Tackling education's challenges: Principal led national organization
FARMINGTON — Educators are discussing real methods to improve school safety across the country with increasing gun violence on school campuses.
Dr. Steven Geis, principal at North Trail Elementary, represented all principals as the president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. Last month, Geis traveled to Washington, D.C., for the NAESP's strategic planning meeting.
"We spent all day on the day the government shutdown on March 21 on Capitol Hill," he said. Geis met with Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith to share the NAESP's support of Title II and Title IV funds for professional development to support educators, principals and students.
Congress passed the omnibus bill to that provides $2 billion for Title II. The bill includes funding for training to address school violence and improve mental health services in schools. The bill provides $75 million and $100 million in subsequent years to help with school violence prevention and training grants.
"The concerns they had with principals that met with them were really about school safety and what their thoughts were about some people saying we should be arming teachers," Geis said.
Most principals across the nation support cities and schools investing in more school resource officers.
"We are not for arming teachers and we are not for arming principals," Geis said.
"The school resources officers that come in to our schools are needed to build a sense of community and bridge communication"
"What is super cool is that our voices are being heard and what our desires and aspirations are for our kids," Geis said.
Principals have shown increased support for a buzzer system to be installed in schools across the nation. Each school has various forms of school buildings modifications to protect students and increase school safety.
"In Farmington, we are ahead of the curve with our security systems," Geis said. District 192 has invested millions of dollars to redesign buildings with secured entrances.
"I am an avid hunter, however, the reality is what the legislators are saying is that common sense says we don't need bump stocks and there needs to be universal background checks and then in addition to that, are assault rifles necessary?" Geis said. "I say the answer is 'no,' and why do we need magazine clips that hold 30 to 40 bullets? We don't," Geis said.
Educators left with two takeaways from lawmakers: "They are listening and that our students are having a voice," said Geis.
Traveling the country
Finishing his term as the president of the NAESP, Geis visited to two countries and 26 states last year talking to school principals and educators about all kinds of issues.
He met with President Trump in the Oval Office, talked two secretaries of education as well as Sen. Lamar Alexander, chair of the education committee. He spent many days talking with the state's delegation and multiple governors.
"It was a time consuming and challenging on the family being away, but it was incredibly rewarding in the sense of the knowledge I gained to see all the fantastic things taking place out there in public education," Geis said.
"My role as president is to promote education and all the positive aspects of it and to really create our story since we (principals) are the ambassadors of our schools," he added.
Leading educational challenges
Many of the top educational issues are complicated.
"The number one is student mental health and how do we address it and how do we make sure we are providing the resources needed for those individuals," Geis said.
The second challenge is mobility. Students can succeed at higher levels if they stay in the same school system all the way through until graduation.
"This can affect school with the Dreamers and DACA and many were asking us what if the authorities came to our school to take children because as educators we are in charge of taking care of students," Geis said.
As his term ends, Geis said he was privileged to meet so many incredible educators and principals from across the nation.
"It has truly been a humbling experience because you have such a diverse experience getting to know all kinds of principals on Native American reservations and schools that are 90 miles apart," he said.
One highlight was the kicking off of the Blue Ribbon Schools Excellence awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., Geis said.
"Being away from my four children and my wife who I dearly love was hard and a challenge but they were all incredibly supportive," Geis added. He was able to bring his 84-year-old mother to attend a few conferences.
"We need more people like Dorothy Geis who is a lifelong learner and a continual learner," Geis said.
He said he plans to remain principal of North Trail under retirement, although he said he does not rule out writing a book or running for public office when his children are older.