“We haven’t had a car on the roof yet,” joked Eldred Central School (ECS) District high school principal Scott Krebs as he gestured toward a poster displayed on the wall of his office.
Pretty much everything else listed under “Just another day in school” on the poster created by the National Association of Secondary School Principals is something Krebs has had to address or must continue to tackle as part of his job.
Unfunded mandates on things like cyber-bullying, unexpected events such as flooding in the locker room, snow days, grading policies, summer school, homecoming, assessments, parking problems, clothing issues, virtual learning, tight budgets, pets brought to school, cell phones—are issues that regularly come across the desk of the average high school principal. And while the challenges faced by a small rural school district like ECS are no different, Krebs likes to think that there are advantages and strengths that help to offset them.
Krebs has been the high school principal at ECS for a decade, following stints at Ellenville, Warwick, Middletown, Fallsburg and Rochester, so he brings a broad perspective to the position.
“I’ve always thought that kids mature in a smaller rural school a year later than kids in more urban settings. You’ll see seventh and eighth graders here still very Mom-and-Dad-oriented,” he said. “If you go to Monticello or Middletown, kids tend to be more streetwise. Fads tend to roll through later, too. We’re definitely not trend setters here.”
Because bullying has been an increasingly important issue, the school district has taken multiple steps to address it. “We’ve done webinars, seminars, workshops, assemblies and surveys,” said Krebs. “The majority of the kids responding now are saying, ‘Stop with the bullying. We’re starting to feel bullied with this bullying message.’ I think we might have overdone it. But parents want a pro-active approach. And small schools allow more flexibility. If you find out you have two kids with issues, you can move them around the following year to minimize the conflict, for example.”
That flexibility has allowed for a simple solution to a problem where kids were avoiding completion of their physical education requirements due to discomfort over mixed-sex classes. “I instituted same sex physical education classes for students, which solved the problem,” he said. “It worked so well, we’ve even taken that approach with some other classes, such as science labs.”
According to Krebs, middle school is a difficult age, plagued with self doubt as young teens begin to question their circumstances. “Around seventh grade, kids start to understand who their parents are. They’re also trying to figure out who they themselves are,” he said. “In smaller communities like this, there’s greater support for that process. It’s not as easy to cut school here, for example. And parents tend to know everybody, because families have grown up together.”
Krebs also believes it is easier to identify and address other potential problems in a small school, ranging from personal issues to cheating to plagiarism. “Teachers will often take it upon themselves to have those difficult conversations because they know the kids for several years. Some of the teachers live in the local community. It’s more personal and problems can often be more effectively resolved,” he said.
Avoiding problems in the first place is another strategy Krebs employs. Vandalism is kept to a minimum with the installation of cameras throughout the school. “As soon as something is damaged, we get it fixed,” he said. “I immediately try to find out who did it and what happened. As soon as you let things like that fester, the next week there will be more.”
With the addition of smoke detectors in bathrooms and the fact that teachers also use the student bathrooms, smoking has nearly been eliminated. “It’s so rare that when it does happen, it’s really noticeable,” he said. “I get on that right away. I make it clear to students that I’m aware and taking action.”
While not a big problem, illegal drugs are still occasionally brought to school. “We have issues every year with kids suspended for having illegal items or selling them,” said Krebs. “I attempt to let them know that school is not the place for that. And we coordinate with the state police once a year or so to bring the dogs in to check for drugs. It sends a message.”
Another important issue Krebs must deal with throughout the year is impacts from the budgetary process. “This past year, we pretty much eliminated most of our field trips because we were on a contingency budget,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the best idea, because they often provide invaluable learning experiences.”
Not surprisingly, “field trips” is one of the items listed on the poster. So is virtual learning, detention, Facebook, tardies, spandex, fire drills, substitutes, bubble gum, the iguana ate my homework and much more, like the final question: they painted what? Krebs is going to find out. It’s just another day in school.