Elkhart Community Schools recently hired ECS veteran Gary Gardner as principal of Osolo Elementary School. He’s previously been assistant principal and a teacher in the ECS district. The Elkhart Truth asked him a few questions about the upcoming school year.
What are you excited for?
Gardner: “There’s just that sense once school starts rolling and kids are in and instruction’s going on,” he said. “It’s just that really nice feeling of learning and excitement and anticipation of being back in school after a long summer.”
What changes have you seen in response to state standards in your time as a teacher and administrator?
Gardner has worked in the ECS district for 15 years.
In the past few years, he’s seen an increased emphasis on ISTEP scores, and a shift from asking for reading comprehension to asking students for evidence and details to support their answers.
“That’s been a big shift,” he said. “Not only can kids answer those questions, but can they provide support and reasoning for why that’s the correct answer?”
But overall the schools have kept a high expectation of critical reading skills.
ECS uses instructional calendars to keep curricula at all the elementary schools on the same schedule, Gardner said. It’s meant to provide continuity across the district if students are moving from one building to the next.
“It should be fairly consistent,” Gardner said. “I think it’s helped teachers as well to have that knowledge of where they need to be at what time. It provides a little bit more of a road map, I think.”
What would you like to improve at Osolo Elementary?
Gardner said he wants to improve Osolo’s language arts instruction and ISTEP scores.
“We’ve shown really good scores in the past few years in both language arts and math,” he said. “But our language arts scores last year seemed to remain stable, so we want to bring those up.”
That includes small groups for reading instruction, he said.
Meanwhile, Osolo’s math scores have climbed, but Gardner said the school’s goal is to have 80 percent of its students pass.
What programs are you excited to maintain?
“I think the biggest thing we’ll continue to focus on is getting parents into the building,” Gardner said. “I think it’s important to have them as team players in the learning process.”
Last year, the school had monthly family nights.
“We try to have something once a month where we bring families back into the school for reading nights,” he said.
This year, Osolo Elementary will have a back to school picnic Aug. 28 on the school playground with free food for students and their families. Gardner is looking for other ways to get parents engaged too.
“I’d like to introduce some recognition nights, where we introduce students who’ve won awards and try to bring families back in for those things,” he said. “Really a big focus on getting families back in the building after school hours so they can see the things that are going on and make those connections with the building and staff.”