Wilmington Middle School Principal Candidates Meet The Parents

WILMINGTON, MA — Amy Gerade. Dina Mancini. Elizabeth Golden.

One of these highly qualified educators will be the next Wilmington Middle School Principal.

Last night in the middle school auditorium, the three finalists were each given 45 minutes to introduce themselves to parents and answer questions from the audience.  Approximately 20 parents, along with School Committee Chair Peggy Kane, Vice Chair Ginny Bonish and member Julie Broussard, were in attendance.

After the three hours, parents were asked to turn in their feedback sheets.  Parents were asked to share what they perceived to be each candidate’s areas of strength and areas of concern, plus any additional comments.  Superintendent Mary DeLai promised to review all feedback.

“This is the most important decision I will make this year, and, potentially, the most important decision I will make in the next three to five years,” DeLai told parents last night.  “Your feedback is very important to me.”

DeLai intends to invite one or two of the candidates back for a second round of interviews with the district’s leadership team.  A decision is expected to be made within 7-10 days, perhaps sooner.

Below are some notes on each candidate.

Amy Gerade (6pm-6:45pm)

  • Amy Gerade has been the Assistant Principal at the Briscoe Middle School in Beverly since 2011. Prior to that, she spent 3 years as a Social Studies teacher at Lawrence High, including a stint as Acting Interim Assistant Principal, where she was also the senior class advisor, volleyball coach, and Model UN team coach.
  • Gerade received a Bachelor’s from Ohio State (2001) and Master’s in Education from UMass Amherst (2003). She is currently enrolled at UMass Lowell in a doctorate program for “leadership in schooling.”
  • Gerade, who now lives in Billerica, discussed how she was a student who struggled. She was told she couldn’t go to college, but wound up becoming the first in her family to graduate from college.
  • Gerade would leverage technology to communicate with parents and would follow district protocol in cases of emergency
  • Gerade stressed the importance that all teachers need to work on differentiated learning: “It can’t be stand-and-deliver or ‘here’s a worksheet’ anymore.” Need to engage every student in the classroom.
  • Gerade would want technology integrated seamlessly into the classroom; need to support staff and provide them with the necessary training
  • Gerade stressed needing to be proactive in dealing with substance abuse, addressing it in the curriculum, partnering with the PTO to bring in speakers, and educating parents on identifying warning signs
  • Gerade is currently the lead scheduler at her school. She schedules each of her 950 students’ 6-block, 57-minute rotating schedule.
  • Gerade would develop an understanding with her staff – taking calculated risks OK. Need to give teachers the tools they need if you want them to change.
  • Gerade “doesn’t mind” the early 7:20am start time. “It allows you to do things on the other end,” noting she’s very impressed with the school’s extracurricular offerings.
  • Gerade believes, first and foremost, the building needs to be safe. She would follow the handbook when delivering punishments.  She’s a big believer in “progressive discipline.”
  • Gerade stressed that students must “think before they send” when it comes to social media. “If I could blow up AskFM tomorrow, I would do that.”  She notes that social media can be leveraged for good, however, if expectations are clear to students.
  • Gerade discussed how her current school transitions 5th graders into 6th Grade 6 has actually their first day of school a day before 7th and 8th graders, giving them a whole day to have the school to themselves.
  • Gerade noted how it amazing it is to see the growth from the first time you have a conversation with a child in the first month of Grade 6 to the last time you have a conversation with them in the last month of Grade 8.
  • Gerade stressed that teachers need to get to know their kids, both academically and socially/emotionally, to be pro-active and address issues before they become real problems.

Dina Mancini (7pm-7:45pm)

