Prior to posting on social media the short video that revealed what our mascot would be, I posted the following: “Voting is empowering; it allows for voice. But voting can also be divisive as it creates winners and losers. But keep in mind that we will all be on the same team.” While there was a clear winner in the vote for mascot, it was still close enough that I knew there could be some students unhappy that their choice didn’t win. And so I wanted them to maintain perspective, that soon we will be sharing one building and one mascot.

That said, I also wanted them to know that their voices had been heard. In fact, a parent later posted on Instagram that she knew a lot of parents wanted Cavaliers to win, and the fact that the Tigers won demonstrated that I took their vote and choice seriously. And I did. That was one very public way that students were empowered. They had gained a level of control over an aspect of their future lives.

Empowerment is an important part of the new schools process. Letting students have choice and input on things ranging anywhere from the mascot to the name of the school store and so forth gives them an emotional investment in the school they are about to bring online. It helps them feel less like renters, and more like owners.

But empowerment shouldn’t be limited to just the opening of a school. Empowerment is important throughout the course of the school day and year as well. While empowerment can certainly take the form of student government and leadership, what I am referring to is the second principle of my vision, Engage, Empower, Excel.

Empowering students as learners is essential to nurture the natural curiosity that students are born with but sometimes lose by the time they reach high school. I’ve written before about the importance of having firestarters on staff, and while I stand by that, perhaps the best way to spark that fire is to empower students to pursue their interests and passions. There are obviously standards and set curricula that must be addressed and followed in high schools, but within that, I think there is enough room for students to maneuver and follow what they are interested in: doing so empowers them in their own learning. In other words, when students have more choice in what they are doing (and why), they have more investment in it.

We can help in this by having students start with questions rather than presenting them with answers. With Google always at their fingertips, their time in school must consist of more than a slavish adherence to rote memorization; rather, they need to learn how to develop questions and the skills to explore them. This kind of deep exploration in turn helps them create meaning on their own, and when we can facilitate that and help them make connections, we will have students who are not only engaged but empowered as well.

This is a lofty goal. I understand that. But that is what a vision should be—it should be aspirational, something to strive for. Will we always hit that mark? Probably not. But if we keep that as our focus as a school, as administrators, as teachers, then we will be better positioned to meet it.

Providing You with More than Just Braces

A little over seven years, I received a Facebook message from a community member congratulating me on my appointment to the principalship of John Champe High School and encouraging me to reach out to him if there was anything I needed.

At the time, I couldn’t understand why an orthodontist would be messaging me or what he could possibly do for me, so I kindly thanked Dr. Kravitz for his warm wishes and left it at that. Thankfully, he reached out to me again shortly after and reiterated his initial offer. Even then, I still didn’t comprehend what was occurring, but I explained that I would certainly like to meet with him.

Again, this was 2011, and while there was the ubiquitous advertisement for Kravitz Orthodontics in the Stone Ridge Harris Teeter, he was not as well as known throughout the county at that point. And being new to working in Dulles, I didn’t know about him either. But I soon learned what the rest of Dulles South (and now the county) knew about Dr. Kravitz: he is a generous, humble soul who cares about people and his community.

And so seven years later, I found myself in a similar situation: opening a new school and in need of financial assistance. This time around, I approached him and asked if he could help Independence High School like he did for Champe, and his immediate response was, “Absolutely—anything you need.” And that is why Dr. Kravitz is regarded around the county as the staunchest supporter of our schools: he unhesitatingly offers support to so many and in so many ways. He loves children and is passionate about his work, and his infectious smile instantly conveys that to anyone who interacts with him.

Of course this is why it was no surprise when he received the Loudoun County School-Business Partnership Make a Difference Award in 2015. He is committed to helping our schools thrive; to the best of my knowledge, his support of our schools and education is probably unparalleled. For example, aside from things like sponsorship, Dr. Kravitz subsidizes student agendas, instructional materials, teacher supplies, luncheons, clubs, and numerous after school activities.  He also contributes to athletics, Fun Runs, charity fundraisers at the school, festivals, parent nights, the PTSA, book clubs, holiday events, dances, Teacher Appreciation Week, and academic scholarships. And he does this by following up by asking, “What else can I do to help?”

If it were only the schools he helped, that would be impressive enough, but Dr. Kravitz supports the entire community. He sponsors Dulles Youth Sports, Loudoun South Eagles Baseball, South Riding Little League, South Riding Challenge Soccer, Loudoun South Soccer, Old Dominion Football Clubs, South Riding Stingrays, Froggers Swim Club, Stone Ridge Sharks Swim Club, Pleasant Valley Piranhas, Dulles Storm Lacrosse, CYA, SYA, South Riding Dance, middle school basketball and iBots programs, and Loudoun County Fire and Rescue and the State Troopers. He also goes beyond that by attending school plays, athletic events, fundraisers, awards ceremonies, and even hosting events at his office.

And that is just what I know of. I suspect that if you were to start asking around to different schools across the county, they would echo this as well as give you numerous other examples of his generosity and assistance.

My point is, I am appreciative and grateful when community generosity finds its way to our schools; as I wrote earlier in the month, I intend to highlight some of this generosity in my blog. And so, I am thankful to Dr. Kravitz for supporting Independence High School and am glad that he will be a part of this journey with us.

I guess the other point is that I also learned a valuable lesson: when you receive an email from an orthodontist, take him/her at their initial word!