Editor’s Note: On Jan.15, the Clarkston Community Schools Board of Education announced the resignation of Dr. Rod Rock, and the approval of Deputy Superintendent Shawn Ryan as the district’s interim superintendent. In his more than 20 year career with Clarkston Community Schools, Ryan has proven himself to be an extraordinary educator and leader.
By Shawn Ryan
We often tell our students that learning is not a straight path, with a set beginning and end. Rather, it’s a lifelong spiral, with many opportunities to enrich our understanding and deepen our knowledge. This is how we grow.
The new year finds us in the midst of an unforeseen leadership transition, and reeling from the heartbreaking loss of one of our high school students. In the past several weeks, I have asked myself (and have been asked by many of you), “what’s next for Clarkston Community Schools?” The conversations I have had with my team, with parents, with students, and with Clarkston residents, it’s clear to me that “what’s next” must be growth.
We grow from life experiences, whether we have worked hard to cultivate those experiences or they just knocked on our door one day. We grow whether we had hoped and dreamed for a certain thing to occur, or we wish it had never happened at all. Opportunity, adversity, it’s all part of our growth as human beings, and the learning that occurs as a result of these experiences is valuable. Our schools and our community must lean in, and grow from our present circumstances.
Supporting the social-emotional well-being of our students is our primary focus right now.
We must expand our understanding and knowledge of what children need to be healthy, resilient, and ready to cope with whatever may arise in their complex lives, and ensure our learning environment supports those things.
Last week, I met with the leadership of Easterseals of Michigan, student services administrators with Oakland Schools, Clarkston for Life, and others to open up some important dialogue about how we can grow in the area of student well-being. Our people have always been our strength. To that end…
All faculty and staff will be trained and equipped with “mental first-aid” resources to be better able to recognize and respond to warning signs of student distress. We will also look for curriculum links to support self-awareness and emotional well-being.
We will work with students to help them better understand and navigate their own emotional health. We will educate students on the science of anxiety, and techniques for reducing anxiety. We will listen to students and involve them in conversations about how we can better serve them in this area. We will examine our learning environment and allow for more “stress-free” spaces where students can talk with a trusted staff member. We will strengthen our culture of kindness, and connectedness.
Parents will be engaged as active participants in improving the emotional well-being of our students so that thoughtful, age-appropriate support in this area can be applied at home.
We will also reach out to our community to partner with local youth advocates (like the Clarkston Area Optimists and CAYA), as well as faith-based organizations.
Fortunately, we are not starting from ground zero. Clarkston Community Schools adopted a “whole child” approach to learning years ago to ensure that each student is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
Did you know that we are the only district in Oakland County to have an Administrator for Student Growth and Well-Being? Staci Puzio’s sole responsibility in this capacity is to look for ways we can address the social, emotional, and physical well-being of our students as important facet of their learning and development. She oversees the way our district carries out the whole child approach in the classroom, educates our staff in trauma-informed practices, social justice matters, and more.
We’ve already done a lot of important work in the area of student well-being, but our learning must continue to expand and evolve. We must nurture a caring and supportive learning environment, where every student is respected, valued, and celebrated.
I look forward to this important work, but I can’t do it alone. I encourage you to get involved in our school community and in the lives of Clarkston’s kids!
Whether you’re a Clarkston Schools parent or not, your connections with our students are priceless and your presence in our schools is welcomed! Attend a board meeting and hear what’s happening in the district.
Come to a game or a performance (if you’re 60 or older, you can stop by the Board Office and pick up a free “senior gold card” to get in to all of our student events free of charge)! Be a part of our new “Reach Out and Read” program by volunteering to listen to young readers practice their skills.
Or, consider a part-time job with the schools. We have several openings in our school buildings and our transportation department that might be a perfect fit for you. There are limitless ways to get involved.
Perhaps the easiest, and most important thing you can do to support Clarkston’s kids is to simply see the good in each one of them, and offer them a smile.
Thanks in advance, Clarkston.