Staff retreat will focus on school goals Naval Academy is site of faculty workshops to create team spirit; Break from routine; Northeast High wants to improve lessons, students' self-esteem


When most teachers return to school next week, it will be to meetings held in rooms where the phone never stops ringing, last night's leftovers for lunch and distractions that never cease.

But next week, the 90-member faculty of Northeast High School will spend a day at the Naval Academy, holding discussions in carefully appointed conference rooms, lunching at the Officers Club and touring the manicured grounds.

This is the first faculty retreat for an Anne Arundel County high school, and the first summer for any retreats, said Nancy Mann, assistant superintendent for instruction. Van Bokkelen Elementary School, threatened with state takeover, is the only other school to hold a retreat.

Retreats are a lesson schools are learning from businesses, vTC where the change of scenery is viewed as a way to get colleagues to unwind, promote team spirit and whisk workers away from distractions to get more done in a concentrated period of time.

"You need to be away from it all to do that kind of creative, innovative thinking," said Mary Jane Mitchell, a coordinator of school partnerships for the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education.

Funding to pay teachers for time not spent with students is hard to come by, she said.

The cost, slightly more than $1,000, is being picked up by the Maryland Business Roundtable and the school's business partner, Harbor Hospital Center.

Teachers need to reflect on the school's mission and break out of the routine, said Roy G. Skiles, principal of Northeast.

The day will be devoted to more than a half-dozen sessions, including discussions of how personal goals fit with school goals, how to create assignments that go beyond using information acquired in just one subject and promoting student self-esteem.

Besides providing ideas for the school improvement plan, faculty members can see how their attitudes, daily classes and goals for individual students contribute to or detract from overall school goals.

For example, one goal is to involve nearly every student in extracurricular activities. Sponsoring a club is a way for teachers to help. But support can include praising students' out-of-classroom achievements and mentioning club activities during class, Skiles said.

"We never really have time to stand back and say, 'What are we trying to accomplish?' " he said. "So much is going on. When you have 30 kids in front of you in a classroom, it's hard to remember the big picture.

"Sometimes doing things the same way all the time blocks original thinking. Sometimes if you change the setting, you can get people to do different things and think differently," he said.

Teachers said they are looking forward to the getaway.

"It's really going to be great for camaraderie and communication," said Susan E. Smith, the school's case worker for troubled students.

For three years, part of Skiles' task has been to rebuild Northeast, a school rocked by a teacher-student sex scandal, the ouster of a principal and student unrest.

Skiles sees the retreat as part of a long-term revitalization of the 1,200-student school.

With three-quarters of her faculty new and facing a tough year to stave off state takeover, Van Bokkelen Elementary School Principal Rose Tasker felt she needed to jump-start things. The school has a history of poor attendance and failing test scores. Its students come from one of the poorest, most troubled neighborhoods with a very transient population.

On July 28, the faculty started a five-day retreat at Fort Ritchie, near Hagerstown. After leadership and team-building workshops, teachers focused on ways to improve academics, discipline and motivation. Grants paid most of the $6,000 cost.

"You know, now I don't have just a group. I have a team. I think that's the difference," Tasker said.

Pub Date: 8/16/96

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