Archive » September 23, 2010
SEIZE THE SCHOOL DAY
By SaraLloyd Truax, Staff Writer
Loaded down with gear, he has jumped from airplanes through the smoke into terrain so rough that other fire equipment could not make it in. He has studied, umm, bird “fertilizer” (guanos) in South America, and he has even competed in triathlons.
These are just a few of the experiences Dunn Middle School’s new director draws on to make learning fun.
With big shoes to fill, and no big changes planned, Eric Gaylord intends to spend his first year as director building the trust and respect of his students and their families, and to carry on the Carpe Diem spirit. According to Gaylord, it is the school’s “seize the day” motto and philosophy which makes Dunn’s program so unique.
Former director Linda Smith has stayed on at the school teaching math and working on project development (and OK, maybe mentoring a little as well). Gaylord shrugs off any awkwardness this unique situation may cause.
“It’s definitely different,” says English teacher Dawn Robinson. “Eric is trying to make positive changes slowly. Organization is a strength of his.”
Having taught science for nine years at Dunn High and one year at the Middle School, Gaylord has some experience when it comes to working with teens. He has a master’s in biology and a bachelor’s in wildlife science – which might explain his pet snake, Diablo, who lives at the school.
“I’m excited about the director’s position, because I get to make bigger decisions and have the opportunity to work with more people. It’s very challenging,” he says.
One of the most challenging parts is keeping up with the details. There are little details, such as making sure teachers take the new video camera with them on their field trips. (The clips are needed to update the school’s website.)
Then there are bigger details, like supporting staff members who are out on extended medical leave, while at the same time making sure the curriculum is covered in a comprehensive and coherent way.
Dealing with parents presents its own set of challenges, but “most parents are really supportive,” Gaylord said.
The students are supportive too. Eighth grader, Jon Bone, sports his recently brace-free smile as he recounts the funniest thing he has seen Gaylord do. It happened on “Naughty Day,” a fundraising day where students pay a dollar to engage in pre-approved pranks. Someone “stole” Gaylord’s bike for the day, replacing it instead with a tricycle.
“It’s like he didn’t care. He rode the trike all around,” Bone says. But he was quick to add that Gaylord is not all fun and games. “He’s awesome. He always listens to what people say. He’s strict, but fair.”
Suddenly encircled by other students, hoping to steal a taste of the smoothie Bone returned to school with, they quickly take over the conversation. “He’s really great,” a voice from the crowd offers. “And funny,” another adds. “Fair” is repeated by several before wandering off to eat snacks.
The balance between fun and business happens at the staff level, too. Robinson reports that at their first staff meeting of the year, Gaylord taught them all a card game. Who got assigned which lunch duty was determined by who won each round of the game.
“It broke the ice and made what would have been a tedious meeting fun,” Robinson said. But she too noted that it is not all fun. “He’s a hard worker, which is good,” says Robinson. “It’s a hard job.”
She finds Gaylord’s willingness to listen and rethink situations helpful. “He’ll make a decision, not knowing how it will work out. Then he’ll change it if necessary. He’s very open to feedback, and not at all defensive,” she said.
There is one change his wife, Ilise Garvin, wouldn’t mind. She loved time to travel with her husband and their two children, Gaylord reports. But because she is in charge of Dunn’s summer program, she works when Gaylord is on break.
“I’m Mr. Mom in the summer, and my wife is Mrs. Mom the rest of the year,” Gaylord says.
But perhaps being married to a former smoke jumper, someone whose idea of tourism is studying bird droppings and whose sport of choice is actually three, running summer camps is more relaxing than a vacation would be.