As parents are attending end of the year award ceremonies, and teachers are saying their good-byes to students, there’s a sadness that lies just below the surface of the end-of-the-year excitement. The faculty, staff, students and parents of Dolby Elementary are losing who I believe is the school’s greatest asset.
Nine years ago, when by son entered Pre-K, Missy Bushnell was the assistant principal of Dolby Elementary. The following year, or perhaps the year after, the principal retired and moved on to become the principal of the first charter school in the Lake Charles area, and Bushnell was selected to step up and fill the position. Through the years, we’ve had countless interactions. When you send multiple children to a school for the span of the grades offered, the challenges faced each year can be a crap shoot. I can say that after a decade of life at Dolby Elementary, each year has been consistent. As my daughter is about to enter 3rd grade, I can’t help but notice that many of the teachers who taught my son are gone. The fact that the experience is consistent from year to year is testimony to the strength and consistency of Bushnell’s leadership and her expectation of her faculty.
Though we’ve had hundreds of interactions over the years, I can only think of three to four that had the potential to damage our relationship, but her professionalism, fairness and consistency never allowed that to happen. My admiration for Bushnell was cemented in the Spring of 2015. My son was in the fifth grade and in the second of two very difficult years. The implementation of Common Core State Standards and a drastic change in curriculum brought about a series of changes in behavior that ultimately resulted in a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome.
This was the same year that a nationwide movement to opt out of state assessments was taking place and also the year that I became a voice in opposition of the education reforms that were affecting my children. Because of the behaviors and the anxiety that my son was experiencing, we decided to exclude him from the state assessment. I delivered the opt-out form to her personally. She accepted it, pleasantly. I was very pleased with that experience, but it is what followed that elevated her to a level that all administrators should aspire to achieve. The school was going to have a pep rally to get the students fired up about taking the fast approaching state assessment. Bushnell contacted me, directly. She said, “I know that you have decided to opt Xander out of the test, but do you mind if he attends the pep rally?” I know that as educators we all have done something for a student, or a parent, that was seemingly insignificant, but made a difference to them. I am certain she had no idea of the enormity of her actions.
I have never attempted to initiate a conversation with her to see how she feels about the things that I oppose, nor has she. In all of my efforts as an advocate, I have referenced her countless times as a textbook example of how an administrator should conduct themselves. It was also Bushnell who was responsible for getting my daughter into the after school tutoring program that I wrote about in this blog that enabled her to make tremendous progress, this year.
Though I haven’t spoken to her, directly, I know from those close to her that she will retire from twenty-five years of service in public schools and will walk into a classroom at a private Catholic school as a teacher. I know, first-hand, what the pressure is like on public school teachers when it comes to performance, accountability, and expectation. I can only imagine what it is like for a principal. As a parent, the changes that have occurred in Dolby Elementary’s School Performance Score (SPS) are meaningless, to me. Accountability is supposed to paint a picture of how well a school is educating its students so that parents can make “choices” regarding their children’s education. I’ve made my choice. I choose Dolby Elementary.
I feel as though a family member has been lost. I know that over the next few days, there will be many tears shed at Dolby Elementary, but it won’t be until August that the sheer magnitude of the void created by her departure will be appreciated. Pursuing your passion is of the utmost importance. Leaving a lasting impression on those you encounter is a sign of success. Peace of mind, health and well-being are non-negotiable. Farewell, Mrs. Bushnell.