  • Dina Mancini has been Assistant Principal at Groton-Dunstable Middle School since July 2008. Prior to that, she was a Math Teacher and Drama Club Director at the Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School for 7 years and a Math and Science Teacher at St. Ann’s in Somerville for 2 years.
  • Mancini received a Bachelor’s from Boston College (2000) and a Master’s in Education from UMass Lowell (2007).
  • “I’m sorry I live in Tewksbury, but I’m right on the Wilmington line,” joked Mancini.
  • Mancini has done “a little bit of everything” in her past 7 years – oversees all SPED programs; in charge of discipline; meets with parents; in charge of scheduling; maintains the communication chains (including social media); sends weekly parent update emails; conducts professional development for all new teachers; acts as the school’s attendance officer, etc.)
  • Mancini talked about her current school’s “Parent Shadow Day,” where parents come to school with their children to get a better understand of their day. She joked that 5th and 6th graders will still hold their parents’ hands, while 7th and 8th graders pretend not to know their parents.
  • Mancini said her current school is looking at a “Bring Your Own Device” for select 8th grade classrooms, but students are currently not allowed to bring devices.
  • Mancini says her current students are not encouraged to be on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter. She tries to give parents as much information as possible about the dangers of social media (e.g., AskFM).
  • From talking with teachers on her tour, Mancini believes Wilmington must continue to close the proficiency gap between regular education students and special education students
  • Mancini believes it’s important to preserve a positive culture for teachers, allowing them to try new things and take risks
  • In speaking with students earlier, Mancini says they want better lunches and less homework, but love recess. (!!)
  • Mancini believes teachers must meet the needs of ALL students through differentiating instruction. She’s a big proponent of differentiating the kinds of homework students are given – not all students need to practice the same skills.
  • Mancini is also a proponent of “cluster grouping.” Students considered ‘gifted and talented,’ for example, are all placed in the same classes.  By clustering them, it makes it easier for the teacher to differentiate instruction, since he or she knows that, say, 10 of the 20 students are ‘gifted and talented.’   It also helps those grouped in each cluster to gain confidence and make friends.
  • Mancini is leading a study group with teachers in her current school on utilizing “flipped classrooms,” where students have to watch a lesson from their teacher online and then come to school to do activities surrounding it. Essentially, homework is done in school and the lecture is done at home.  Kids and teachers seem to love it, according to Mancini.
  • Mancini doesn’t believe in a ‘one-size fits all’ discipline policy. She wants kids to learn from their mistakes.  She really tries to get to know the kids.
  • Mancini is particularly proud of the Theraupetic Learning Centers (TLC) classrooms she created to help students with anxiety issues. It’s now being modeled by other schools.
  • Mancini believes strongly that: (1) all students need to talk in class about the lesson (they’re going to talk anyway, so make it productive) and (2) students need to be given the opportunity to move around in the classroom.
  • Mancini walks around the building; is a heavy communicator; talks a lot; holds a lot of meetings; believes that good communication solves a lot of problems before they even happen.
  • Mancini is a proponent of recognizing student accomplishments, both in academics and acknowledging positive social behavior.
  • Mancini has an open door policy with teachers.
  • When discussing first impressions, Mancini was impressed by our student–teacher relationships and our safe, positive culture in the classroom.
  • Mancini said she “wants to plant her roots here,” won’t leave anytime soon.

Linda Golden (8pm-8:45pm)

  • Linda Golden has been the Assistant Principal at the Collins Middle School in Salem since 2008. Previously, she worked primarily as a Middle School Special Education Teacher in Boston and Lynn from 1993 to 2008.
  • Golden received a Bachelor’s from UMass Amherst (1989), a Master’s of Education from Lesley College (1991), a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies in Educational Leadership (2006), and a Doctorate of Education from University of Phoenix (2010).
  • Golden really enjoyed her tour – school seems very welcome, very inclusive, lots of smiling and greetings.
  • From WMS teachers, Golden heard concerns about the current schedule and maintaining a positive staff culture and overall building culture. (“I feel like it’s a collaborative process. You can’t bring in a principal and except the culture to change overnight.”)  Staff also wants a leader that plans to stay.
  • From WMS students, Golden heard that they feel safe and comfortable coming here everyday. Their favorite thing is recess.  Their least favorite thing is the cafeteria food.
  • Golden jokes, “When you ask about difficult schedules, I’m the right girl!” She discussed how she is in charge of her school’s schedule and how it  her became an extended learning school, adding 43 minutes to the day.  School starts at 7:30pm, ends at 3:35pm, and has 86-minute blocks.
  • Golden discussed the need to communicate with parents on different levels and through different modes of communication. When dealing with parents 1-on-1, she prefers phone to email, and will often ask an emailing parent to call her.
  • Golden is very supportive of utilizing data teams. She has the teachers using the testing data facilitate meetings, rather than the administrators.  Data gets evaluated more quickly and the necessary changes are implemented more quickly.
  • Golden is a big fan of co-teaching. “In my school, you wouldn’t know the difference between the main stream teacher and the Special Education teacher if you walked into a co-teaching classroom.  Both teachers are there for all students.”
  • Traits a successful candidate must possess, according to Golden, are strong communication (clear, consistent in both written & verbal); being fair & consistent (being there for the student, the parent and the teacher – have to balance being a leader for all those groups); and being energetic and visible.
  • Golden believes, like students, each staff member has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. It’s important to provide leadership opportunities to teachers looking for them.
  • Golden refers to student use of social media as a “battle” and a “challenge,” noting that the problem is when “all the stuff posted online when outside of the building rolls into the schools and disrupts learning.”
  • Golden advocates for differentiated instruction to all students, not just students who struggling, but also for students who are accelerating.
  • Golden said she could go either way regarding a later starting time for Middle School. “I’ve done both.  Research backs up having more sleep, but there’s a lot of factors that go into the schedule.”
  • Golden discussed the transition from 5th grade to 6th grade. On the first day of school, 7th and 8th graders go to their classes, while 6th grader teachers welcome their students and bring them to their classrooms.
  • Golden is particularly proud of implementing the co-teaching model and getting more special education students to stay in regular education classrooms. She’s also proud of the discipline management system she put in place in Salem.
  • Golden was very impressed with Middle School and all the staff she met. “This position seems like a tremendous opportunity.  Today was a long, but invaluable experience.”

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