With a community as close-knit as Grayson, people talk. When the subject is Dana Pugh, one point often comes up… he has a reputation as a stealthy administrator who can show up anywhere, at any time. Teachers, staff, parents and students agree that you have to stay on your toes because Mr. Pugh could be right behind you.
What does it mean to have a basketball player-sized principal show up behind you at any moment? According to some students, it means that you have a great rebound guy behind you in PE every once in a while. For other students, it means that you need to take a second look in the mirror each morning before you arrive at school. Mr. Pugh takes the appearance of students at GHS very seriously and enforces the “no sagging”, “no head coverings” (except religious/medical) and “appropriate length” rules while making sure students can still enjoy some personal expression. Still, for others, it means that their interests are supported and their academics are held in the highest regard. Overall, it means the principal’s presence is well-established.
“When I first arrived at Grayson, we knew that some changes needed to be made,” says Pugh. “Our motto is ‘First comes learning’, and that is how we proceeded.” In order to enforce rules that were already in place, Pugh determined that students had to be engaged. He began right away by tapping into the already established student leadership resources by placing before them an agenda of brainstorming ideas that would support the motto and improve current standardized scores.
“We have chosen to focus on writing across the curriculum,” says Pugh. “If students are able to show they understand how to put processes into practice, then we know that the students are learning what is being taught.” Pugh began implementing writing strategies immediately during his first days at Grayson in February. “Scores had taken a dip and we wanted some immediate impact,” says Pugh. “We began to see improvements this spring during our End of Course testing.”
According to Pugh, citing data not yet published, the overall performance for Spring 2014 showed an uptick in the numbers. For example, 11th grade American Literature and Composition mean score increased from 443 to 449 with GHS being the 8th overall high school in the county. Biology mean increased from 447 to 455 and ranked the school at 4th overall in the subject. Coordinate Algebra mean scores increased as well as freshman literature and comp scores. “Our biggest curriculum changes have come in the area of math,” says Pugh. “We will continue to grow our program and challenge our students to excel in each class.”
In addition to the changes in the four academic areas, Pugh has made certain that foreign language and fine arts have developed plans for improvement as a means to support score increases in all areas to indicate progress. “These areas play a vital role to the school as a whole.”
With a nod to the philosophy that all areas of the school play a vital role, Pugh and the leadership team began planning in early Spring for the first day of the 2014-15 school year. “We needed to make an impact to demonstrate that we were providing an environment that is conducive to learning, creativity and growth,” says Pugh. “Administration set out parameters for the students to lead the school in the direction they wanted it to go in; my focus was to provide guidance.” With parameters in place, the student leadership planned an opening day that went beyond administrative imagination.
The first day of school began with students debarking buses and walking into the school to the sound of drumline cadences. “It was like a parade that set the tone for the day,” says Pugh. The students then followed a modified schedule for the morning during which they attended each of their academic classes in order to review syllabi, calendars and, most importantly, expectations. With those items taken care of, the day progressed as students reported, by class groups, to one of four sessions.
“We rotated to each of the four sessions in which students were treated to performances by their peers,” says Pugh. The Drama/Orchestra/Chorus session provided entertainment that showed what to expect from Fine Arts participation and emphasized a welcome to all interested students.
The band, cheerleaders, JrROTC and sports put on a pep rally to showcase the options for peers to participate in these active areas and create an atmosphere that celebrates school spirit and opportunities for inclusion. “The pep rally allowed our Athletic Director, Brian Deberry to demonstrate that he is the students’ biggest cheerleader,” says Pugh. “Brian excels at his craft and is very involved in supporting student success across the board.”
The third session featured a motivational speaker who spoke to students about overcoming obstacles and embracing challenges. The fourth session focused on the administration and counseling. Pugh spoke to how they were in place to help students find their own way of learning and presented clear expectations for behavior, dress and academics.
With regard to academics, it was important to Pugh to convey that he really is making changes that will impact student life in a positive manner. “We have hired teachers who are excellent instructional leaders,” says Pugh. “Teachers must understand the art of teaching and the various ways students learn. They must possess the skill set to get the message across to several different students in several different ways.” Pugh says that it is not enough to set high expectations for students unless instructors provide the tools for students to articulate challenges and meet expectations.
Taking on the administration of an established school means that changes will come with some challenges. Pugh cites that, although the current GHS is only in its 15th year, the school enjoys a rich history stemming from the original alumni who provided a ready-made heritage and community from which Grayson could springboard into success. Pugh likes to walk the halls and see the reminders of a rich past mixed with a vibrant future intermingled within the display cases that line the walls. Plus, those cases might magically hold the key to his stealthy ability to be in several places at one time keeping teachers, staff, parents, and students on their toes with their britches hitched up appropriately…ready for the rebound.