Pottstown Middle School Principal Gail Cooper joined the district this June with excitement about the new community she considers special.
"Pottstown is a really nice community because it is a small-town atmosphere with a mix of urban and suburban flavor," Cooper said. "There is a whole range of children with rich in diversity."
Preparing for this school year has required Cooper to get better acquainted with the community that she will soon call home as she relocates from Coatesville.
"My husband and I look at it as a new adventure," she said. "At our age, it is important to not be too sedentary."
From ensuring the school was well equipped with supplies to meeting the faculty and staff, Cooper has been very busy as embarking on her first principalship.
With a host of educational experiences that has proved that perseverance and hard work can only lead to success, Cooper began teaching at the age of 20. She took a chance and left West Chester University for a teaching position in Bangkok, Thailand for almost three years.
"I was the only non-accredited teacher. I always wanted to be a teacher but took a different route than others," she said.
Before leaving the international school that served American middle-school students of business people, Cooper realized their was no place she'd rather be than in education.
"The children filled a bulletin board with so many positive goodbye messages that I was overwhelmed with the response and impact I had made on them."
After returning to the states, she received her bachelor's degree from the University of California Santa Barbara and teacher's certification from California Polytechnic University. From her classroom experience to assistant principalship, Cooper's path to Pottstown has been unique because she accomplished all of it while being a full-time mother.
"It was really hard to juggle the needs of my own children and all the pressures of a working women in general. It was gratifying when my son who went off to college recognized the struggle when he said it is hard enough for him to attend classes. He remembers me writing papers every weekend for years," Cooper said.
Now that Cooper has settled in to the new school year she brings her knowledge from her previous position as assistant principal in the Lancaster school district. One effective program from her previous position has already come to fruition through the "Parent CafÃ&Copy;" series. This program stresses parental involvement and the development of values and ideals.
"School wide I believe establishing a team of people- for a collaborative effort- creates a culture that values education and parent input. In order to create values and a purpose in everything we do we have to be consistent with those values at school and in the home," Cooper said.
Parent CafÃ&Copy; is a way for parents to get valuable information while sharing food and fellowship with staff. Different topics are discussed each gathering such as: How to make middles school students successful held recently. The next topic will be a book study about the development of middle school students by discussing different behaviors and how to handle them, said Cooper. The second Parent CafÃ&Copy; will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 10.
With only seven parents in attendance at the first gathering, Cooper is hoping for a total of 35 in January. "The goal is to eventually expand the program to a family to family mentor program by having those who already attended Parent CafÃ&Copy;. The success in Lancaster with the Parent CafÃ&Copy; goes one step further with the mentor program," explained Cooper.
The staff at Pottstown Middle School has opened their arms to Cooper making the transition with ease. "The teacher work really hard. They are more than welcoming. They are working extra hours volunteering to committees and offering the opportunity for student clubs. They have been so open to change and are a great group of people," boasts Cooper.
Dispelling the misconception that teachers have it easy with their summers off, Cooper explained the continuing education requirements in order to keep their certification through the Pennsylvania Department of Education since July of 2000. She said, "Under Act 48, teachers are required to get additional credits in five years to stay certified. And once you lose that it is really hard to get it back."