On a tour of the school, I learned about Deb Hoffman's commitment to serving every student, no matter how problematic.
Principal for a Day, run by the Foundation for Madison's Public Schools, allows community members to shadow a principal over the course of a morning. The program gives local folks an up-close look at the Madison Metropolitan School District and helps get businesses interested in the Foundation's Adopt-a-School program.
On Tuesday, October 19, I wandered Lincoln's hallway looking in vain for the principal's office -- not a great start for the school's temporary leader. Enter the cute little boy, who asked, "Want me to take you to the office?" I felt like I'd stumbled into a world more polite than the one outside the glass doors.
Was this kid a fluke, or have Lincoln's students been schooled in the ways of courtesy and helpfulness?
Turns out he was no fluke. The schools' real principal, Deb Hoffman, has a knack for creating a sense of community among both students and teachers. She took over Lincoln during a troubled period, in 2007, and has had success in turning it around. That's no easy job for a school where 70% of the students live in poverty. During my visit, one of them stood crying in the principal's office after having spent a sleepless night in a Salvation Army shelter.
What kind of person can handle enormous problems like these? Meet Deb Hoffman, a Madison principal since 1996 with a Ph.D., two schoolkids of her own, a Chicago Marathon under her belt, and a commanding presence. In the space of a few minutes, Hoffman dealt with the crying child, met with a complaining parent, and consulted with staff about ways to stretch a tight budget for supplies.
And that's just the small stuff. On a tour of the school, I learned about Hoffman's commitment to serving every student, no matter how problematic. In her Ph.D. dissertation, she explored social justice in a school setting -- in other words, ensuring equal educational opportunity for marginalized populations. At Lincoln, I learned about the progress teachers have made with seriously challenged students who now have hope, as Hoffman says, of being "productive members of society."
I was impressed by the sense of purpose in every classroom I visited. Students were focused and well behaved, even in a combined 4th-5th grade classroom with 29 students whose abilities span a dauntingly wide range. Individualized instruction, done in small groups, is the key to meeting their various needs.
My favorite stop was Marc Kornblatt's 3rd grade classroom. Kornblatt is the engaged, creative, dramatic teacher you wish you'd had for 3rd grade -- or any grade, for that matter. I was amazed at how deeply he delved into the Gettysburg Address with 8-year-olds, elucidating sophisticated ideas and difficult words. One girl dashed to the dictionary to find the precise meaning of "consecrate."
On my way out of school, I didn't see the cute little boy who'd helped me find the principal's office. I thought about him, though. After his experience in the Lincoln community, I bet, he'll grow up to help a lot of other people.