Engagement Means Taking Risks (And Maybe Even Making Mistakes)

On January 30th, I opened an email from Lois Graper, our GT Coordinator at Clintonville Middle School, and the organizer of our Geography Bee:

Mr. See,

Please take the geography bee video off of YouTube

The rest of the email went on to say that the national organization overseeing the Geography Bee was upset that we had broadcast the Geography Bee live and that we needed to take the video down and agree to honor that particular rule in the future if we wanted to keep our winner eligible for future competitions. I completely understand the rule, and we of course took down the video.

To be honest, we only intended the broadcast as a test – and it worked!
Clintonville Middle School used to be Clintonville High School, a traditional high school building constructed in 1954 with the same design as many high schools of the time. Lots of brick and mortar, a few windows on the outside, and a majestic appearance.


Since the middle school served as the high school from 1954 to 2003, most people in the community have memories of our building, and not all of them are pleasant. When I attended the first PTO meeting of this year, I encouraged members to consider meeting somewhere other than the library at the middle school. Could we go to the local coffee shop? The public library? Somewhere else?

I could only imagine how intimidating our physical structure seemed to countless people who had perhaps had a negative experience while attending Clintonville HIgh School. Those folks would always view our building as the high school. In fact, after the new high school was built, we became the middle school by simply removing the word “High” from the letters attached to our brick facade.

One of the challenges facing my building principal, Scott Werfal, and I was that we needed to find a way to make our building accessible again for students, parents, and the community. After accepting my position as Associate Principal, I visited the Clintonville Middle School Facebook page and saw the magnitude of the problem. The page had a mere 44 “Likes,” and the single post to the page read, “Clintonville Middle School, where the teachers are bigger bullies than the kids.” We have since turned that around, and we plan to keep bringing stakeholders into the building, literally and virtually.


So, while we made some mistakes by broadcasting the Geography Bee, we needed to try something, ANYTHING to tear down the walls and allow parents and the community back into our building. We needed them to see the AWESOME going on at Clintonville Middle School so that they can eventually view us as CMS, and feel the #CMSTruckerPride we feel every day.

Part Two of this thread will detail the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How of our broadcast and talk about plans to continue tearing down the old brick walls of the high school to reveal the magic of Clintonville Middle School.

Meeting The Important Needs


Last week, a student in real need brought back memories of a time when I needed real help or my wife and I would not have made it. In a day and age where we have become so focused on standardized test scores, I sometimes hear colleagues say, “I feel bad that students might not have had breakfast, but taking the test is what’s important right now.”


When my wife was pregnant with our first child, Kaitlyn, I received a layoff notice from my employer. At the time, Jenny was finishing classes for her dental hygiene license, and we were just barely able to get by with her working limited hours. Then came the layoff notice, and our life was turned upside down. Thankfully, programs existed that allowed us to eat well, so the baby could grow healthy. My union also stepped up and provided us with additional groceries and a few dollars to help pay for gas and rent. And the Wisconsin Medical Assistance program ensured that well baby visits could continue. Without a helping hand from a variety of sources, I do not know what would have happened, and I cannot guarantee I would have started college that fall. Once at school, I got a job on campus and Jenny started as a full-time hygienist, so we survived the storm and could move forward.

But what about our students who come to school every day having not eaten breakfast? What about those who have had little sleep for a variety of reasons? That they come to school every day amazes me. That many come to school every day and thrive inspires me. That some come to school only some of the time or struggle once here surprises me not one bit.

I know first-hand how difficult not having the bare necessities can make challenges seem insurmountable. And I only had to get through six months of uncertainty. Some of my students have experienced years of turbulence and uncertainty. And so they come every morning to the one place that provides a level of certainty for them. A level of security.

So when we want to “hold schools accountable” and base every measure off of a test score, let’s remember that we cannot measure all variables. I don’t know what device measures the impact of hunger on test scores. I don’t know what device measures the impact of watching your mother suffer abuse at the hands of a boyfriend on test scores. I don’t know what device measures the impact of sleeping in a freezing car on test scores. I don’t know what device measures the impact of __________________________________________ on test scores.

But I do know that children feel safe and secure and loved when we find a way to provide for their essential needs. Where is Maslow’s research in all of the testing gibberish? So, last week, when I had an opportunity to help meet the essential needs of a student at my school, I called out loudly and often. And people near and far responded with compassion, filling a void. To some folks a simple pair of shoes and some clothes might not seem like a big deal or even a necessity. To this student, however, they meant everything.

I saw her in the hallway today, laughing and smiling with friends. I will make sure to keep that memory with me throughout this year and the rest of my life.