How Did I Get Here?

1988.590.02-1024x819Hubbard Woods School c. 1940. WHS Photo 1988.590.02.

It’s been an amazing week for me!  The 2016 School Library Journal’s School Librarian of the Year announcement has filled me with both pride and joy. I thought I would take some time and reflect on how I got here.

When I was an education student at Ohio University back in 1988-1992, I was fortunate enough to have a professor George Wood and his protege Jean Ann Hunt as professors.  Professor Wood, at the time, was researching a book that would go on to be titled Schools That Work: America’s Most Innovative Public Education Programs.

When one day in class Professor Wood asked if anyone wanted to join him on a field trip to Chicago to do some interviews for the book, I was the first one with my hand in the air. Turned out that I had the chance to visit two schools on that trip.  One was an elementary school in an area of inner city Chicago called Cabrini Green and the other was Hubbard Woods Elementary School.

Both schools blew me away, but our host and principal of Hubbard Woods, Dick Streedain.  I had never met a person like Dick before.  The two of us spent the better part of an afternoon discussing everything from educational philosophy, Carl Jung, and the Chicago Bulls.  I had formed a bond with this man that was unlike any I had ever experienced.  By the end of the weekend, Dick had asked me to come and do my student teaching at Hubbard Woods.  Not only was I flattered, but I was also flummoxed.  After all, The Ohio University was nearly 500 miles and several states away.  Dick assured me we would find a way to make it happen and a little over a year later, I started student teaching at Hubbard Woods Elementary School.

For three months I lived with a Hubbard Woods Family, the Meyer’s.  They had a third-floor apartment that became my new ‘home.’  Each morning I’d eat breakfast with their children and pack my lunch.  One of their daughter’s Emily was actually in my 2nd/3rd-grade class and we walked to school together each day.  I truly felt like the teacher on The Little House on the Prairie!

In the time between my first visit and my student teaching, Jean Ann Hunt had taken a couple of year’s leave to come and teach at Hubbard Woods School.  You probably have figured out by now that she was my student teaching cooperating teacher.  Next door to our classroom was another educator I admired, Daniel Ryan. In fact, the whole school embraced me.  My student teaching experience was exhausting, invigorating and life-changing.

At the conclusion of my student teaching, I was offered at job at one of the elementary schools in the small district.   While incredibly humbled and honored, I did not feel ready. My time at Ohio University gave me the chance to work with learners of all ages in the Appalachian communities in the area.  I treasured that diversity but craved more.  So, I accepted a position as a 5th-grade teacher at Vanstory Hills Elementary School in Fayetteville, North Carolina.  Those two years tested me.  After coming from a university where textbooks in methods classes were not used, and a school district like Winnetka where teachers create the curriculum and resources, being handed a stack of textbooks was about as foreign to me as having to teach in all Spanish.

My time at Ohio University gave me the chance to work with learners of all ages in the Appalachian communities in the area.  I treasured that diversity but craved more.  So, I accepted a position as a 5th-grade teacher at Vanstory Hills Elementary School in Fayetteville, North Carolina.  The diversity of this school was unlike any I had ever been exposed to.  Everything from the school culture to the community was foreign to me. Those two years tested me.  After coming from a university where textbooks in methods classes were not used, and a school district like Winnetka where teachers create the curriculum and resources, being handed a stack of textbooks was about as foreign to me as having to teach in all Spanish.

Nonetheless, I learned so much.  At the conclusion of my second year, I got a call from Dick Streedain and he let me know that a position at one of the other elementary schools had again come open; I jumped at the chance.

I taught for two years at Greeley School in fourth grade.  I decided to continue my education at National Louis University.  In an amazing twist of fate, Daniel Ryan (the same next door teaching neighbor) had become the director of the Baker Demonstration School! The Demonstration School was amazing!  I had a mixed age class of 4th and 5th graders.  I built the curriculum with my peers and was encouraged to explore, push and challenge both my students and myself!  After completing my master’s degree, I once again got a call from Winnetka.  This time, it was from the principal Maureen Cheever.

Over the course of a few interviews, I had been offered a chance to teach once again at Hubbard Woods!

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The Past and Present Principals of Hubbard Woods Elementary School

Daniel Ryan,  Bill Meuer, Beth Carmody, Maureen Miller, Dick Streedain

At Hubbard Woods School, I taught one year as a third-grade teacher and spent the next fourteen years teaching fourth grade.  When the librarian/Resource Center Director announced his retirement, I decided that I would interview for it.  After being hired, I once again attended National Louis University to earn my Library Media Specialist credentials.

I had the phenomenal opportunity to work with some of the leading professionals in the field.

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Like anything, it took the support and patience of parent and school leaders to help make changes like this happen.  I give a lot of the credit to Maureen Cheever who hired me; first as a classroom teacher and then later as the new Resource Center Director.  She believed in the ‘vision’ back when it was in a manilla folder marked “DREAMS!”

Along with Maureen’s initial support, I have to give tremendous credit to the then principal Daniel Ryan who fully backed the transformation and to the Tech Director Maureen Miller and Superintendent Trisha Kocanda who answered every question I posed to them with a ‘Yes, and…”

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And none of the work could have been done if it were not for the OVERWHELMING support and encouragement of our Parent Teacher Organization who backed the initial project and set this monumental program in motion.  The experience of working with President Jen Hayes and Vice President Brooke Helmstetter and IDEA Lab Chair Sarah Graham could not have been more collaborative and supportive! Our custodians jumped in and went far and above to make the vision a reality.  And now, our new principal Beth Carmody is on fire for the new ideas and programs we have cued up for this year!

Seven years of trial and error, tons of collaboration and sweat equity our school and I are honored to be named the School Library Journal’s School Librarian of the Year!

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So, what’s next?  Well, first of all, I can’t wait to get back into space.  Summer rains caused a lot of trouble and had the school closed right up until the last minute.  Leg surgery popped up on the radar in the final weeks of summer as well.

I hope that this year I can use the platform to encourage and promote progressive learning, a love of reading and STEAM education for ALL students!  I hope you’ll join me on the journey!

 

 

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