“So how do we build these communication skills? How do we become good humans? How do we become good citizens? How do we become good humans with the kindness and empathy piece? And here at Dexter, we have a learner profile that is really heading in that direction. We are still focusing on academics; yes, we still want to be a high-achieving high school, but we also see the importance of a holistic child which means every aspect of you, not just certain compartments or subject matters. I might be great at math but if I cannot communicate that, then what does that do?”
The ‘holistic’ child approach focuses on academic intelligence, spiritual intelligence, emotional intelligence and social intelligence. For years, many students have said Dexter has struggled finding a balance between all four.
Nowak has taught English and mathematics, but most of her recent experience has seen her administer S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) and CTE (Career and Technical Education) programs.
In recent years, DCS has relied on the South and West Washtenaw Consortium (SWWC) for CTE programs. The only CTE program Dexter offers that is included in the SWWC is Graph X; the majority of CTE classes are at Saline High School. Many students said they’re pushed away from the career-oriented programs knowing it involves going to a different school for a portion of your day.
Nowak would like to see more CTE classes at DHS. The void of those classes, students said, is one of DHS’s weak spots.
“We are active towards that in the next two years with the hope of adding four more different CTE programs here on our campus,” she said. “I can’t say them right now because they are not set in stone, but yes, we are working towards that. We need to expand our CTE programs because we need our students here at Dexter High School to see the importance of those programs and not say ‘I don’t want to take this class because it is at Saline,’ or ‘I have to take the bus over to Chelsea.’”
Dexter does have a S.T.E.A.M. concept called Dexter Spark.
“Programs like Spark that are centered around activity-based learning and expediential learning, We need to do some of that here, too,” Nowak said. It’s a work in progress. Are we going to change from a somewhat traditional high school to a big program like that off the bat? No, but can we start to work in some different ELO activities? Yes. ELO means Extended Learning Activities, so you could have an internship with a company in town or in the area learning to do what you want to do after you graduate, get credit, and possibly get paid. It’s experiential learning. Learning just doesn’t happen within classroom walls.”
No matter what future changes happen at DHS, Nowak said she will always keep students at the center of any decision.
“Whenever I make a decision, I go back to is this student centered?” she said. “Every decision that comes out of this office will have that filter of ‘is this student centered?’ If the answer is yes, then go ahead; if it is not, then it goes back because we need to revise it.”
The Visibility Factor
Nowak is mainly near the main entrance before school, after school, and will occasionally spend time in the cafeteria during lunch to greet students and chat with them about how their day is going.
Some students noted it was different seeing the principal so visible throughout the day.
“I want students and staff to feel comfortable with who I am,” she said. “Right now, I am trying to be with the student populated areas.”
The ultimate goal, Nowak said, is that students will feel comfortable around her regardless of the circumstances. That goal includes changing the perception of going to the principal’s office.