Here, in a series we call “How I Lead,” we feature principals and assistant principals who have been recognized for their work. You can see other pieces in the series here.
Can you imagine marking the birthdays of more than 2,000 people?
Probably not, but Sharee Blunt, the principal of Northglenn High School, can. With the help of a massive spreadsheet and a talented office manager, she hand-delivers a birthday card to every student and staff member in her suburban Denver school.
Blunt talked to Chalkbeat about how recognizing birthdays helps her get to know students, what a mother’s emotional reaction made her realize, and why she gave a teacher a pass during a lesson that went awry.
Blunt was recently named the 2018 High School Principal of the Year for Colorado by the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.
What was your first education job and what sparked your interest in the field?
My first job was at Shaw Heights Middle School in Westminster teaching physical education and health. I have always had a strong desire to work with young adults and inspire them to reach goals through education. My parents always stressed the importance of a good education and how that can positively impact a person’s life, and I wanted to share that same philosophy with others.
Fill in the blank. My day at school isn’t complete unless I __________. Why?
My day at school is not complete unless I get the opportunity to connect with at least one student, one teacher, and one parent. I believe it is our social responsibility to help positively impact at least one person’s life each day.
How do you get to know students even though you don’t have your own classroom?
I get to know students by showing them that I genuinely care about them. Every morning I try to start my day by being out in the hallways and telling them good morning and to have a great day. I make every attempt to support our students at extracurricular activities such as concerts, sporting events, and banquets. I look for opportunities to bring the student voice into building decisions through the principal’s advisory committee that I established when I became principal.
I also love celebrating birthdays so I hand-deliver a birthday card to each of our students and staff members on their birthdays. I have a lot of help organizing this with my office manager, of course.
Tell us about a time that a teacher evaluation didn’t go as expected — for better or for worse?
Recently I was in a teacher’s classroom for a formal observation on a Friday afternoon right before spring break. I had thought about postponing the observation because I anticipated the students would be restless, but I also wanted to honor the teacher’s intentional and thoughtful planning for the evaluation. The lesson did not go as the teacher had planned and I felt her stress and frustration quickly. I reassured her that we all have those kind of days where even our best laid plans do not go as expected and it was OK. She is a great educator and I hope that she felt supported – I look forward to being in her classroom again in the next week.
What is an effort you’ve spearheaded at your school that you’re particularly proud of?
A couple of years ago I wanted to start up a system of “giving back” and “paying it forward,” so I created a campaign called Norse Cares, after the school’s nickname. I am proud to say that climate and culture we have inside our building is built on treating others with kindness and we look for a variety of different ways to help our Norse families and community members.
During winter break we provided gifts and food to 120 students. We provided three books to each kindergarten students at North Mor Elementary School. In October we raised money to put together 60 bags for cancer patients enduring chemotherapy at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center in Thornton.
How do you handle discipline when students get into trouble?
Student discipline is one of the toughest parts of being an administrator. Great people make poor decisions from time to time and I believe it is really important to discipline the behavior and not the person. What I mean by that is that you can have a hard conversation with someone without making it personal. I always try and handle discipline situations with dignity and kindness so that the student knows that I care about them through those tough times.
What is the hardest part of your job?
The hardest part of my job has been handling the death of a student or staff member. We are blessed with the opportunity to work with over 2,000 students every year and you make every effort to get to know them. When something happens to one of them, it is like losing a family member.
Tell us about a memorable time — good or bad — when contact with a student’s family changed your perspective or approach.
Four years ago I was working with the family of an incoming ninth grader who did not live within our school boundaries. Their son Frank had applied to our STEM biomedical and engineering pathway, a four-year program that allows students to earn college credit and work closely with industry partners. The family knew that we had a waiting list to get into the program and waited anxiously to find out if Frank was accepted.
At our spring STEM celebration that year the family learned that Frank had been accepted and Frank’s mom came over to me with tears streaming down her cheeks. I will never forget her words as she told me how we were going to change her son’s life forever. Frank is a senior at our school and will be graduating in May. Not only has Northglenn High School and our STEM education changed Frank’s life and his future, he has changed our lives too – Frank and his family inspire me every day. They are a great reminder of the true value of education and the work we do every day.
What issue in the education policy realm is having a big impact on your school right now? How are you addressing it?
The issue having a big impact on our school and every other school would probably be school funding. Financial resources are low, deferred building maintenance is high, and other financial responsibilities have a negative impact on daily operations. As a school, we are addressing the issue by seeking grants and other resources to provide the best quality education for our students.
What’s the best advice you ever received?
The best advice I have received is to end each day on a positive note and wake up every morning with a grateful heart. “Not every day is a good day but there is good in every day.”