for a tractor-trailer to offload the new gym bleachers into storage containers.
7:13 to 7:15 a.m.: Black returns to the Fowler building main entrance. The first students start to trickle in.
7:16 to 7:27 a.m.: Black chats with students as they come in. He also checks with the secretary for the Center for Careers and Technology about arranging transportation for Carlisle students going to programs at the Cumberland/Perry Vocational Technical School. He gives students directions to their homerooms.
7:28 to 7:34 a.m.: Buses arrive. More students arrive through the Fowler building entrance hallway. Black is on standby maintaining a presence in case a student needs help. One student comes up and asks about where and when she needs to report to be issued her laptop computer.
7:35 to 7:41 a.m.: In a space of six minutes, Black does a sweep of the McGowan building hall, checks in with the hall monitor at the McGowan main entrance and visits Samantha Moyer, program chair of the science department, at her classroom. The hall monitor needed to arrange alternative coverage so he could transport a grandchild who was running late to school. Black asked Moyer about the status of a long-term substitute assigned to her department.
7:42 to 7:50 a.m.: Part of Black’s job Monday morning was to inspect the two sets of restrooms that were recently renovated in the McGowan building. He needed to make sure the restrooms were cleaned and ready for students. During this time, Black also checked in with school nurses and physical education teachers who have set up a temporary classroom in the auditorium to get the height and weight of students. He advised the staff members the air-conditioning was being adjusted.
7:51 to 7:58 a.m.: Black does a sweep of the pedestrian bridge connecting the Fowler building to the Swartz building and of the hallways in the Swartz building. His job is to help students that are lost or new to the school locate their homerooms for first-day orientation. The Swartz building is where freshmen and sophomores have most of their classes. Some of the students include last minute arrivals from buses that were running late. He would check on that later.
7:58 to 8:02 a.m.: Black talks briefly with Paul Wysocki, the 10th-grade principal, about the status of opening day. Black then heads outside to briefly examine chalk artwork done by students on the sidewalks leading into the building. The artwork includes encouraging messages.
8:03 to 8:07 a.m.: On the return sweep from the Swartz to the Fowler building, Black noticed a patch of water on some steps of the staircase. The water created a potential slipping hazard minutes before students were scheduled to leave orientation for their first-period class. Rather than call for a custodian, Black got a mop from the student bank and then a pile of paper towels to soak up the water and remove the hazard.
8:08 to 8:17 a.m.: Black chats with a Sentinel reporter and photographer as he is interviewed about his first day as the buildingwide principal of Carlisle High School.
8:18 to 8:25 a.m.: Black does a sweep that takes him from the Fowler building main entrance to the lobby area of the Gene Evans Gym. He stations himself there for several minutes working with school security to guide students coming from the Fowler building to their classes in the McGowan building. During lulls in the activity, Black noticed some minor cosmetic changes needed to improve the appearance of the gym lobby. He plans to bring the changes to the attention of the project manager.
8:26 to 8:30 a.m.: Black does a sweep of the McGowan building hallways, checking in with the office and the hall monitor station at the building entrance before heading outside again.
8:31 to 8:33 a.m.: While outside, Black admires the decorative tree wrappings done by local students through the Carlisle Arts Learning Center’s Project ARTiculate. The wrappings include messages encouraging students to be accepting of others who are different. An idea forms as Black examines the material the wrappings are made from.
8:34 to 8:38 a.m.: Heading back inside, Black heads over to the classroom of Ashley Gogoj, art and design program chair. He asked her whether the decorative wrappings could be salvaged and then remounted in picture frames throughout the school building as something to encourage students.
8:39 to 9 a.m.: Black is back in his office to check his emails and conclude an interview with a Sentinel reporter.