BELLVILLE — A person who seems to have a smile in her heart has come through her first year as principal at the Bellville Elementary School.
Kirsten DeVito’s face lights up when she talks about some of the accomplishments of that first year — a marker that sometimes gives people bouts of consternation.
It is the end of the school year, but DeVito is already planning ahead for significant moments which will occur — like the construction of a new elementary building here and in Butler.
Her first year had some moments which were notable — like the time DeVito went to a Clear Fork Valley School District meeting with a 102 degree temperature — to talk about possible curriculum changes. That meeting drew a crowd of residents, who were there to ask why changes in working with gifted fourth and fifth graders were being considered.
Residents were given an explanation by DeVito and Steve Bloir, who is retiring as principal in Butler.
DeVito said the reality is that suggesting changes probably shook up the staff a little bit. But, she said people need to know that learning styles change, and should realize people do not “drive cars” like ones that were driven 20 years ago.
Educators need to know how to differentiate between students, she said. When she was teaching, if she saw that a student wasn’t “getting it,” she would ask herself what she was doing wrong.
“Should I be expressing it differently,” she said. The responsibility is “always on us,” she said.
DeVito came to Bellville from a job at Prospect School, in the Mansfield school district. There it was a rougher situation, and abuse and neglect among students was noticeable. She said there is some of that problem here, but it’s a “minority” situation and it is “harder to see.”
Working with the staff in Bellville has had some instances that left a few observers nonplussed about an appropriate reaction.
DeVito has a video on her phone of the moment she fell down a flight of stairs in the school, after tripping over her pants leg. The video shows her, clad in a perfect white suit, missing her footing and sprawling about five feet from the last step. She showed that video to staffers, and some didn’t know if they were permitted to laugh.
She laughs when looking at it, and explains she landed so far from the last step because she didn’t want to land on the stairs.
Her year here has been “positive,” she said, and added she believes people in the Clear Fork valley are “awesome” in several regards.
The PTO (parent teachers organization) group helps teachers by providing lunches, and paying for field trips. She is interested in working with Bellville Police Chief Ron Willey because she says in her family, “police are real life super heroes.”
She says “these kids are awesome.” If they make a mistake, they cry and apologize then move on.
One of the neat things she will get to do in the Bellville job is to be an “instructional leader.” This allows her to work with people and ask “how do you think it went?” She will be able to ask about what teachers consider their strengths and weaknesses.
She has a favorite story, about one first grader who was a “kid who could not write.”
She told this student about a book named Brown Bear, Brown Bear, a favorite of her two year-old grandson Josiah.
This student then decided he would write. She told this student “you are an author!” She was able to tell her grandson she had met the author of a book. Another video she has shows grandson Josiah doing his own reading of his book.
The construction of a new elementary building will allow “project based learning,” DeVito said.
This means that students in the current building will be allowed to come up with ways to preserve some of the finer aspects of the old brick structure. The building has immense wooden beams, and huge chunks of limestone. The idea is that the students could design a garden, perhaps with a pergola, with elements of the old building after it is torn down.
DeVito said she doesn’t know if any staffers would be interested in moving into the position Bloir is leaving, though some have enough credentials.
She explains her willingness to move to her principal position this way.
“You don’t think you’re ever ready. Doors open, and you go through. You are constantly learning and growing,” she said.
“The minute you think know everything it’s time to move on,” she said.