"I'd be proud to have my kids in the school system. It's a great school."
That's the impression Estherville Lincoln Central elementary principal Justin Bouse has of the school of which he's been in charge since July 1. Bouse spoke to Estherville Rotarians Thursday.
And Bouse knows schools, having served in the Pocahontas school system for four years before his latest 14-year stint at Okoboji where his wife remains as a second-grade teacher.
"I've been so blessed with a tremendous staff," said Bouse. "I didn't realize the passion of the teachers and the great kids that we have."
After Bouse first accepted the job, he asked staff to complete a simple three-question survey of what was right about the school and what changes they'd like to see. Of the 50 responses that he received, one thing staff consistently mentioned was wanting consistent expectations within the building. So he's putting the rubber to the road in getting that done this year.
"Kids are coming to us with much bigger challenges than we had," Bouse said. "Every teacher is saying the same thing so they don't get mixed messages."
That has led to a five-point STARR pledge Bouse is instituting for students:
n Be safe.
n Try hard.
n Be willing to achieve.
n I am respectable.
n I am responsible.
When kids are sent to his office, the first thing he asks them to do is recite the STARR pledge.
Given recent abduction attempts in the area, Bouse is also putting heightened emphasis on building security. All doors at Demoney are locked during the day, because as Bouse puts it, he would rather have parents mad because they have to walk around the building instead of his having to explain what happened to their child. Parents have also been asked to wait outside.
Teachers, too, are part of the greater security.
"The staff this week has treated the kids like they're their own," Bouse said, noting that staff is putting in extra time after school to watch out for kids on the playground.
"In the end, kids have to be safe," Bouse said.
Admittedly, academic achievement is a hurdle. Bouse said beyond mandated testing, though, he's emphasizing critical thinking, communication and other skills such as giving struggling readers the instruction they need.
It's a lot easier, though, with such a dedicated staff, Bouse said.
"I feel very blessed to be working with such great teachers," he said.