Incoming principal Gina Kraus has a sign on the wall of her office that reads, "Fun is not a Frill." Surrounding the sign are photos of Kraus and others in costume at the school's Halloween parade, dressed as pilgrams for Thanksgiving, and dancing in hats and boas. When asked about the motto, Kraus breaks into a warm smile.
"I love what I do, I love working with kids," she siad. "Students come in here all the time. You know, I get silly and put myself out there and take risks, and they just love that."
"Mrs. Kraus was a very fun teacher when I had her in first grade," said Alison Fioriello, now a fourth grader. "In the morning, she would have a bunch of fun Morning Meeting games to play. We earned a pizza party by saying Mrs. Kraus' really, really long nickname, which I can't remember now!"
Kraus, who has served as assistant principal for the past year, will be replacing when he retires at the end of the month. She has taught elementary school for 21 years, 18 of those at JMMES.
"Gina has been an invaluable assistant," said Tracey. "Her knowledge base of curriculum, of childhood development, and love of children are outstanding. I feel very comfortable leaving the building in her most capable hands."
"I didn't leave teaching because I was tired of it," said Kraus. "I loved teaching and I see this role as being the same thing. I'm teaching teachers, I'm teaching students.
"Demographics have changed who we are," she said, referring to the school's evolution over the past two decades. "We have many children who come to us who are ELL [English Language Learners]. We have grown termendously and are now at 625 students. That's over 100 additional students in the past two years."
According to Kraus, students today are "more needy across the board, not just one demographic or one culture. Economic stress," she said, "is being felt right now amongst families and children. Families are moving more for economic reasons and the stability is not always there."
As a remedy, Kraus said, "We pay a lot of attention to teaching children how to get along, how to cooperate, how to listen, how to speak kindly to each other, how to be assertive in a positive way, and how to be empathetic."
Kraus, who for 12 years worked as a certified consultant for the National East Foundation teaching staff development, said, "That's exactly what that was. Teaching teachers how to manage a classroom where you need to teach all those skills and integrate them throughout the curriculum."
In her new role, Kraus said she would like to "do more activities that are community school wide activities and also to push for changes in the literacy program."
John Marshall has taught reading using the "Success for All" program for the past 12 years. "It is a pretty rigid program," said Kraus, "and we are considering moving away from it. My hope is that there is more creative writing in this school and more hands-on activities for young children. I think another focus is also to make sure that we are not only supporting those kids who need our support but also that we are enriching those who can go further.
"I've always cared about my class as if they were my own," she said, "and now I have 625 to care for and make sure they are flourishing in mind, body, and spirit."