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home : news : news Monday, May 2, 2016

10/19/2013 Email this articlePrint this article 
A sign of respect. While his is the only name on this thank-you banner presented to him and signed by the entire staff and student body at Central Community High School (CCHS), principal George Pickup believes it should be shared with his fellow staff members for making CCHS such a great place to learn and work. In his sixth year as principal, teachers believe Pickup’s positive attitude and exemplary leadership has turned the school into such a successful institution. Photo by Kate Howes
Pickup says a superb staff makes a good principal
October is Principal Appreciation Month

By Kate Howes
Staff writer

When George Pickup was summoned out onto the floor of the gymnasium at the end of Central Community High School's (CCHS) homecoming pep assembly the afternoon of Oct. 4, he thought he was simply being asked to dismiss the students.

Pickup had no idea he was about to be presented with a giant banner bearing the words "Thank You Mr. Pickup" signed by nearly every single student and staff member at the school.

Pickup stood stunned and humbled as the entire football team gathered behind him and senior student council member Bill Dolan read aloud the wonderful things his colleagues and kids at the school have to say about their principal.

"I didn't even know it was National Principals Month," Pickup says with a smile. "We don't really need a whole month, do we?"

While the purpose of National Principals Month is to honor some of the most hard-working, yet least recognized, men and women in education, Pickup is quick to dismiss the idea that being in charge of a school is a job carried out by a single individual.

"The key is having a great staff," he notes. "Everyone from the teachers, to the custodians, to the secretaries and other administrators . . . they are who make our school a pretty terrific place. Makes it a lot easier for me with these people right next to me."

Having spent 20 years as a teacher, Pickup's ambition was to have his master's degree in administration by the time he was 40. An opportunity arose for him to apply for an assistant principal's job and the rest, he says, is history.

"I still miss the classroom," Pickup relates. "But I feel I can make as big a difference as principal as I could as a teacher, just in a different sort of way."

Being a common presence in the classrooms, lunchroom and hallways is a crucial part of being principal, Pickup believes. In fact, he strives to spend more time outside of his office than he does sitting behind his desk.

"The goal is to establish relationships with everyone in the building," Pickup shares. "I want to know a little something about all the kids. It's really pretty simple: if you care about people, you'll get a lot out of them."

His effort to connect with others has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated by his co-workers or students.

"He's supportive, student-oriented and every student is important," speech, drama and psychology teacher Tom Dean notes. "He believes in our students and teachers."

"He truly cares about every single student in the school and wants to give them the best opportunities to succeed later in life," adds social studies teacher Stephen Butler.

"Mr. Pickup is a great guy who cares not only about his school, but every single person in it," says student Joe Pena.

Reinforcing the "3 Rs": Relationship, relevance and rigor

Relationships are just one of the "3 Rs" Pickup says he and his staff try to reinforce at CCHS.

They also focus on relevance and how pertinent subject matter being taught in the classrooms is to the students, as well as rigor.

"We want the curriculum to challenge our students," he relates. "In short, we want to build relationships with our students so that they trust us. Once you earn that trust, they understand your expectations. Once that happens, they will work to do their best."

Proof of how beneficial building relationships with the students has been shows in the school's annual improvement in assessment test scores.

Last year, CCHS was 98.5 percent proficient in reading. Continuing to improve test scores always will remain an important goal, Pickup notes.

"We want to prepare students to walk out of here ready for the next phase of their lives," he relates. "The feedback we've gotten dictates we're doing pretty good. From students who've gone to 4-year schools, 2-year schools, done apprenticeships or just gone directly into the workforce . . . they're telling us they got what they needed at CCHS to excel in the real world."

Pickup feels strongly about providing students with as many opportunities to find something they truly enjoy and want to pursue beyond high school.

Whether it's in the areas of diesel mechanics, medicine, law or education, he wants all his students to be able to find their niche and have a career opportunity to work toward.

Getting great support

Pickup insists making new opportunities possible at CCHS wouldn't even be possible without the unwavering support of the school board and Central superintendent Dan Peterson.

"Those people allow me to do what I need to accomplish that," he relates. "(Peterson) trusts me, likes to take risks and try new things. If a mistake is made, we talk it out together and make it better for our students."

Pickup also is grateful for the impressive facilities CCHS has to offer, such as the Central Performing Arts Center.

A person would be hard-pressed to find other 3A schools that have the same kind of resources as CCHS.

"I think sometimes staff and students don't always realize how good they have it here," Pickup says. "The grass isn't always greener on the other side . . . it's pretty green right here. I know I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."

Based on comments made by many of his staff, because of Pickup's inspiring leadership, they have no intention of going anywhere.

"I chose to live and work in DeWitt because I love the people here, and (Pickup) is one of the people who keeps me here," shares science teacher Cody LaKose. "He is a great person to work for. He inspires me to be a better teacher and to feel proud of what I accomplish here at Central."

"I love his leadership style and his upbeat, positive attitude," family and consumer science teacher Beth Scheckel relates. "I wouldn't want to work for anyone else."

Special education teacher Lori Walker says, "His leadership, attitude and compassion for students motivates not just the students, but me as a teacher as well. He makes people want to do their best and not disappoint him. He has made Central the best place I've ever worked."

Molding well-rounded students is ultimate goal

Pickup believes while having a top-notch curriculum is important, presenting students with a wide variety of extracurricular activities is vital to their overall education as well.

"My goal is to have every kid involved in at least one extracurricular activity," he notes. "We have a lot of different sports and all kinds of clubs that cater to various interests. We find when students get involved in an activity they do better in school. At the same time, we want to teach them how to balance school, activities and family . . . we want them to walk out of this school better prepared and as better people than when they walked in as freshmen."

As a 28-year veteran in the field of education, Pickup has some advice for those individuals who are considering becoming teachers or who actively are working toward that goal.

Educators already have a lot on their plates, such as No Child Left Behind, Iowa Core and 1:1 teaching. Those requirements aside, anyone aspiring to become a teacher must also do their best to make their students feel safe, wanted, supported, comfortable about learning and valued for who they are.

"We owe parents our very best," Pickup notes. "At CCHS, we have 560 kids and they all have different backgrounds. I've always said the two toughest jobs people can have are the ones they don't get paid for - being a parent and being a spouse. Next is being a teacher. You have to be the kind of person who wants to help meet the needs of all kids. You need to be flexible; someone who listens to students and you'd better like kids. You can know your subject matter, but if you don't like kids, having all the knowledge in the world doesn't matter. You want students to learn, but also to feel good about themselves."

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