Gilbert principal goes to Washington
WINSTED — As part of being named the principal of the year in February by the Connecticut Association of Schools, Gilbert School Principal Alan Strauss traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with other principals of the year from the other states from Sept. 11 to 14.
The meeting was part of the National Association of Secondary School Principals conference.
"It was an opportunity for principals of the year from all 50 states to come together," Strauss said in an interview after the event. "We had some workshops and we had some opportunities to meet with the secretary of education. The principals also spent a day meeting with our state representatives."
Strauss said he met with Congressman John Larson (D-1), And U.S. Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal.
"I spent a tremendous amount of time with our representatives talking about our relationship with Winchester School District," Strauss said. "They are coming here. They are going to come visit the school and talk with our administrative team."
Strauss said that while the representatives have promised to visit the school, their visits have not been scheduled yet.
"We have good teachers in Winchester and positive parents," Strauss said. "We need to get a contract [between Gilbert and the school district]. We have got to fix this. The [representatives] are firmly entrenched in the belief that if Gilbert can move its school in the way we have over the last four or five years, that this needs to stop. We are showing we can move the school forward, so why are we being punished? If Receiver [Robert Travaglini] isn't going to be the answer, and we don't know what's happening there, then why doesn't Gilbert go kindergarten through 12th grade?"
Talking with principals
Strauss said that he learned a lot about a number of issues during workshops with other principals from other states.
"The first issue that principals discussed was state-based assessment and how much time it has taken away from classrooms," Strauss said. "The second was climate and culture of schools. Teachers are beaten down and so many people are attacking teachers. We discussed what can we do to help the profession and keep the teachers positive and feeling good. Mental health around the country also seems to be a major concern."
Strauss said that, while the school held a forum about opioid abuse earlier in the year, there is still much more that needs to be discussed when it comes to mental health.
"There is a drug crisis, and we know that," Strauss said. "But there are certainly mental health issues all over this country. How do we handle those? They are seen in kids in ages younger and younger. So, I'm not sure schools are equipped to pay for those. I'm not sure that our teachers are equipped, having been trained in how to handle situations so that's something we all talked about."
Strauss added that the group talked about how principals can be helped.
"Thirty-five percent of all principals in the United States do not make it through a graduating class," Strauss said. "They can't make it the full four years because they get so burnt out. We talked about what we can do to help other principals."
He said that schools across the country are facing similar situations when it comes to their school districts.
"I think that all schools in the country are facing a financial crisis," Strauss said. "I think they are facing mental health issues and problems when it comes to state test assessments. I think the difference with Gilbert is that our kids have been pawns for the last three years. People have talked about, 'We're going to send them here, we're going to send them there.' Kids should not have to worry about where they go to school. Ever. Anybody who manipulates a child into thinking that they may not be going to their school, is someone we are going to fight against. Kids are not about money. Kids are about their education and their future. We just have to think differently and act differently. So, Gilbert has our own set of issues."
Strauss said that he was asked to work on two book projects during his time in Washington.
"The first book is tentatively titled 'You Want To Do What?'" Strauss said. "It will be about how we wanted to believe that we could move schools. This will be about how a suburban school, how an urban school and how a rural school, and how a school that was 100 percent non English-speaking, moved forward. It's an honor to be able to talk about what we have done over the last four or five years in the history of Gilbert."
Strauss said he will co-author the book with three other school principals from across the country.
The other book is tentatively titled "To Be The Lighthouse, You Have To Get Out of the Dark," which will be co-authored with other school principals.
"It will be about how schools can move forward when there is not a lot of money," he said. "We can't just make money appear. So what do we do? How do we do things differently?"
Overall, Strauss said he is proud of being named principal of the year and meeting with other school principals in Washington.
"One of the things I firmly believe is this award is not going to be a beautiful plaque for my wall," Strauss said. "This is going to be a springboard to help Gilbert, the state of Connecticut and to help things nationally. I have always said that I'm the orchestra leader. I am the one who gets to take the plaque home, but this is really about The Gilbert School. This is a testament to the work of our faculty and the rest of our administrators. They do tremendous things and we have a very supportive community that has rallied around Gilbert."