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The children keep her going

Principal keeps a busy pace at Fairview Elementary School

Principal keeps a busy pace at Fairview Elementary School

December 10, 2007|By JENNIFER FITCH

Editor's note: This is the fifth in a continuing series of stories exploring the workings of a modern-day classroom. The Herald-Mail is spending parts of the 2007-08 school year visiting with and writing about Bobbie Blubaugh's fifth-grade classroom at Fairview Elementary School in the Waynesboro (Pa.) Area School District.

Today's story goes outside the classroom as reporter Jennifer Fitch spends a day with Dianne Eberhardt, Fairview's energetic principal.




WAYNESBORO, Pa. - One recently written note from a student compares Fairview Elementary School's principal to a supermodel.

Another says she's as nice as God.

Dianne Eberhardt laughed as she passed the filing cabinet where those notes are posted. The tall, dynamic Waynesboro native says it's the children who keep her going amid staff concerns, student discipline, data analysis, scheduling headaches and the general "administivia," as she's termed it.

"The bottom line is what is best for the child," Eberhardt said.

On Thursday of last week, Eberhardt had a two-hour delay and a teacher she needed to convince to pilot the Everyday Math program for sixth grade. She cut across the cafeteria on the way to meet that teacher and was handed a bent spoon.

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No one will confess to bending the spoon, she was told.

Eberhardt pocketed the utensil and continued across the school to the sixth-grade classrooms. This could require a bribe, she joked.

In fact, the request started with good-humored flattery but then transitioned into Eberhardt's true management philosophy. She thanked the teacher for her ongoing support and explained her own belief in the program.

She signed up that teacher and another who overheard.

"It just is trying to foster a sense of community," Eberhardt said. "These people work together cohesively and for the common good."

She said she wants the staff to see her working hard, working for the team and working for the children. For Eberhardt, a large part of that involves being proactive in a variety of situations and staying in the know.

She feels that she often is tested, especially by newer colleagues. One teacher slipped funny notes and advertisements into her end-of-the-year portfolio to determine whether Eberhardt would read it thoroughly.

Eberhardt responded to each one, saying for instance that she appreciated the offer for kayaking lessons, and received just one special note in that teacher's portfolio the next year. Eberhardt has saved the message, which compliments her on her professionalism, management and handling of certain situations.

Eberhardt rarely sits down, but she makes a point to pause and eat lunch with Barb Martin and Ruth Strausbaugh, who are the school's assistant principal and instructional support teacher, respectively.

They try to read the newspaper and talk about anything but school, yet several recent conversations were philosophical ones about why they work in education.

"We do love kids," Eberhardt said, just moments after reaffixing a wire that had come off a student's braces.

"It's that look on their face, to watch them come in with enthusiasm and excitement," Martin said.

Eberhardt, a former sixth-grade teacher, occasionally gets forlorn and nostalgic when she is in a classroom, which most often occurs when the 17-year Fairview veteran is doing teacher evaluations.

One of the biggest changes in education - stemming from the Federal No Child Left Behind initiative - is the test scores schools are using to be more analysis-driven, Eberhardt said.

In the Waynesboro Area School District, she said her school and Mowrey Elementary School are especially at risk because they are Title I schools with a large population of economically disadvantaged children.

However, early tests show the school is in OK shape heading into the springtime Pennsylvania System of School Assessments. Sixty-three percent of students must score proficient or advanced in reading, and 56 percent must score proficient or advanced in math.

Eberhardt said teachers can use the fall's benchmark tests and PSSA scores from the previous year to target instruction to individual students. That has developed "differentiation," which she said has become a buzzword in education.

"In a classroom, not every child needs the same thing," Eberhardt said.

"The hardest job in the school is being in the classroom," Strausbaugh said.

Eberhardt, who has her two school-aged children enrolled at Fairview, said it helps to know many of the parents and children personally at the school of 800.

She said she enjoys watching a student make educational progress and can remember stumbling blocks that child had along the way. Perhaps, she said, she can remember a tool that helped Jimmy with reading comprehension in second grade that will help him again in fifth grade.

"What is happening in the younger grades affect the older grades," Martin said.

While children were readying themselves for dismissal Thursday afternoon, Eberhardt had found the bent spoon and pushed it aside. Finding the culprit would have to wait, she said.

She turned her attention instead to compiling information on the serious student problems that would be addressed in the weekly meeting of the principal, assistant principal, a representative of Children and Youth Services, a guidance counselor, the instructional support teacher, and a social worker.

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