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David Manning interview

CW: How long have you been at Johnson Elementary School (JES)?

DM: I’ve been here eight years.

CW: What’s your involvement been with the afterschool program through that time?

DM: Pretty heavy. I work closely with the afterschool directors [Jen Lamos and Alyssa Machia]. We meet at least twice a week for 30-60 minutes through the whole school year. We are in touch with what’s going on. The planning room support staff works with the afterschool program as well, so I’m in contact with them if there are discipline problems that carry over into the afterschool program. I’ve hired three afterschool directors. That’s the biggest chunk of involvement I have–hiring the director of the program. Obviously who I hire has a big impact on what the program is going to look like. All of the afterschool program staff are JES employees and so ultimately I am everybody’s supervisor although I tend to delegate supervision to the director. The main things I’ve accomplished with the afterschool program have been making sure we are available and open whenever we can be and then making sure that we are involved with the staffing and budget. There’s been quite a few changes in the last few years in terms of supporting the YPQA quality improvements and licensing changes. I approved increased funding to accommodate these changes.

CW: What would you say is the principal’s role in an afterschool program?

DM: Anything that happens in a school building is under the principal’s supervision. So the principal should be aware of what’s going on in the afterschool program, the principal should be working closely with the director to make sure the program is well run, and the principal should be supportive of licensing regulations. Another role would be around billing, invoicing, and payment structure. It’s really about making sure the program fits the vision of what the school wants to be. So for example, we became a school that uses the community eligibility provision and one of our beliefs is that we feed all our kids. At the same time, we encouraged going from an afterschool snack to an afterschool meal [supper] in order to meet the vision that our kids are well fed. The principal should shape the school in the way that s/he sees fit and then s/he should do the same with the afterschool program.

CW: What are some of the challenges you’ve seen and helped resolve?

DM: One of the challenges is that when I got here all the staff who worked in the afterschool program worked during the school day as teachers or paraeducators. It was the way the previous principal had taken to make part-time jobs into full-time jobs. The advantage was that you had people who really knew the kids and how to discipline the kids. The disadvantage was that you had staff members who didn’t buy into the afterschool program, didn’t want to be in the afterschool program, and who were just there because it make it so they could have full-time benefits. So we, over time, have changed that. Now the afterschool program staff (except for the co-directors) only work for the afterschool program. What that means is that they tend to be younger and they don’t have the day-time relationships with the children. Having them be firm enough is a challenge. But the advantage is that they want to be here and they have chosen to be here.

CW: What sorts of quality improvements have you seen in the program?

DM: I think the programming has become more varied in the past couple of years which is a real positive. I don’t know that it’s necessarily gotten more quality of the programming; but there are more options for kids. We’ve brought in some pretty cool experiences for kids, i.e. MedTrek, fly tying, etc.

CW: What do you think afterschool staff/directors need to understand in terms of what’s on a principal’s plate?

DM: I would say two things: you want to understand that your principal is very busy. The smaller the school, the wider variety of the things the principal will cover. The larger the school, the principal probably has a narrower focus. Another thing is understanding that principals like to know when their phone is going to ring with someone complaining. So if you just had an argument or disagreement with a parent, go tell your principal immediately.

In my case, we’re a school-based program so it’s important to know that the principal is going to need education about the licensing regulations. Most of the regulations don’t make sense to principals. The idea is that the afterschool program staff person can’t change the regulations but the staff person can make sure the principal understands the regulations. We have to appropriately plan for it and make sure the staffing ratios are correct per regulations and the staff has what they need to be compliant–such as radios.

CW: What are some ways that afterschool and principals could work better together? Where is there room for improvement?

DM: I think there’s room for improvement–at least in my school–in the on boarding of new afterschool staff. We have a pretty comprehensive program to train up new employees. But we don’t have as a strong a one to train up new afterschool staff. Most notably, they don’t come to our in-service days at the start of the year. They probably should, but we hire them a lot more frequently and they tend to come and go. The turnover is much higher. It really feels like two different staffs. That is sort of by design, as I mentioned before. The kids are the same people. So you’ve got kids that are working with adults who don’t talk and don’t know each other. There’s certainly lots of things that happen in afterschool on Monday that we hear about in school on Tuesday. That connection is important and we need to do better.

CW: So in looking at the connection between school-day and afterschool, can you think of things that have worked well for you guys?

DM: Frequent meetings between the director and the principals is key. We also meet with the supervisory union afterschool coordinator [Teresa Bedell] who oversees the programs across the SU and she’ll meet with me and our school’s directors and that is helpful. One of the major challenges is that we when have staff meetings the afterschool staff is always taking care of the kids during that time. None of them get to come, not even the directors. That would be important but the meetings have to be during afterschool because that’s when our school-day staff is free!

What’s worked well is the communication with staff here and at the SU central office. Jen’s really good about inviting me to things and afterschool events. And not just an invitation with a piece of paper or flyer but then following up in person and asking me if I am going to be coming. The personal invite is important to get your principal to the afterschool program and connect with kids. If you don’t, the principal will only hear about the afterschool when there is a problem or parent complaint. You don’t want that to be your principal’s only involvement because then the principal will have a negative view of the afterschool program. Get your principal to your afterschool open house, plays, parent nights, and cool enrichment activities to showcase the good stuff happening.

CW: What do you hear from your parents about the afterschool program?

DM: I hear parents who like the fact that our program is open all the time. I know that’s a big deal. I hear parents who like our hours because we’re open until 5:30. I hear that they like the diversity of our programming. I also hear that it’s expensive for them.

CW: More generally, how do you think we can work better to improve outcomes for all kids?

DM: I like the afterschool program having enrichment activities. I’m not a huge fan of the afterschool program having a lot of academic type activities because these kids have already been to school all day and there are lots of children who are here at 7:30 and then still here when I leave at 5. That’s a long day for them. I’m not so sure that the main driving focus of an afterschool program should be to improve school day outcomes for kids. I think the main focus should be to provide a safe, healthy environment while their parents are working. Second, to provide really cool enrichment opportunities that are fun and educational at the same time like chess club, drama, and lego robotics.

Overall, it’s a major challenge on how a school helps all kids because so much of what impacts kids negatively is either beyond the school’s control or only loosely in the school’s control. We don’t get to control much of what happens once the kids leave here. The positive of the afterschool program is that the kids are here longer and we can control their environment a little longer.

The more we can help kids get stable, the more success the kids will have in school. There’s room for the afterschool program to play a role in that model. One thing the afterschool program has going for it is that we have 260 kids and about 150 of them get on a bus and leave every day. Those are parents we almost never see. But the afterschool program has no bussing, so the afterschool program sees parents or caregivers every single day when they pick up students. That’s an area where we could take advantage to have better communication with parents. That feels like something we don’t tap into enough. I can think of multiple examples of parents we can never get in touch with, but then they show up at 5:15 to pick up their kids. It feels like a great opportunity to reach parents.

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