Principal of the Year: Adam Lane, Haines City High School

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“I always say that a school is only as strong as its community, and a community is only as strong as its school.”

For Haines City High School Principal Adam Lane, it always comes down to building community.

Located east of Tampa in Polk County, Florida, the school was one of several in the district serving as a designated school shelter when Hurricane Ian made landfall in September — and although the county de Polk didn’t see the level of catastrophic damage that other areas did, it was still hit by power outages and flooding.

Amid what was clearly a stressful event for many residents, Lane seized the moment to ease concerns and make connections.

“When a school opens its doors to the community to be safe, you’re talking about building relationships,” Lane says. “The guests I had who were so grateful to be able to sleep and eat at my school and stay safe, they now come to the volleyball games. I see them at football games. It really gives them the chance to be exposed to a school and all the great things it has to offer. »

In total, Haines City High opened its doors to 245 people, 27 dogs, nine cats and two turtles, Lane said. And his enthusiasm to serve and support these “guests” for three days is emblematic of his focus on building a culture of positivity and accountability among his students and staff – so much so that many of the the former returned later to be part of the latter.

High-Five Fridays and the Power of Positivity

“Even though we’re a big secondary school – we’re about 2,800 students, 245 staff – you wouldn’t know because everyone knows each other,” Lane says. “We really take pride in it every day throwing punches, high fives, asking how your day is going.”

The success he had in fostering this level of community is central to what kept Lane at Haines City High for eight years. The school serves a student population 59% Hispanic, 24% Black, 13% White, 2% Asian, and 2% Multiracial.

To connect with students, he prioritizes blocks of time to move around the school and be seen. “The emails, the phone calls, the office work — it never stops. And it can wear you down and keep you in your office all day,” says Lane, noting that the first 30 minutes of the day when students arrive and the last 30 minutes when they leave are particularly important.

“It’s being outside. Being seen. Always wear a shirt that has your name on it – Mr. Lane – so they know who you are,” he says. “Or, I have a lot of big signs that I wear around my neck. “Thank you, from Mr. Lane. Or “Hello from Mr. Lane.”

This approach to relationship building, coupled with the adoption of positive behavioral interventions and supports, helped him reduce disciplinary dismissals and increase the school’s graduation rate by 17 percentage points, 89% during his tenure. He notes that the school saw a 6 percentage point drop to 83% during remote learning in the pandemic era, but has since climbed back to 86%.

“Our focus was never even on graduation rate, it was discipline and behavior. But automatically our graduation rate went up because student behavior improved,” Lane explains.

“You really need a school that has that culture and that climate of excitement of, ‘That’s where it’s at. This is where I want to be. If I skip school, I’m missing something,” Lane says. The current number of students with at least 10 unjustified absences is 238 students, or less than 1% of the school’s total student population.

But he acknowledges that getting there is a multi-step process that requires taking time to hear from the school community and getting buy-in for positive behavior interventions and supports. Among its steps:

  • Multiple meetings with students and staff to discuss expectations for expected behavior in classrooms, cafeteria, hallways, and other parts of the school building.
  • The creation of a “Hornet Buck” currency. Staff receive 100 Hornet Bucks at the start of each month to reward students who meet expectations.
  • The opening of a school store “that looks like a super target” where these students can exchange their dollars for school items, including pens, pencils, jackets, shirts, water bottles and headphones.

Most importantly, he says, he didn’t come to announce the behavioral support initiative as a mandate. Instead, he “sprinkled positivity” throughout the school day to set the tone.

In the morning announcements, he spent five minutes recognizing the achievements of students, teachers, academic and sports teams and other members of the school community. He sent personalized birthday messages to staff with photos related to things they love. He issued positive office references to students with good attendance or those who helped out on a day when a substitute was leading the class, among others.

“Somebody turn around [a student’s] name in that they did something positive like return a cell phone,” says Kimberly Norman, the school’s financial secretary. When this happens, the office staff prepares an award and set of awards, then invites the student to meet Mr. Lane and take a photo. “And we’re sending that to the staff so everyone can see what good things these kids are doing.”

Lane also makes it seem like the door is always open to discuss any decisions and resolve issues, says Haines City English teacher Nick Johnston.

“There’s a lot of transparency from him in terms of ‘Here’s the information I have. Here’s what I know. Here’s the decision I’m able to make based on what we have,” says Johnston. “I think too often, unfortunately, leaders want to put every piece of information together, and then you’re not really able to make a decision, or a decision comes too late.”

Positive Earnings Generate Staff Returns

Another testament to Lane’s success in building a strong school culture: former students later returned to serve on staff.

Although other schools across the country are struggling with teacher shortages, “I don’t think I’ve had what you would call a vacancy in more than five years,” Lane says. “I have teachers retiring, I have teachers leaving the profession and I will temporarily have a vacancy, but I always have a long-term replacement who is ready, so when that position becomes available , I already have someone on my campus to fill it.

When the students are juniors and seniors, Lane reaches out to them and offers an invitation to come back and work with him. They may return initially as a substitute, secretary, paraprofessional or, once they graduate, as a teacher. But there is room to become dean or sporting director or assistant director – or “even take my position as director in a few years”, he says.

“Your mentality is to prepare these students to go out into the real world and get jobs and do great things,” Lane says, “but we never think about ‘Why not bring them back to campus where I need staff?’ ”

Haines City offers internships for current high school students, placing them in student aid positions to monitor, shadow, and assist a teacher or reception secretary. This experience, he says, helps expose students interested in education as a profession while sowing the seeds for those who may not have fully thought about it yet.

For students attending institutions like the University of Central Florida, Polk State College, and the University of South Florida, it also offers the opportunity to substitute in Haines City while they are in school. “They are working on their university degree. They make money. They get experience,” says Lane. “And then when they graduate, they’re already on my campus as substitutes. And it’s so natural for them to go directly to a teaching position.

It focuses on retaining educators and staff with reinforcement and support, recognizing achievements and years of service to help boost staff morale.

“I just think it’s really important for directors to know that you’re there to make sure there’s a platform that’s designed for people to engage and be heard,” Lane says. “And if you have that, I think you’re going to have the membership and people are going to want to work at your school.”

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