Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

July 19, 2012

Smarties for Success: New AHS leader arrives

By Dustin Luca
STAFF WRITER

As people zip by his office, working to change Andover High to its 3-and-3 teaching model, newly-hired principal Chris Lord sits at a table, unwrapping a pack of Smarties.

The tart candies played a positive role at his former school, and Lord hopes they'll help make his Andover office a welcoming place.

"Several teachers really like Smarties, so I got some to encourage them to come to my office," said Lord, two weeks into his AHS career.

"I used to give Smarties to kids [at his previous school, Shea High School in in Pawtucket, R.I] before tests. There's all this psychological stuff you can play with. They felt like they do better. Did they do better on the tests? I have no idea. But if they thought they could be more successful by having Smarties... Fine," he said.

Since starting in Andover on July 1, Lord has met teachers, parents and students to get a feel for what they think about Andover High. He's even met with Andover parents in their homes, talking with them over dinner.

"My first day, I sent out an email to the entire learning community — parents, kids, teachers — and I said, 'Let's start talking,'" said Lord. "The emotional extremism of this past year has been a challenge, and people want to try to realign their compasses if you will, and try to get to a happier space where they can really feel like they can celebrate their school for all of the wonderful things that it has."

MEETING THE COMMUNITY

Lord believes meeting with people at their homes helps them to open up.

"That's where we can get a really good feel," said Lord. "When people are in their homes, they feel more at ease and feel comfortable sharing with me what they really want to keep going at Andover, what they want to celebrate, some of the elements of the culture that's really cool, and some of the stuff that needs our attention."

Already, Lord has written a song for Andover High School. He hopes to show it soon to a few students to see what they think.

"Each day I come here, I'm more and more and more convinced that this is the right place, not only for the community, but for me," said Lord. "I'm hoping that what I can bring to the community is something that has value in the long term, in terms of where I think the community is right now."

AHS WILL BE 'TIGHT SHIP' UNDER LORD

As he has listened to people, Lord has taken note of how the community operates. While he wouldn't compare his own discipline to that of Tom Sharkey, his predecessor, Lord explained he would have a zero tolerance policy in effect for a number of things.

"There are four big ones... theft, drugs, weapons and violence," said Lord. "I won't tolerate any of that. The rules are in place for a reason."

A popular gripe among students in the last two years has been the enforcement of the school's tardy policy, where many students saw their driving-to-school privileges taken away after six tardies or more.

That practice will continue under Lord - assuming it doesn't become more strict.

"It will be even more effectively enforced with our monitors and our resource officer," said Lord. "The whole point is to get to school on time. The taxpayers are paying a great deal of money to have you present in class from bell to bell, period. The expectatition is that you're in your seat before the bell starts ringing for every class."

This is why Lord's mantra is "every student, every class, every day, on time," he said. "I will definitely chant that one at the beginning of the year."

TODAY, NEASC; TOMORROW, THE WORLD?

As Lord moves into the school, the district is also preparing for a scheduled accreditation visit in the fall, during which every aspect of the high school community will be scrutinized by education experts for four days. Recently, teachers approved the self-study reports to allow the NEASC process to move forward, and a warmup visit will be held midway through September to prepare for October's visit.

Once that process ends, Lord said he'd like to reach out to the Programme for International Student Assessment to see how Andover High compares on a global scale.

"I'd love to get an international assessment in here, like the PISA assessment that assesses our kids internationally," said Lord. "The kids in Sweden, Denmark, Singapore, these are some of the top international students. How do our kids fare against these kids internationally?"

Lord pushed for PISA to come to Shea High School, and his former school was ultimately selected to be one of 200 American schools analyzed by PISA, he said.

The outcome of the visit hasn't been returned to the community, so he doesn't know yet how his old school fared.

"If this is something the community is interested in, we can study it," said Lord.

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For feedback or inquiries on this story, please email dluca@andovertownsman.com.

SCHOOL HIRING NEW LEADERS

As the summer moves forward, the school community is also interviewing candidates for both the system's athletic director, to fill the vacancy of recently-resigned director Chris Bergeron, and for an assistant principal to replace Christopher Phillips, who resigned at the end of the year to take a principal position elsewhere.

On Friday and Monday, Lord interviewed eight candidates for the new assistant principal spot, he said. School leaders expects to have both positions filled sometime in August.