Lori Wiggins spent the last 19 years building a career in education that led her to become the new principal at Gunston Middle School.
And she spent the latter half of summer getting ready for Tuesday — the first day of the 2012-13 school year for students coming back from summer break.
Wiggins made flashcards to help her memorize the school's faculty; she pored over the school's 2011-12 yearbooks to help familiarize herself with the current batch of seventh- and eighth-graders. An ice cream social last week helped her reinforce those students' names and commit some of the school's sixth-graders to memory — she makes a point of looking the student in eye, shaking their hand and repeating their name out loud.
Still, learning everyone is going to take a little time.
Gunston "is a little bit, I would say, like the United Nations. To see a wide variety of kids from different cultures, who speak different languages, is interesting. And our programming … is pretty phenomenal," Wiggins said.
That programming helped draw Wiggins to Gunston. She last worked as a principal in West Virginia.
Gunston Middle School offers traditional middle school subjects and electives. But it's also and Montessori programming.
Wiggins is a former Spanish teacher who has taught in Barcelona, Spain, Brooklyn, N.Y., and Pasadena, Calif.
"To be able to combine a love of languages and a love of being a building-level administrator … was what attracted me to Gunston," she said.
The Arlington School Board appointed Wiggins as Gunston's principal in July.
"(Wiggins') passion for education is evident," Superintendent Pat Murphy said in a statement at the time. "She understands the requirements of a school leader and has a good sense of the role of the middle principal. She is open to new ideas and will focus on communicating with parents and involving them in the academic success of the students."
Wiggins is one of five new principals Arlington Public Schools has for the 2012-13 school year.
She has spent her first weeks on the job familiarizing herself with what's been established at Gunston and offering improvements. The morning traffic flow has been tweaked, for instance.
"At the end of the first year, both for faculty and students to say we're farther along than we were at the start of the year — that we are better than we were before" will be one indicator of a successful first year in June, she said.
Wiggins hopes to see improvement in student engagement, involvement in extra curricular activities, standardized test scores, language acquisition, faculty job satisfaction and parent satisfaction.
Student engagement is measured a number of ways, from coursework to participation in events like a science fair. The school has in-house data that, in part, indicates whether each student has at least one adult at the school that they feel going to and talking to about anything they need.
- All of our recent back-to-school stories and opinion columns are collected in a handy back-to-school guide.
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