NASELLE — When long-time local educator Gary Flood took a job with the Nye County Nevada school district in 2008, he didn’t foresee moving back to the Peninsula until he was ready to retire. Flood had worked in the Ocean Beach School District since 1991 and his family was rooted at the beach. But his plans changed when he saw that the Naselle Youth Camp (NYC) school was searching for a new principal.
“I’d always planned to come back,” he said last week in his office at NYC. “When that opportunity presented itself I said, ‘I hate to leave my students especially, but this is home. What am I going to say, no?’”
Flood said a former co-worker, Naselle Grays-River Valley School District Superintendent Lisa Nelson, was also a factor in his applying for the job.
“I think very highly of Lisa Nelson, and I’d always stayed in touch with her,” he said, noting that he worked for as an assistant principal at Ilwaco High School in the early 2000s, and she had also worked for him as a teacher prior to that.
And while some potential applicants may have been scared off by the uncertainty surrounding the future of the facility, Flood saw it as a great opportunity.
“The other thing that was very appealing to me was working with at-risk youth,” he said. “Some people might be wary of this. I wasn’t. I’ve always enjoyed working with at-risk youth. I’ve always tried to help them succeed, educationally and with life skills.”
One more job
Flood’s hire was approved last May and he began work as the principal at NYC late last summer. And while it differs some from other jobs in education he has had over the last 39 years, at its core, it’s no different than any other principal’s job.
“It’s interesting, in some ways it’s the same. It’s high school. It’s math, English, social studies, science,” he said. “But the reason this is different is because the entire student body is in need of our help, to get it turned around get going the right direction.”
Flood said he was not actively looking for a new job when this one came open, but the opportunity to live at home again and work for Nelson was too good to pass up.
“I really like what I do. This is my thirty first year as a principal (he taught for eight before that),” he said. “I have a great staff here and the students are worth working for 100 percent of the time. And these students have been totally respectful of me. They’re really good kids that need to turn it around and go down a different road. A good road.”
He said he’d like to work for another five years before ultimately retiring.
In Flood’s opinion, there are three things they need to do as educators in the juvenile detention center school environment: Help them educationally toward a high school diploma, help them move toward a GED and teach them life skills. This past year they’ve had three inmates earn their diploma and 23 more earn their GED. The biggest challenge in this?
“They’re not here that long,” he explained.
Two hundred seventy students went through NYC last school year — July 1 through June 30 — and out of those, only 121 were there 90 days or more. The average length of time for students on site is around two months. So when they arrive, Flood and his team have to put together an educational plan for each student based on how long they will be there.
“When we get a student in that is in pretty good shape to graduate and we see we’re going to have them a few months, everybody goes to work,” he said. “We try to make that happen. We’ve had so much success with that this year, it’s pretty exciting.”
Buy-in is everything
“I like to work as a team, and I’ve got a real good team here,” Flood said. “The other thing is I like the youth. I really like them, and I have that empathetic desire to see them succeed, not only in education — though that’s huge — but in life. I like to encourage them. These kids are worth it. I believe that with all my heart.”
Flood has long been a proponent of working with students one-on-one, and continues to do that with his current students.
“You’d be surprised. I congratulate them day to day if they do well the day before. If they get A’s, I congratulate them one-on-one, shake their hand. I would say a large percentage of them enjoy that congratulation.”
He said if the students don’t work to their full potential he meets with them seperately to fix it.
“Not in a critical way or negative way,” he said. “What do they think the fix is, and try to get them to buy-in.”
Flood believes buy-in with students is the same regardless if they are in elementary school or a juvenile detention center high school. He also feels that showing the students that he personally believes in them will promote the idea within the students that doing their best is what they should be shooting for.
“Sometimes I tell them that they need to believe in themselves as much as their principal believes in them,” he said. “You should see the response I get on that. You want them to buy-in to the fact that you can get good grades every day.
He also talks to them often about free will.
“I tell them, ‘It’s your choice. It’s up to you, because I know you can do it.’ And a lot of them say, ‘I’ll do better tomorrow Mr. Flood.’”
Reading is FUN-damental
Flood was recently featured in a Seattle Times article about a challenge among the juvenile detention centers across the country to promote the reading of novels by the residents. Flood said this was incredibly popular at NYC.
“One of my favorite things about this high school is these students read so much,” he said. “And I’m not just talking in a class. No, they’re checking out books and reading on their own back in their lodges. I just think that’s so wonderful.”
According to the Times article, The Unbound Read-a-thon challenge saw 23 students at Naselle, most of them ninth-grade boys, check out 248 novels during February. And even after the challenge ended they are continuing those reading habits.
“They were so interested and so wanting to read more, and they keep reading too. I’ll often see students holding two or three books. If they are reading at a 12th grade level, that’s the level of book they will be reading.”
The librarian at the school uses Accelerated Reader (AR) — the same program used in lower school grades to track the amount students read — and holds a pizza party every quarter for those students who reach a certain reading goal. And while it may sound silly, outside food is great motivator for students who, in some cases, haven’t had anything but facility food for months.
“We have about 85 students and I think about 20 got enough AR points to have the party (last quarter),” said Flood.
It’s about “Inte-GRIT-y”
When Flood was the principal at Hilltop — when it was a fourth- through sixth-grade school in the early 2000s — Flood was a big proponent of rewarding students of the month. The Bulldog award was given to students who reached certain goals for each month, and he reminded them at each of those assemblies that “Once a Bulldog, always a bulldog.” He has recycled that idea at NYC with his “Inte-GRIT-y” award.
“We have a quarterly awards assembly and I had started giving what I called the ‘Principal’s Grit award,’ to remind them that they must persevere, no matter what,” Flood said. “You need to go down the right road no matter the obstacles or challenges or difficulties you face.”
He said the name of the award changed after having a conversation with a resident about integrity and noticed how “grit” was in the middle of the word.
“Because it’s going to take grit. That’s a big goal for these men, both academically and in life. And that takes both integrity and grit.”