East Aurora leaders: ‘It’s a new day at EA’
By Denise Crosby firstname.lastname@example.org August 21, 2013 6:20PM
Allen fourth graders head back into the classroom after recess Wednesday. | Denise Crosby~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 23, 2013 2:26PM
Wednesday was only the first day of school in the East Aurora School District, yet Principal Bob Pape admitted he was tired.
Up until 10 days ago, Pape was planning on a second year as principal at Oak Park School on Front Street.
Then came the unexpected resignation of the Allen Elementary School principal. Which meant last-minute shuffling, as his assistant principal, Principal Robert Basselt Jr., took over the reins at Oak Park, with Pape shifting to Allen.
It’s no surprise that with little more than a week to switch gears, Pape put in some exceptionally long days getting ready for the doors of his new school to open.
“It’s been exhausting,” he admitted. “But Allen is going to rock this year!”
The 40-year-old educator, tired as he was, was more than pumped when I stopped by to visit Allen Elementary on South Farnsworth Avenue. Pape’s crazy summer, along with his obvious excitement, is indicative of what’s going on in the East Aurora School District. It’s been an exceptionally frenzied spring and summer there, with a rash of administrative resignations and new hires until the 11th hour.
But Allen not only opened on time, staff and kids alike had nothing but smiles on their faces and a positive outlook for the new year.
And that’s something to celebrate for a school district that went through a hellish year of bad publicity that included financial mismanagement, as well as board and administrative chaos.
But even as headlines continued to blast the district, positive steps were being taken to right the rocky ship, including the hiring of consultants who drove much-needed change. Pape described the attitude adjustment as “palpable.”
“We are hearing it, we are seeing it,” he said, adding that district leaders are now “on the same page to create a foundation that can be built upon for years to come.”
An example, he noted, were Professional Learning Communities that have been set up to bring staff together on issues like student data and creating equality. And more than ever, the word is out, from the School Board on down, that this year it’s not about anybody’s personal agendas. It’s about the kids.
Which is why the mantra for the year, Pape said, can be summed up with this phrase: “It’s a new day for EA.”
That new day includes a slew of fresh faces that officials tell me have been chosen, in large part, because of their team-building skills that focus on mutual accountability and interdependence.
“We are in this together,” said Pape. “These are all our kids.”
These new hires, he said, are not only coming in motivated and passionate, they are bringing an excitement that is contagious. Many chose East Aurora over more affluent districts because they know that at East they can make a difference.
“I feel like I fell asleep and woke up in a new district,” School Board member Richard Leonard remarked at a meeting several weeks ago after reading a report of new administrative initiatives. “I never thought we would get people like this here.”
Pape acknowledges the negativity of the past. And he admits he too was “plenty vocal” about the problems last year.
“There is a new movement,” he said. “It will take time to establish trust.”
But he’s also convinced the entire staff of East Aurora is more than ready to talk the talk.
“It’s not just a feeling of excitement,” he said. “It’s a plan.”