Daniel Winters is currently a principal at Salt Creek Elementary School in Chula Vista, CA, which ranks amongst the few public elementary schools in California to receive a distinguished Great Schools Rating of 9 out of 10. Prior to that he was a principal at Halecrest Elementary in Chula Vista for 5 years. Chula Vista is a middle class community located in the southernmost part of San Diego county. This is part 2 of a two part series.
By Christi Grab, Contributing Editor, Parentella
Q: Why not stick to the traditional tried and true teaching methods that have worked fine for generations?
A: That’s a great question and I hear this sentiment in various forms from time to time from parents at my school and from my wife! The short answer to your question is that innovations and changes are almost always in response to instruction that doesn’t appear to be getting the results that we are seeking. For example, this year we have discovered that our students are not doing a very good job attacking problem solving in math, so we are working as a staff to come up with the best strategy for teaching students how to problem solve. We definitely agree that change for change sake is not the goal.
I would argue that some traditional methods are effective, while others are in need of improvement. After all, would you want your doctor practicing traditional 17th century medicine on you? Or would you want a doctor that was utilizing more modern methods? Just because one way has some success doesn’t mean another way won’t bring greater success.
Speaking personally as a parent, I can tell you that my wife and I started both of our kids in a local private (Catholic) school. My wife was the one with the greatest desire to put our kids there, thinking that they would get a better education. It was indeed a traditional educational model that works well for the studious, quiet, learner, which served our first child very well. What we found was that our second child, who is a different personality type, had some difficulties there. In the end, we transferred both our kids to my previous school (Halecrest) and they flourished under creative, dedicated, and I might add – ever changing – teachers.
Q: In trying new teaching methods, aren’t you sacrificing the students’ education when the methods “don’t work as well as hoped”?
A: This another good question and I believe that this thought has kept a lot of educators from trying new methods over the years. No one wants their kid to be the guinea pig for some hair brained experiment.
However, as I mentioned above, our change efforts are always in response to instruction that has not been getting the results that we feel our students deserve. We change because we feel that there is a better way to do things. Furthermore, the changes that we advocate are almost always based on positive results that others have already experienced at other schools. Rarely are we implementing new strategies that have no track record of success.
Q: How are these changes in teaching methodology received by the teachers?
A: It is easy for administrators to move in and force change in curriculum and style on the teachers, like it or not. But for the changes to be effective and positive, we need to have staff buy in, and my job as a principal is to try to get the staff to embrace the changes. Honestly, it can be hard sometimes. Human nature is resistant to change. Humans naturally fear an unknown outcome. Not every change we implement is a good one, and oftentimes teachers would rather stay where they are comfortable than to risk a failure — even if success is statistically more likely and the success will bring significantly better results than the status quo. I have to carefully monitor all the outcomes and shape the curriculum to bring the maximum benefits to the students and teachers.
Q: I want to focus for a minute on the dual language immersion program. First of all, why did your school implement this program?
A: Many families in our community have expressed the desire that their kids be fluent in two languages. We have many families in our school who are native Spanish speakers that wanted their children to learn English fluently without losing their native language of Spanish. Likewise, many native English speaking families want their kids to learn a second language for the cultural, personal, and professional benefits that accompany that skill, and want to start their children learning a second language as early as possible.
Q: What do you mean by a bi-cultural and bi-lingual education?
A: The goal is that students leaving 6th grade are fully literate in two languages and that they have an appreciation for and understanding of at least two cultures. Simply knowing the words isn’t enough. To be fully literate in a second language, one must understand the social morays, as well.
Q: So, all the children in the entire school get a bi-lingual and bi-cultural education whether the parents want them to or not?
A: No. This is a program “of choice” that parents must apply to. Currently we have two classes in the dual language program in grades K-3, and 3 classes divided between grades 4 and 5.
Q: How do parents enroll their children in the program and how are kids chosen? Can any kid in San Diego County apply?
A: We take students from our home neighborhood first. Right now, because our school is full in both the dual language program and regular program (with a waiting list for dual language) we are not accepting transfers from outside our school boundaries at this time.
Q: What defines “wildly successful” and “popular”?
A: There is waiting list at every grade level for the dual language program. Also, we have a partnership with San Diego State University, and their preliminary data analysis is that our students are performing very well on state measures of performance in English.
Q: Do you have any advice for parents?
A: I encourage parents to be wise consumers in the educational landscape. Paying attention to the strengths and weaknesses at your child’s school and providing feedback to the principal will lead to improvement in all areas.
A visible and engaged principal along with a professional staff can have a profound impact on your child’s academic, social, and emotional growth for years to come.
Q: Mr. Winters, Parentella applauds you for doing such an excellent job. We wish you continued success. Thank you for letting us interview you.
A: You’re welcome.
Christi Grab is contributing editor and writer for Parentella. She is a native of Southern California. After graduating from San Diego State University, she went on to be a successful business woman. In April of 2007, she and her husband decided to put their careers on hold and travel the world for two years. Ms. Grab has recently returned from her travels and is currently writing a book about their adventure. For more information on the trip, visit http://kosmos.liveflux.net/blog.