Stephanie Clark Magyar Interview
This is file #17, cycle 4. Today’s date is July 17, 2019. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Stephanie Magyar who is the current principal of Salisbury Central School. She is going to talk about her career path, the changes she has made in the school and anything else she wants to talk about. We’ll start with…
JM:What is your name?
JM:Would you give me your educational background starting with kindergarten.
SM:I started school at Salisbury Central, actually in kindergarten and was there for through 8th grade when I graduated in 1994. Then I want on the Housatonic Valley Regional High School. I graduated from there in 1998. I went on to college at the University of Connecticut and graduated with a Bachelor of General Studies Degree in 2002. I immediately decided that I wanted to go on to get an education degree. That was a Master’s in Education program through the University of Bridgeport. Shortly after a few years into teaching, I started an Educational Leadership program (a 6th year) at the University of Bridgeport. The degree is a Master’s in Educational Leadership which gives me the ability to become a principal.
JM:When did you start teaching?
SB:In 2003 at Wamogo which is a 7-12 school in Litchfield, Ct. I was there for 10 years, teaching 7th grade through 12th grade English, reading and writing.
JM:When did you go to Cornwall Consolidated School?
SB:I went to Cornwall in 2013 as a middle school 5-9th grade English/Language Arts teacher. I had been out for part of 2013 on maturity leave. I was looking for something in this region in middle school, rather than high school. I applied for that and was there doing that for 4 years. That brought us to taking the Salisbury Central principal’s job when Lisa Carter (See Lisa Carter interview) moved to Assistant Superintendent. I have been principal for 2 years now.
JM:So you took the principal’s job in 2017.
JM:How many pupils are at school now?
JM:How many are on your staff including certified teachers, paraprofessionals and others.
SM:Our entire staff is 74 with about 40 ish being the certified staff.
JM:What percentage of the staff is local?2.
SM:40% of the staff lives in Salisbury.
JM:What is your average class size?
SM:About 14 pupils
JM:Did it help that you had been through the local schools when you came back here as a principal?
SM:Absolutely I just think that gives you a perspective that somebody else couldn’t have. I often find myself speaking to the kids about, “I have been in your shoes.” They laugh and I say, “No, I mean I have been in that chair or on that stage.” Sometimes it would be teachers whom I had had as a student. That makes a big difference to them. I also think that it really helps with the teachers to know that I came from even just 4 years in the region and the history of being in the region. I know where they have been: I was a teacher in their region in the classroom just a few years ago.
JM:What special talents do you bring to Salisbury Central School?
SM:Aside from my background, I don’t think it is anything special, but I feel that I am organized, I am enthusiastic. I have energy. I want to be part of a lot of things. I am happy to work with the teachers on everything from something that is clearly part of my job as principal role like worrying about assessment to something that someone wouldn’t think of my being involved like mapping out the assembly “Read across America “week. I love to do all the parts; I am very hand-on in that way.
JM:I can tell and that makes a great deal of difference because everybody has different learning styles. What would you consider the school’s strengths?
SM:For one definitely the sense of community. That comes not just from the town itself, which is huge, but the fact that it is a small town and a supportive town, but also definitely the school within the school. The teachers support each other: the teachers support the kids: the families support the kids and the school. Everybody helps everybody out, everybody knows everyone. That is an advantage. Being a community and working and acting as a community is a strength.
JM:What about opportunities and resources?
SM:Another thing is the school, as a school, is so lucky that we do have so many resources. We have technology, access to books, materials, whether they be things for art projects, an engineering project, or access to on-line programs and resources, actual equipment. There is so much including field trips, speakers that we are able to bring in, the enrichment opportunities (SOAR) that we have. There is a great deal for students and staff to enjoy and use.
JM:Are there any area that could be improved?
SM:We are a generally strong school and I am so blessed to be part of that. Of course there are always areas that permit improvement. One of them is the achievement results. We are high achieving
in our region and we are certainly high compared to state averages. Yet there is room for improvement in our testing scores for math and English/Language Arts. Even within our in-house assessments that are standardized norms, we would like to see our percentages go up. That falls back to improving our curriculum, making sure our teaching strategies are effective. There have been some changes which are for the good, but when there is change, you have to have a period of time to see if it works and to get the bugs out.
JM:How about intervention and enrichment?
SM:We have intervention for student who might need extra support in math and reading and we have enrichment which has primarily been in reading, but now it will also be in math and science. Those areas need to continue to grow. That will help our achievement score but overall student success; it is not about the test scores, it is about good learners.
JM:What do you like best as a teacher?
SM:When I was a teacher, my favorite thing is that you make a difference or an impact in a child, and hopefully more than one. You do not always know right away. You hope that you have. Now I have been at it long enough to have had student, mostly from Wamogo, who have come back and told me that something that I did made a difference or helped their career path or got them interested in something that they did not know they could be interested in. That is a huge part of why you teach.
