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Guest educators tout value of building relationships

Teachers in a full auditorium wave their arms during an exercise.

A goal for the new school year that district leaders and principals made a priority during their planning retreat in July – to ensure that all students have full and equal access to learning opportunities – received a ringing endorsement from two nationally known educators in Kinston this week to work with more than 700 LCPS teachers and school administrators.

Kathy Perez speaks into a hand mic. Presentations and workshops on Tuesday and Wednesday by Dr. Kathy Perez, an international consultant, teacher, administrator and author, and Dr. Don Parker, a school principal and author celebrated for his work with at-risk students, inaugurated a series of professional development sessions that LCPS has grouped under the theme “Leveling Up: Taking Teaching and Learning to the Next Level.”

“Different entry points to learning, different needs, different abilities, different areas of brilliance,” Perez said to her audience of teachers Tuesday after showing a short video featuring a diverse group of students. “One size does not fit all. In fact, one size fits few. In our classrooms today, fair is not always equal.”

Parker, who is now principal of Posen Intermediate School in Illinois, recalled the challenges of an earlier job as principal at a middle school near Chicago, where the student body was mainly minority and low-income. His strategy for improving student behavior and increasing student achievement: get to know the kids and their needs.

“We have to make a commitment to building relationships with our students in order to help our students be successful,” he said Tuesday, urging teachers to develop a “relationship-building mindset.”

“We cannot give up on our students when times get tough, when they get on our nerves so bad, when they’re being disrespectful, when they’re being insubordinate, when they’re disrupting class. We can’t give up,” he said.

Don Parker holding a hand mic and smiling At the July retreat, discussion among district administrators and principals revolved around the four elements of the district’s strategic plan – instructional excellence and alignment, professional capacity, equity and access, and accountability. The equity and access goal boils down to improving students’ daily experiences at school and ensuring they all have an equal opportunity to learn.

“We know we’re in a standards-based society in education today,” Perez said. “But, teachers, this conference is dedicated to having you look at those standards with a new lens because it’s up to you to build opportunities, to teach those standards. In a classroom of diverse learners, we’ve got to slow down to go faster, to reach the diverse needs of our students.”

After presentations Tuesday, the two guest educators each used separate workshops for elementary teachers and for middle and high school faculty on Wednesday to impart specific strategies for engaging students and meeting their individual needs.

“This week's professional development set the tone of excitement and dedication to leveling up in our schools,” said Stacy Cauley of Moss Hill Elementary, the current LCPS Principal of the Year. “Building relationships, differentiating, setting high expectations and instilling the love of learning were themes from the professional development that resonated with our teachers, instructional assistants and administrators. It has been an amazing opportunity to have highly respected educators from across the United States come to Lenoir County to share their expertise and help us kick off our best year yet!”

This weeks’ Leveling Up sessions conclude Thursday with a presentation to teachers and school administrators by Dr. Donyall D. Dickey, a nationally recognized authority on curriculum, instruction, organizational development and school administration. Dickey will address teachers and administrators, and his presentation will be followed by breakout sessions to give school staffs a chance to digest and discuss what they’ve seen and heard during the week.