Monday, March 21, 2016

50 years of BC -- Gibney Impact

What are thoughts that come to mind when you think of your high school principal?

I hope some of them are similar to mine -- high expectations, consistency, forward-thinking and challenging.

Don Gibney (Gib) was my 10-12 grade principal, but I've had the opportunity to work with him as a peer for the past 23 years.  When I came back to work for Benton Community, Gib was the Assistant Superintendent/Business Manager and his favorite word was "no" -- unless you could demonstrate to him the "why".  He's great at listening, asking questions and getting people to think.

1982 BC Yearbook Photo
Early in my career here at Benton, I was a "technology rep" for two of our elementary buildings.  This position afforded me the opportunity to learn and be on the cutting edge of how technology would become a game changer in education.  When Gib and I met to discuss this blog post, we chuckled about how times and technology have changed in a relatively brief time period.  I have kept many of the former emails from our "technology team" and know a potential book, about the evolution of technology, is hidden in those messages.  Here's part of one of those emails from Oct. of 1997:

 4.  New business:
  • Most staff in the district now have e-mail accounts.  E-mail issues are: sending long messages from Netscape mail and e-mail security.  Solutions to these are being considered.
  • E-mail accounts can be set up for classes to use for class projects.  The information needs to be sent to Linda Wolfgram to set these up.
  • Don Gibney shared the article "In Bed with Apple, Intel, and Microsoft" (PC Magazine, 11/4/97, p87) as information about where computer technology may be headed in the future.
  • Building reps should obtain feedback from their staff on what student information system should include as we begin to look at systems.

Gib's time here at BC started when he was a student attending Newhall Consolidated School District.  As a sophomore in high school he was one of the students (along with others from Van Horne, Keystone and Blairstown attendance centers) who were given the charge to help decide on the new Benton Community mascot and school colors.  Gib was in the first class of juniors of the newly defined Benton Community School District and graduated from Benton in 1967.  That makes Gib's timeline for being a student or staff member at Benton Community a total forty-four years.

Gib graduated from UNI and at age twenty-one and started teaching Science and coaching at Iowa Valley High School.  He did this for three years before his Dad and then board member Don Werning, were discussing Don's desire to return to Benton, while they playing cards in Newhall.  Several weeks later Don had a phone call from Phil England, Benton Superintendent, concerning a Keystone building for a science teacher, along with some coaching opportunities in the fall.  Following an interview with Don Andrews (Keystone principal), Don accepted the job with some coaching, which included football, girls's basketball and track!  

Gib told me he got some good advice from Ruth Arhrens, a long-time Physical Education instructor at Iowa Valley,  when he made the decision to return to Benton.  His Iowa Valley girls basketball team had made it to state and things were going well in Marengo, but Ruth told him, "Base your decisions on who will be here, not who is here now."  This statement helped Gib confirm his decision, "I always wanted to end up back here and this was my opportunity to do so."

After his first year of teaching at Benton, Don Andrews and Phil England met with Gib again in Andrews office in Keystone.  They told him they wanted him to do become an administrator in the district, serving as the 9th grade principal for the following school year.  His assignment would be teaching science classes at the high school and being a building administrator for the 9th grade.  That summer he went back to UNI to complete his M.A. in Administration.   When Don Andrews was killed in a tragic traffic accident during that school year, Don Black (Blairstown principal) and Gib then shared the shared administrative responsibilities for the K-6 and 9th grade Keystone building.  His first class graduated in the spring of 1979.  The following year he was asked to become the HS principal.  After thirteen votes (a state record) the bond issue for a new Junior/Senior High School passed in 1979.  

1982 BC Yearbook Photo

There was a lot of stability within the district and relationships and trust with the community was huge.  During his first five years as high school principal he did not hire one teacher.  During that time there were many problem solving and educational changing conversations, with all levels of administration and staff, both in and outside of the school walls.  Seventy percent of the High School staff had a master's degree in their field and these people, according to Gib, were "long time/committed educators who were great at creating partnerships with higher education institutions for curriculum development."  

One example of this commitment was a story he shared about long time math instructor, Carl Harder.  Carl was most senior math instructor and taught on a cart 6/7 periods when they moved into the new MS/HS building.  Under Gib's leadership, people accepted change and were flexible and didn't question decisions because they knew it was best for the students and system.  He remembers how staff based decisions on their students.  These students were different from class period to class period and staff made adjustments to their instruction to meet students needs.  During this time Benton also had a class with four National Merit Scholarship winners.  (This was 1982 - my graduating class.)

Don has many memories of his time at BC.  One that sticks out is the bond issue passing and the building of the MS/HS.  Don was the project manager for the construction of the MS/HS and HS principal during this time.  He is proud of his ability to make decisions and stated, "It was my job and people expected decisions.  You could give direction,  but being visionary, planting the seeds and watching people succeed is important.  I tried to help support people in keeping those high expectations of themselves and their students." 

MS/HS Building
In thinking of his past forty-four years at Benton, he has enjoyed the ability to be involved in all aspects of the district, and this variety has kept him here.  He has been a teacher, coach, assistant principal, principal, business manager, technology director, assistant superintendent, a member of the maintenance staff and now is back helping with technology support.  This variety has been a positive for him in his tenure.  He says this diversity helped keep him fresh and he was fortunate to have these opportunities in this size district.

Gib is concerned about making sure we are meeting the needs of current and potential families of Benton County.  He has seen a change in population and many of our youth moving out of our district.  He still values high expectations, "If you don't expect it you don't get it -- we have to fight on our end as educators to keep that up if we expect to get it back from the kids."

As I reflect on the impact Gib has had on me as a person, it has been tremendous.  I was fortunate to have Gib as a high school principal who encouraged me to be a leader.  I have been fortunate to have Gib as a peer who challenges me to think and has been a sounding board for me to process with.  Gib's knowledge base is broad and I feel very fortunate to have been a recipient of his wisdom and the time he has chosen to invest in me. 

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