Here, in a series we call “How I Lead,” we feature principals and assistant principals who have been recognized for their work. You can see other pieces in the series here.
Kathryn Raasch worries about which Indianapolis children have the opportunity to go to preschool.
As the principal of Wayne Township Preschool in Indianapolis, Raasch sees how many low-income families rely on public dollars to pay tuition for their 3- and 4-year-olds to attend high-quality early learning programs. In Wayne Township, three-quarters of families are poor enough for their children to qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
Raasch’s fear is that some students don’t get an early start to their education because their families can’t afford preschool.
“Research clearly shows the impact of quality early learning on the success of a child,” she said.
Raasch was recently named a 2018 National Distinguished Principal by the National Association of Elementary School Principals. She talked to Chalkbeat about her connections to students with disabilities, what it means when preschool children act out, and how she learns about families’ different cultural backgrounds.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
What was your first education job and what sparked your interest in the field?
When I was Girl Scout in elementary school, we participated in a volunteer program at Riley Hospital for Children called Teen Tonics. This program allowed me to work with children who had disabilities. I can remember thinking at that time this was what I wanted to do when I grew up. Following in my sister’s footsteps, I became a teacher. My first job was in an elementary school located in a small rural town in Indiana. To my delight, I had children with disabilities placed in my classroom.
Fill in the blank. My day at school isn’t complete unless I __________. Why?
My day at school isn’t complete unless I’ve had a hug from some of our children. Working in a preschool affords me the opportunity to be around awesome 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds! More than half of our children have some kind of disability, and more than 70 percent of our children live in poverty. To be able to share positive feelings with our children brightens my day and builds a culture of caring at our school.
How do you get to know students even though you don’t have your own classroom?
At the beginning of each school year, I make the rounds to each of our 18 classrooms, both morning and afternoon sessions of preschool, to read a book in conjunction with our first field trip. I introduce myself, read, and sing “Old McDonald Had a Farm” with the class, and we practice what it looks like for the children to say “hi” to me in the hallway. To follow up on this introduction we take our children to an orchard and have farm equipment displayed. Our children are able to climb on and go into this equipment.
I enjoy being a part of arrival and dismissal for each of our preschool sessions. I am in the hallway to greet parents and families as they drop off and pick up their children. This allows me time to form relationships with our Wayne Township Preschool family.
Tell us about a time that a teacher evaluation didn’t go as expected — for better or for worse?
My philosophy is that there should be no surprises for teachers during their evaluations. There should always be constant communication between principal and staff regarding expectations. We may not always agree on the outcomes, but there are always conversations prior to the evaluation.
What is an effort you’ve spearheaded at your school that you’re particularly proud of?
Accepting On My Way Pre-K and Indy Preschool Scholarships is an effort that I believe should happen for all children to allow them to participate in a quality early childhood program. Research clearly tells us that early intervention is the best way to pave the way for future success.
How do you handle discipline when students get into trouble?
Discipline in a preschool looks so different from elementary schools. We operate under the belief that behavior is communication. Children this young are trying to tell us something when they deviate from our expectations. It is our job as adults to try to find the cause of the misbehavior. Once this is established we can work with the family and child to help with the issue.
What is the hardest part of your job?
The hardest part of my job is the inability to accept all 4-year-olds without fees attached. Research clearly shows the impact of quality early learning on the success of a child. Unfortunately, not all children qualify for state scholarships and their families may not have the extra income to place them in a preschool. Currently in Indiana, there are 506,761 children ages 0-5, and only 133,270 are enrolled in known early childhood programs.
Tell us about a memorable time — good or bad — when contact with a student’s family changed your perspective.
At Wayne Township Preschool we serve a diverse population, and I don’t always understand cultural norms for the families. I enjoy talking through interpreters with the families to better understand their heritage and how this affects behaviors in our school. I am always in awe of the many journeys our families have had, both within our country and outside of our country, in order to be with us.
What issue in the education policy realm is having a big impact on your school right now? How are you addressing it?
Funding for preschool has a huge impact on our school. If a family does not qualify for an early childhood scholarship, Child Care Development Funds, or have a child with a disability, they will either pay to attend or simply not attend preschool. I invite any policymaker to come see our program and witness first-hand what a difference quality preschool can have on a child’s life.
What are you reading for enjoyment?
I am re-reading “To Kill a Mockingbird.” One of my all-time favorites!
What is the best advice you ever received?
This year marked my 30th year in public school administration, and I have had so many pieces of good advice shared with me from individuals I respect, so finding just one is difficult. However, my father and mother taught me many great life lessons. Respect all individuals, seize the day, have a good work ethic, and be compassionate — to name just a few. These, coupled with my elementary principal who taught me that being a princi-“pal” was the best philosophy, have influenced how I lead.