Meeting the Students’ Needs During School Closures

In this NAESP Center for Innovative Leadership video podcast, Andy Jacks and Hamish Brewer talk with Virginia middle school principal Chuck Moss about meeting students’ needs during school closures and positioning the middle school as its own standout entity in the school district.

Topics: Pandemic Leadership, Curriculum and Instruction, Middle Level

Chuck Moss leads a school of almost 1,100 students in a suburban and rural area in Virginia. He believes in his students and in Dinwiddie Middle School—and it was his mission to spread the news of all of the good things and successes that were happening in his school to everyone who would listen.

“We’re not a prep school for high school,” says Moss. “We’re three years of awesome. If we don’t tell people that, they’re not going to have a chance to see it and to know it.”

And it worked. The school—with a fresh logo and dedicated hashtag—became known in the community and beyond.

But all educators know that when one challenge is over, another is lurking around the corner. That’s when news of the coronavirus spread hit schools nationwide. Unprecedented school closings have created challenges for educators across the country that no one could’ve predicted. Armed with a dedicated staff and principal peers, Moss has found ways to meet the needs of his students and his community.

The Challenges:

  1. School’s out—for the year. How do we meet the needs of our students and the community?
  2. How do I set up the middle school as its own entity?
  3. How do I make sure the community knows how great Dinwiddie Middle School is?

Principal Spotlights:

Chuck Moss
Principal, Dinwiddie Middle School, Dinwiddie, Virginia
Twitter and Instagram: @dcpsmoss

Chuck Moss has over two decades of experience as an educator. He has spent 11 years as an administrator at both the elementary and middle school levels. In his second year at Dinwiddie Middle School, he continues to focus on culture and community. He and his staff are dedicated to the idea that the middle school is more than a prep school for high school; it is its own place with its own challenges, rewards, and opportunities for success. Moss has found value in his NAESP and Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals memberships. “Just having the connections that existed because of NAESP and VAESP has meant a lot to me,” says Moss, “because it has propelled my career more in the last five years than it had the 15 years before.”

In this video, Moss gives you a tour of his school, highlighting all of the great things—and great people—who make the school a success. You’ll learn ideas to:

  • Give students a quality education through distance learning amid school closures. “The expectations are still there, even if the hallways are empty,” says Moss. Together, he and the staff at Dinwiddie handed out books to students and made sure food distribution continued. Serving students of two demographics—suburban and rural—Moss and his team worked to meet the needs of the students and community—“because that’s what a school is supposed to do.” Through daily videos, Moss reminds the community about programs like food distribution, and he looks up what every day is the “National Day of” to boost spirits of this students, staff, and community.
  • Lead through an unprecedented time of challenge. His advice to others in his shoes? Be the leader your staff has expected you to be throughout the course of your time at that school. In times of extreme chaos, make sure your staff knows you will lead them through to the other side no matter what. Get out of the mindset that everything needs to be done perfectly the first time. “We’re going to make mistakes in this,” says Moss. “We are going to have shortcomings. But all of it is going to make us better when it comes to addressing the needs of kids.”
  • Position the middle school as its own entity; not as a prep school for high school. For Moss, it was important to set his school up as its own entity. Even the logo the middle school used was the same as the high school until Moss stepped in and changed it. He created a new logo just for Dinwiddie Middle School and went a step further to create a school hashtag (#DontBeAfraidtoBeAwesome). The logo and the new hashtag set them apart from the high school. Plus, the Future Business Leaders of America group at his school put the logo on the products they sell in the school store so students and families could show their Dinwiddie pride through merchandise.

Market the school to the community. Moss believes that it’s his job to make sure the community knows how great the school and its students and staff are. He never misses an opportunity to spread the word. You remember that logoed merch we mentioned above? He hands it out to everyone from business owners to nearby school district personnel. The Dinwiddie buttons feature the school’s logo, hashtag, and social media accounts to help build his school’s followers and get the word out about the great things that are happening in the school.

Three Main Takeaways:

  1. When challenging times like the coronavirus pandemic hit, your school’s story doesn’t end; think of it as an opportunity to find new tools to write a new story for your school.
  2. When it comes to professional development, membership in associations like NAESP and your state-level principal association can help you build priceless connections with other administrators.
  3. Market your school like you would a business—connect with the community and share your successes to make them feel like part of the team.

Share your strategy: How have you transformed a school space to celebrate students? Go to the NAESP CIL webpage to tell us—and you could be one of the next principals we profile.