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Judi Pulsifer interview

CW: What do you think a principal’s role is for afterschool programs?

JP: I think my role is primarily to support the SOAR director [Nancy Bird]. I look at the afterschool program to be one more component of the Neshobe School program. I don’t see it as a stand-alone by any means. Nancy and I work very collaboratively together on the SOAR program. I’m a member of the advisory board. I’m also here and available to support the students the same way I support students throughout the day.

CW: What do you believe is the role of afterschool in general?

JP: I see it as twofold: for children who want extended learning opportunities but I also see it for working famillies that need support. I now have the privilege of being a grandmother but I’ve heard first hand from our parents here about the struggles to find childcare. But watching my daughter in-law start searching for childcare when she was three months pregnant made me more aware of how limited it is. Especially for school age children. So when I look at what our SOAR program is, I look at the combination of childcare and enrichment. This is something that is open to everyone, the same as a public school. Some of our children who would normally go home and be alone, or don’t have those extra opportunities to do things, have it here at SOAR.

CW: What advice would you give to afterschool staff to become part of the process in making their school a better place? Or to connect with the school day better?

JP: This isn’t really a challenge we’ve had. Nancy is here at 10 am and is a very outgoing person. She makes strong connections. Our head teacher is a member of our faculty. Some of our paraeducators are afterschool support staff. So we have a lot of people who already have school day connections. My door is open. Sometimes that particular leader comes in and talks to me about a problem. I think what’s hard is the time they come on. They’re not employed here when our faculty is having meetings or heading home. So it’s hard to find the overlap. But there are SOAR events that are offered, like Lights On, that sometimes our staff will attend.

CW: What pieces of communication or types of collaboration has worked well between you and Nancy?

JP: Nancy and I talk on a daily basis. I think we have, in addition to our staff meetings, we have a lot of communication as needed. The open door policy in action.

CW: How long have you been here Judi?

JP: For life! I came here as a teacher and I’ve moved up through.

CW: So you and Nancy have built a high level of trust.

JP: Nancy was the town recreation director before she took this job. I was assistant principal then and I worked with Nancy way back when. So then, when she became the SOAR director we already had an established relationship. I don’t ever have to worry about her follow through and her meeting all the requirements she needs to meet. That’s a very good feeling. It’s a strong level of trust.

CW: What would you want afterschool staff to know about being a principal?

JP: I think the most important thing is that the principal’s role is to ensure that everything is in place to support the students in the afterschool program. I have one student who has been in the SOAR program, in fifth grade now, who does not do well standing in bus lines. So if I’m here, he comes down and hangs with me. Little things like that.

CW: What are some things that have gone really well at SOAR? What has flourished under Nancy’s direction?

JP: Total acceptance of our children. Nancy bends over backwards to get kids into the program. She’s willing to take ALL children, no matter what kind of challenges they present. She’s open to them. Nancy is always at looking at how she can do things better. When they came out of with the social emotional learning project, Nancy was right there. On her part, the ¬†wall never goes up saying we can’t do this or I’m not going to do this. The establishment of the advisory board, and when the board was making suggestions Nancy was open to hearing how to improvement the forms.

CW: Do you see where there might be room for improvement?

JP: Understanding that some of the [content] programs might not be meeting the needs of our children or even getting them excited even through we’re invested in it. I’m thinking of things as we continue to grow, continuing to add new things like STEAM activities. The hard part, especially when doing K-6, is that it’s a long school day. How do you fit in that afternoon time? We try to incorporate a lot of movement during the school day, and a lot of them have reached exhaustion by the end of the school day.

CW: What do you hear from parents about SOAR?

JP: I hear good things. We are offering a drawing for parents who complete a survey because we don’t get the feedback that we need. We have two parents on the advisory council and both of them talk aboout how to extend our hours. It’s been nice to what they have to say and offer a perspective that none of us have.

CW: How does sustainability look for the SOAR program?

JP: Right now we’ve been fortunate over the years in that our Board used to put money in a reserve fund so we have some money set aside. But that will only take us so far.

CW: How do you think we can work together to increase outcomes for our kids?

JP: Hmmmmm that’s a good one. I think the social emotional learning [SEL] is a huge piece. Our SU is in our third year of brain based learning and one of the components is the social emotional learning, which has always been my personal belief that children do not have the SEL connections then they weren’t able to access learning. Until those things were in place and they were regulated, then they can learn…We’ve spent a lot of time on support systems. We used to have a principal, assistant principal, and guidance counselor and then I gave up the assistant principal position to add another guidance counselor. When I first heard about the afterschool bringing that SEL component in, it’s just one more thing to tie into the school day and overall help our children.

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