JM:As a principal what do you like best? You had a story about a paraprofessional in a different situation.
SM:The same idea applies to staff and what you are trying to do. You might make a difference in a child’s life, but as a principal you are more removed from that child. They would think of their teacher before they would think of their principal. The idea that you have made a difference also applies to the adults. I like to think there is someone that I have changed the way that they teach or the way that they live or their career path that they have chosen. We had a paraprofessional working with the school. This person was certified to teach but was not quite ready to teach. We hired them as a paraprofessional, nurtured them and let them have difference experiences and then when the next round of hiring came, we were able to hire her. New she has been teaching a year and there has been growth. I love to think that something I did helped contribute to her success.
JM:It probable did. It is mentoring, it is encouraging and that is wonderful whether you are a kid or an adult. There has to be something you don’t like?
SM:Yes, I love the job but I don’t like the paperwork. Now in the modern world it is a lot of computer work. That keeps me at my desk in my office. I don’t love that part. I am in it for the people. I want to be with the kids, or the staff. I want to be in the classroom. Sometimes there are state reports or write-ups, or assessment things you have to analyze-that is all valuable in the end, but that is not the way I want to spend my time.
JM:What are some changed that you have made in the past 2 years?4.
SM:One thing that is very important to me is the school climate and the moral of the staff and the feeling of the students. It is very important that all people feel good about where they are and happy. Happy children learn better and happy staff is going to teach better. When I arrived, there was a climate committee; but It needed some rejuvenating and to become more active. I worked hard on making sure that the committee had regular meetings: we made activities, assemblies and we created K-8 teams. We have heard that one of the concerns was that the school had a disconnect between the Upper and Lower buildings. The k-8 teams bring the middle schooler and the elementary schoolers together. We meet once a month as a team: we do all sorts of activities. Some are related to the season as for example we made giant life-sized snowmen to something that is more service oriented. We made gratitude trees that have things that they are grateful for in the community. These were put all around like at Noble. The teams are great.
Also an important focus for me, having been an English teacher in the past, is literacy. The school did have a focus on literacy and our scores were good in that area, but the one thing we have seen in the survey when I first arrived was that the parents wanted their kids to read for fun at home. It occurs to me that they are not going to read for fun at home if they are not even reading for fun at school. We went hard at that trying to figure out how to get that culture of reading, independent readers, silent sustained reading, reading for fun, upgrading the books, and making time in the day so we now have at time scheduled for SSR for everyone. The English teachers also allot time for reading. We have more homes to school connections. Last year’s third grade did a book which went home and the families read it with their children. This year for summer in collaboration with the library and SOAR we have “Two Book/One School” program. This is a whole new summer reading initiative that involves all the families. We also do “Read across America “week which is a long celebration: we do community reading day, and “Stop, Drop and Read” just encouraging the teachers to get new books. We send them to “What’s new in Literature “workshops, scholastic warehouse, and a group of us went to “Literacy for All”. We are reading focused.
JM:You said something about one period for intervention and one also for enrichment and that you have changed.
SM:Yes there were a lot of schedule changes before I arrived all for the better in trying to get the minutes which were needed for the different subjects. One of the changes before my time was having a block for enrichment and intervention in the middle school where students could get their extra help and go for enrichment such as band or chorus or math circle. The problem that I saw with that was that there wasn’t enough time for students to do both. Sometimes you are having somebody choose or someone who needed some reading support then can’t get into band which might be an area where they excel. We split the periods apart and gave time to an intervention block and an enrichment block so kids can do more things. It also allows us to have more intervention and more enrichment happening for kids which is great. In the realm of those in the elementary school we increase the amount of intervention by upping the hours that the interventionists are able to work. By increasing the enrichment we already had LAE (Language Arts enrichment) for grades 3-5. This was for kids who were
high readers and writers who could work at a higher level than their classroom peers. This year for math and science we have a new program called MASE (Math & Science enrichment) That will be available for grades 2-5: it will run the same way during the IE period the kids will be able to come out on a rotating basis to get enrichment in math and science.
SM:One thing is as you focus on one thing, you sometimes lose focus on something else. We have put a lot of great energy into reading: I would like to start put similar energy into math and science. We will be doing that by having a theme week next year. We are having MASE which is new. We’ll be having math and science enrichment. We’ll just be having a greater focus on the NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) teaching methods and the standards are out. Our teachers will be all using 2 new units this year for that. The math teachers in three grades are piloting a new math program. Between trying to firm up the curriculum and having more enrichment, we hope to have more focus and encourage the fun of math and science. This will improve these subject as we have done with reading.
JM;I hope you are putting in for a 28 hour day!
SM:There is not enough time for everything we want to do.
JM:Is there anything that you would like to add that I haven’t asked you about?
SM:I don’t think so. I am shaking my head. I don’t think there is anything else I need to add.
JM:Thank you so much.
JM:This has been wonderful.
SM:You are welcome. It had been a nice experience.