NORTH--Manchester * Hampstead * Lineboro

WITH A 'SPOONFUL OF SUGAR'

September 15, 1993|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Staff Writer

Even the first-graders at Manchester Elementary School know that if their new principal, Robert Bruce, is wearing a button on his lapel, he's having a good day.

"No button means tread lightly," said Mr. Bruce, who wore a button every day last week, his first week of classes in Manchester.

Friday's button read, "You can make a difference."

Mr. Bruce has collected buttons for 13 years. About 1,400 hang on banners in his office. He believes they are one of the little touches that will help him make a difference at Manchester Elementary.

The children really love the buttons, and look every day to see what he's wearing, he said. The side benefit, he said, is they're reading.

The collection makes the principal's office a less intimidating place. "I want children, staff and parents to feel real comfortable," he said.

Mr. Bruce, 37, was appointed in July to take over the reins from Bonnie Ferrier, who was promoted to supervisor of elementary education for Carroll County schools.

Mr. Bruce has been a teacher and school administrator for 15 years, working the last two as principal at Charles Carroll Elementary in Westminster. Before that, he worked in Howard County, where he spent 5 1/2 years as an assistant principal at Laurel Woods Elementary in Laurel and Longfellow Elementary in Columbia. Mr. Bruce no longer teaches, but still works with students through a student drama group, the Drama Learning Center, of Jessup.

Mr. Bruce said he believes that Manchester Elementary is well on its way to achieving most of his primary goals. One, he said, is to make sure that teachers feel they have the power to make decisions.

"A lot of it's how you see teachers," he said. If they are expected to act as executive decision-makers, they should be treated as such.

If teachers were really considered decision-makers, he said, they would receive more respect. They would have tools -- such as personal computers and telephones -- that other executives receive as a matter of course.

Mr. Bruce said he would like to install telephones in classrooms.

He said he wants Manchester Elementary to become the most technically advanced school in the county. If each classroom had a phone line and a modem, he said, students could tap into computer networks such as Kidsnet.

Another of the principal's goals is to "energize" the PTA and involve it more closely in school decision-making. Parents should be involved not only in volunteering and with bake sales, he said, but also in decisions about how the school is run.

That parents make up one-third of the school's improvement team shows the school is headed in the right direction, he said.

Mr. Bruce said the school is well on its way to another of his goals -- making sure the students view school as fun and productive.

"Children should find learning fun -- or at least interesting -- all, not some, of the time."

He said he would take it as "an insult" if he were to hear a child say at the end of the year that he or she had not enjoyed school.

The idea, Mr. Bruce said, is not to put on a show to entertain the students, but to provide an environment that makes learning easier.

"It's like the spoonful of sugar" that makes the medicine go down, he said, adding that kids don't learn if they feel threatened or boxed-in.

Mr. Bruce, who did much of his master's degree work on curriculum development, said he believes that outcomes-based education is simply the next step in the continuing process of curriculum revision.

"We've always revised curriculum," he said. "I don't accept the criticism that we're trying to teach values," he said. "There are certain values that everyone teaches."

For example, he said, the school teaches respect for others when it teaches students not to break one another's pencils.

And one morning last week, he said, a 9-year-old found an envelope containing $37 in the school cafeteria. He turned it in, and its owner was found. When school officials praised the boy for his honesty, they were teaching a value, Mr. Bruce said.

The principal said he stresses keeping open the lines of communication to parents.

In an earlier job, he met with parents who were concerned when "Integrated Language Arts" was added to the curriculum. Once he explained the reasons for teaching English, reading, writing and spelling in relation to one another, he said, "those parents were won over."

"It helped them understand what we were trying to do. . . . When they left there, they were willing to give it a shot."

Mr. Bruce, his wife, Rita, and son, Christopher, 4, live in Westminster.

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