New Principal Takes Reins at STARS
Wes Graner spent his Christmas break getting organized in preparation to hit the ground running as the new principal at STARS charter school.
Graner officially took over as principal Monday with the start of the spring semester. He replaces Sue Kemple, who announced her resignation in October.
As a new face, Graner, a former teacher and assistant principal for Moore County schools, knows he has many roles to fill at STARS. He said he feels confident that he will be able to step in and help the school progress.
"There's so many hats that you have to wear now," he said. "I know all of the educational stuff. I can handle that, but I'm also very aware of that image piece where you have to be out there telling everybody about the great things that are happening."
Graner's main goal is to serve as a point person for the school so that parents, teachers and members of the community have a direct and open line of communication with the school.
"You want to be the person who mediates and solves problems," he said. "I think trying to bring as much transparency as you can is the way it has to work. Once people understand why you're doing things, they might not agree with it, but then they're questioning your judgment. They're not intimating that there are things going on that don't make sense."
Graner sees his greater role as the face of STARS as a key component in addressing the school's potential closure if the school does not meet proficiency on its end-of-grade (EOG) tests. He said he knows test scores are at the forefront of concerns surrounding the school, but he thinks the path to academic improvement should not be formulaic.
The school currently has two academic assessment programs in place that help teachers track individual student progress. Graner said that though these programs do help give insight on academic growth and help distinguish which students are behind, there is no silver bullet that can automatically improve all scores.
"There's not a program that works like that," he said. "In the time that we have in between those EOGs, you can't get the materials, get the training and begin to effectively implement - you just can't. I think that's silly. It comes down to me working with those teachers."
As teachers get back in the classroom, Graner said he hopes to meet with them individually to get to know them, answer questions and to get their perspectives on progress at the school.
"You can learn a whole lot just by listening," he said. "The fact of the matter is that they're the ones who are in there every day, and they are going to know what their kids need."
'Students Will Achieve'
He said he also intends to go into classrooms to see how teachers' instruction covers the N.C. standard course of study.
"As a charter school, you don't have to teach the standard course of study, but to not teach it would be ridiculous because that's how [the state is] assessing you," he said. "I have no doubt that they're doing great things. Everybody can be better though. It will be about establishing that relationship with that teacher and trying to help them do the best they can do."
Graner said that while he doesn't expect to see every student meet expected growth, he does think students can achieve proficiency.
"If you have sound and good instruction going on, and you're evaluating it and providing people feedback, you're going to get good results," he said. "You'll get on sound enough footing where you'll have the opportunity to do it again next year, and that's where I think the situation is right now."
Though Graner admits that the pressure to get scores up is unavoidable, he believes he and his staff can address it by continuing to offer students as many engaging activities as possible to help them learn.
"I wouldn't have taken the job if I didn't believe that," he said. "While it seems pressure-packed because the end of the game is right there now, I don't feel all that much pressure in the sense that I think that if they're doing what they're supposed to be doing and I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, [students] will achieve."
Besides test scores, Graner is also trying to determine how to accommodate students at the school who would qualify for free and reduced lunch in a traditional public school.
In December, the STARS board voted to prohibit any distribution of food that has not been pre-packaged.
Graner spoke to the Moore County Health Department Dec. 22 to ask what activities and programs were allowed at the school.
"I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of what people can do and what people can't do," he said. "There are so many things that go into that that a lot of times, it's easier to say, 'no' to everything, as opposed to just learning what those things are and being strong and sound about allowing those things."
Graner said he wants to continue working with the health department to navigate what he calls a "tricky situation" in order to determine what can be done to help students.
Based on health code standards from the county, the school cannot prepare food on campus because it does not have a septic system that is large enough.
"That doesn't make it any easier when you know that kid is sitting there hungry," Graner said. "We need to figure out a good system that makes sense and is fair."
'In One Place'
Graner left his position as assistant principal at both Westmoore Elementary School and Highfalls Elementary School to take over at STARS.
He said he liked the opportunity to work at both schools, but he found it hard to be a presence for students and teachers at either school when he was always working between them.
"It was so hard being split," he said. "You never felt like you did one thing well. You had to get lost in the things that [the principals] needed you to do like teacher observations and some of those procedural things."
Graner settled into his new office over Christmas break. He's enjoyed being able to put all of his things, including his collection of Duke basketball memorabilia, in one place.
"It'll be very nice to be in one place again and to be doing everything that you feel like you need to do," he said.
Contact Hannah Sharpe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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