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By Jeena Williams

Hello, my name is Jeena Williams and I am a recovering classroom teacher. Piles of ungraded essays still haunt my nightmares – as do answering pointed emails from parents, supervising homecoming, and navigating hallways during passing periods. That said, a part of me wishes I still led freshmen and juniors in discussions about Robert Frost and William Shakespeare and “The Declaration of Independence,” and I carry with me these lessons from my students’ insightfulness: that all kids can learn and that public education has the urgent responsibility to build communities worthy of our kids’ collective potential.

I am now lucky enough to lead Manning, a school that’s proud to provide a safe space for amazing kids to think critically, be creative, work hard, learn rich content, grow as people and as learners, and achieve great things. This year we are tasked with welcoming fresh perspectives into the building while navigating a looming second order change: We will, with other Wheat Ridge area middle schools, welcome sixth graders to our unique culture in the 2018-2019 school year. This calls us to have robust dialogue with our stakeholders about who we are, what traditions we must keep and how we might need to shift to accommodate a new group of students.

Recently, I asked our families: Why did you choose Manning for your kids? If you could, what might you change about Manning? What kinds of things do you want your kids to do and learn while they’re in middle school? And what should we consider as we welcome sixth graders into our community? From their 100-plus survey responses, four themes rose to the surface:

1) Families want their kids to be great students who know how to manage time, complete work meticulously, be organized, take copious notes, learn key skills in core content area, and be prepared for the rigors of high school, college, and the world beyond.

2) Families want students to be critical thinkers who are challenged to persist through productive struggle, express complicated ideas, evaluate the thinking of others, support sophisticated arguments with meaningful evidence, develop and test hypotheses, and solve complex, relevant, real-world problems.

3) Families want kids to love learning, to experience joy and wonder in and out of a typical classroom, and to be inspired by staff members who care about them and individualize instruction to meet their needs.

4) Finally, and for many most importantly, families want their kids to be good people who build healthy relationships; advocate for themselves; have integrity; serve their community; develop as leaders; and be confident, self aware, courageous, disciplined, kind individuals. Parents understand that adolescence is a critical and difficult time, and they believe our school ought to serve them as whole children with a wide range of needs beyond just academics.

And just about all of them asked me fix the parking lot. I’m working on it.

The Manning staff is working persistently and thoughtfully to craft experiences that ask kids to grow as great students, critical thinkers, lifelong learners and principled people while honoring our traditions of academic excellence and high expectations. In this endeavor, we aim to have courage – to be authentically who we are, to stand up to forces who would ask us to change too abruptly, to question the next big thing and to challenge conventional wisdom. We need all stakeholders to help us make critical decisions and to tell us when we misstep. It is our privilege to serve this community and its extraordinary kids; we will do our best to meet the challenge inherent in John O’Donohue’s observation: “The duty of privilege is absolute integrity.”


Jeena Williams

Jeena Williams is the Principal of The Manning School.

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