Sites projects future modifications within Decatur
January 18, 2019
As the 2018-2019 school year nears its second semester, former Vice Principal Tom Sites, who returned this year as principal of Stephen Decatur High School, took the time in late December to sit down with The Hawk for an exclusive interview, detailing his enthusiasm to be back at the place he calls home.
1. How does being a principal here compare to being one at BIS?
“Busier, bigger kids, bigger problems,” Sites tells The Hawk, explaining that as kids get older, their lives and therefore their problems get increasingly complex. On the other hand, with the energy that Decatur doles out, Sites finds the atmosphere in the school to be exciting and enjoyable.
2. What different problems do you face administrating high school students?
As Sites puts it, at an “intermediate level,” it is more about the parents and working with them to benefit their children. At SDHS, it is about the student and helping them become independent. Each student has a unique story and needs differing levels of attention and guidance to have a successful high school career.
3.What has changed at Decatur since you were assistant principal seven years ago?
Since returning, Principal Sites says he has seen interesting changes in how social media affects students’ lives. From observing the effects on his own four kids, he believes it has created a “social gap” for Decatur’s youth. It sometimes reels in problems from outside of the school environment. Sites remains positive, saying, “we’re so fortunate here. We have so many great kids in this school, and that makes it all worthwhile in the end. We have some kids who have some challenges, whom we have to help, but…it’s all about getting them through to graduation and getting them prepared for college.”
4. What, if any, issues have you confronted so far this year that you did not expect?
To this, Sites replies that what he has encountered was expected. In fact, he found his work was not as challenging as presumed. Introducing programs such as e-hall pass went smoothly, and its use across the school is proficient. Controlling hallway traffic was also not as daunting of a task as he was led to believe.
5. In an interview at the beginning of the year, you stated that you want to “[Give students] a platform to enable them to go where they need to go.” What did you mean by this?
Helping kids achieve their goals is very important to Principal Sites. He believes the school can do that by helping make students dreams realistic and achievable. The main goal is to create prepared kids, aimed towards success.
6. What steps have you taken to reach this goal?
Sites explains that tools accessible to students, such as Office 365, Engrade, and next year Schoology, are openly provided and should be embraced and utilized by students. Programs such as Sway, found on Office 365, can serve as a partner for creating high-quality work. Having well-made presentations, Sites expresses, can relieve the anxiety of presenting and turning in work.
7. Are learning targets important to your mission as a principal?
Learning targets give kids an idea of their goals for the end of that class period. The administrator wants kids to enjoy their classes and see that their teachers care. He believes that by setting goals through learning targets, a student can better orient himself or herself and have a more successful school day.
8. What are your goals for the remainder of this year?
Sites is focused on keeping up with little things that have a bigger impact than they may seem to, including hallway safety and more intimate behavioral administration.
It is also important to the principal to curate a spirited school culture and to establish continuity in the belief that, “we are a family,” as he puts it. The immensely popular holiday door decorating contest was a great example of how things are planned to work out, with more activities to come so the school body stays lively throughout the academic year. Although he loves the idea of dual enrollment and the opportunities the program through Wor-Wic offers, Sites worries that loosing enthusiastic juniors and seniors for part of the day may impact school spirit. For this reason, among others, he plans to incorporate eccentric competitions and spirit activities to heighten morale year-round.
9. What changes can we expect to see from you?
The ecstatic administrator is interested in revamping the appearance of the school, bringing great changes to the landscaping in the front of the school and to the Decatur sports stadium.
Other possible plans of action include modifying the four-period day, which Sites says often causes students to grow bored of courses and makes semesters feel longer. “I would like to look at a modified block system, but we would need to get the facts first,” he eagerly states. An even more intricate potentiality is what the principal calls a “power-hour lunch” which is a method used by certain smaller schools such as Pocomoke High School. Every student in the school would enjoy lunch during the same hour and have the opportunity to utilize school facilities such as the library and guidance department. This could relieve stress for seniors busy with college applications, students writing papers and essays, and even students who just need some time to themselves during the day. With a student body of 1,400, although, this approach would take a lot of strategic planning.
10. What is your favorite memory with a student?
One student had some behavioral issues at Berlin Intermediate School for a few years and Mr. Sites had to correct and reprimand him. When the student reached ninth grade this year and saw Mr. Sites again, he handed over a heartfelt card expressing how grateful he was for the care and determination that was put in by administrators to help him in his academic experience.
11. Is there anything the students can do to improve their own experience?
“Get more involved, there is something here for everyone. If you get involved with something, it makes a huge difference,” Sites says, going on to explain that he wants all kids to feel safe and comfortable in the school. “I want kids to know, that if they have a problem or they need help, I will drop everything on a dime to help a kid. It’s also important to me to hold kids accountable though, and for them to hold their teachers accountable. Many have said that I’m fair but firm.”
For Sites, what is most important is making students feel welcome, and part of the Decatur family. “I will do what’s best for kids. Not what’s best for me; not what’s best for teachers… we are second in line. That’s how I try to make every decision,” he expresses, excited to move forward by making Stephen Decatur a better place every day. As new students enter Decatur, they are beyond lucky to have such a down-to-earth, enthusiastic principal in charge of their school.