This year, Leesville Road High School’s principal, Dr. A.J. Muttillo, has instituted changes to the first days of school for both teachers and students in order to strengthen the sense of community at Leesville. On August 20, students cheered as their teachers arrived back at school, and on August 27, the official first day of school, Leesville’s band, students in the Leesville Executive Council, and students involved in theater at Leesville welcomed their peers.
Additional modifications to the beginning of this year include the addition of community-building activities for teachers on their first day, the encouragement of teachers to lead their students in icebreakers during the first week of school, and the inclusion all students’ names on the walls of the main lobby.
Muttillo welcomed these changes because he has decided to shift his focus from solely academics to both academics and students’ well-beings due to his concern over Leesville’s recently-sinking reputation and the impact that recent student deaths have had on the community.
“Last year…was a tough year for a lot of us.…It made me realize that school shouldn’t be just about academics and that we need to foster a sense of community, we need to make connections with each other, and that was really a big part of why I wanted to allow [the changes] to happen and wanted to try to help facilitate [them],” said Muttillo.
He ultimately hopes that a stronger school community will lead to healthy and emotionally-sound students; however, a tight-knit community does not start with only the students. Staff members form a vital part of Leesville, so Muttillo included them in his efforts, too, by promoting the formation of stronger bonds between Leesville’s teachers.
“We have close to 200 faculty members, and some of them have been here together for years and don’t know each other,” Muttillo said. “When you have such a large staff…you don’t make strong connections between your colleagues, and when those connections aren’t there, it’s harder to achieve the goals of the school.”
To bring staff members closer together, on their first day, teachers participated in “connection activities.”
Along with encouraging teachers to learn more about each other, Muttillo wanted to make sure that teachers began the year feeling enthusiastic. Susan Duncan, a chemistry teacher at Leesville, believes that the welcome she and her fellow staff members received on August 20 created excitement for the new school year.
“It made you feel welcome, and it kind of gave you a positive attitude about everything starting back,” said Duncan.
Students also experienced an extra-special welcome. Sydney Carrigan, sophomore, feels that the greeting for students on their first day of school served as an exhilarating start to the new school year.
“The band…greeting everyone, I think that was happier than the first day of [my] freshman year,” Carrigan said. “It’s more…exciting and welcoming.”
According to Muttillo, he cannot yet measure the effectiveness of these changes. For now, he wishes for students to remember that their teachers and other staff members at Leesville are invested in students’ well-beings and in fostering relationships with students.
“We also want students to know that we care about them as people, we want them to be successful, we also want to make connections with them,” said Muttillo.