Knott Kept Atop Creighton’s Changing Landscape

 

Creighton’s Corner Elementary little resembles the school it was when Chris Knott became its principal a decade ago.  

“It’s completely different,” Knott, who is leaving Creighton’s to become a science teacher in South Carolina, said recently. When he became principal, Creighton’s had 1,050 students, who were 98 percent non-economically disadvantaged, 92 percent non-English learner and 80 percent white. As Knott leaves, the school’s population is 16 percent economically disadvantaged, 33.7 percent English learners and 28 percent white.

Despite the massive demographic changes, Knotts’ educational philosophy remained the same. “The philosophy we’ve had the whole time is that we have to do what is best for every kid. Be honest with our parents and let them know where our kids are academically. You still have to do your best for each individual child. That’s not going to change because of the school’s demographics.”

Knott added successful schools depend on successful relationships among members of the school community. “You have people who are very different – very diverse background and experiences – and you’ve got to try to make a place where everyone respects one another, gets along. That’s a hard thing to do, but it is very much needed.”

He added a changing society has placed a lot more pressure on schools and teachers. “Some of the structures that existed 40 years ago, don’t exist anymore in the community. As our world becomes more globally centered, the focus on the community is diminished.” Knott said students who have long lived in the same community don’t know each other.

To remedy this, Creighton’s Corner placed an emphasis on students getting to know one another during the morning meeting, which usually lasts 10 to 15 minutes. “If there’s a teachable moment, it may last longer,” said Knott. “The kids greet each other. They learn each other’s names. That’s a foundation. That’s a starting point. We’re basically forming a family within our classroom.

“The biggest thing we do is that we solve problems. If we’ve got a problem in our classroom, where something is not going right, we work as a class to solve it, which is what communities do. If you’re going to have a strong, functioning community, you have to be able to address problems. You have celebrations too. When you do something good, you celebrate that.

“This is an investment that allows everything else to happen. Despite having a huge demographic swing over the past 10 years, we haven’t had a huge swing in performance. Our school now does better academically than it did 10 years ago.”

Creighton’s Corner was perpetually overcrowded during Knotts’ tenure, serving between 900 and 1,350 students. He said the school has never seen the day of 20 students in a classroom. And that’s presented some challenges. “It’s hard. Teachers do their best. They have the same amount of time, but they have to serve more students. It’s stressful.” Knott said teachers have to make sure each child gets the proper amount of instruction and that they do not ignore the needs of students who are achieving above grade level.

That’s hard considering the demands that are placed upon teachers. “You’re a social worker. You’re a counselor; especially coming back off the pandemic. You have to be sure kids have enough to eat at home. It’s hard to pay attention in the morning if you haven’t eaten since lunch the previous day. There are so many things teachers do that are outside the lines of teaching.”

Speaking of the pandemic, Knott said he didn’t think learning loss was the greatest problem that arose from it. “All the talk around the pandemic is about academic loss. The loss in the pandemic was social-emotional. Not being able to interact with other kids. Not being able to see people, laugh and do the things you do in-person that was really hard on kids.”

While Knott has long served as a principal on the elementary and secondary levels, he admitted being a principal was not his goal as a young educator. That changed when he had a bad work relationship with a principal. When Knott detailed this to a mentor, the mentor came back with this question: “How do you feel about making sure one school doesn’t have to deal with that.”

“I just wanted to make sure one school didn’t have to go through what I went through.”

A successful football coach before becoming an administrator, Knott said coaching prepared him for becoming an administrator, but only to a point. “You have to be a lot more thoughtful and direct as to establishing your goals, your mission and your vision. Once you do that, it’s very much the same. You have people with different talents, different abilities whom you need to mold into an effective team.”





Published July 13, 2022