Get Caught Engineering is delighted to have Jesse Kraft as our guest blogger this month. Jesse is the award winning principal of Providence Elementary School in Fairfax, Virginia. His insight and leadership has contributed to the development of an amazing STEM lab at his school. We both worked with Jesse when he was a classroom teacher (and he also taught our children). This guy is the real deal and we are so excited that he is sharing his principal's perspective on building a STEM program at a school. Thanks Jesse!
A Principal’s Perspective: Why Engineering?
By Jesse KraftAs a principal, I have to ensure that the curriculum gets delivered, that students’ test scores are strong enough, and that we’re doing all of the things schools are supposed to do in this accountability age. But this is not why any of us went into education, is it? If I am to be a principal with vision, standardized test scores won’t define me. If I am fortunate enough to supervise the absolute best teachers, they will not be remembered and revered for their class’s pass rates. Every educator who entered this profession wanting to make a difference knows this. Yet here we are, grinding away each year with our students – spending too much class time on things that mean too little. When the curriculum is so huge, what choice do you have but to plow through at a fast pace? Four years ago, however, it all came together. Maybe I’d learned enough to build the framework for our eventual STEM program. Maybe I had just gotten sick of having a school vision statement that wanted “21st century skills” for all students, even though our staff had never really tried to define what that means. Maybe I just wanted to connect with the reason I wanted to be a teacher in the first place.
Fast forward a few years. Providence Elementary School has a unique, engineering-themed STEM Lab experience for all students in K-6, Title I school. When our STEM teachers present a class with its latest challenge, they see a pronounced level of effective collaboration because the students work together often enough to know how to do it right.
They see LEP students contributing and demonstrating the growth mindset that their gifted teammates might not yet possess. They see ideas popping. They see grit on display when students build a structure, watch it fail, and rebuild.
The implementation of our program has cost us time for instruction in other subject areas. After all, there is no formal, required engineering curriculum (thank God!). The addition of something new that cuts into teachers’ time to teach the required curricula has caused us some stress, and it has had an impact on some standardized tests scores. Yet, we survive and thrive. Our school now has a vision that means something and is being realized. Our teachers have a higher purpose, and our students are getting what students are supposed to get – keys to the future.
Jesse Kraft is a 20 year veteran of Fairfax County Public Schools. Now in his seventh year as principal of Providence, he’s most proud of the school’s unique STEM Lab, which was established in 2012. Providence STEM Lab was recognized by the Virginia Math & Science Coalition as one of its “Programs that Work” in 2014 and was awarded the Program Excellence Award by the International Technology & Engineering Educators Association in 2016. Mr. Kraft was awarded the Educational Leadership Award from Leadership Fairfax, Inc. in 2015. He lives in Centreville, Virginia with his wife and three young children.