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A Week In The Life of Patrick Carpenter, Principal of Noble Elementary School

Updated: May 8, 2020

by Krissy Dietrich Gallagher

Patrick Carpenter is a classroom teacher at heart. Which is a big part of what makes him such a good elementary principal.

In his second year as principal of Noble School, Mr. Carpenter still thinks like a teacher: How do we help students grow, not just those who are already performing at a high level and not just those who are lagging behind, but every single student? How do we align objectives with strategies and activities? How do we collaborate vertically across grade levels so each student is learning the necessary skills to move on to the next grade and so those skills are taught in a consistent way? How do we infuse every single thing we do with intent?

These are just a few of the questions that guide his meeting with the third grade level team, consisting of three 3rd grade teachers and three instructional support staff. These weekly meetings take up a lot of time for building principals, who serve as instructional leaders for their staffs.

But they’re where Patrick Carpenter is in his prime.

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Raised by school teachers, Mr. Carpenter knew education was he wanted to do. And he knew that CH-UH was where he wanted to do it.

In his final undergraduate year at John Carroll University, he was placed at Gearity Professional Development School for his field work, where he student taught under Natalie Wester, who would go on to be named Ohio’s Teacher of the Year in 2011.

“That was an exceptional experience,” he says.

He would have loved to stay in the district but there were no job openings so he headed to Boston to work for three years with the Urban Catholic Teacher Corps. While he didn't earn a salary for teaching 2nd grade at St Patrick’s School, the program did pay for him to receive a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction at Boston College.

“Those were a great three years [in Boston], but I knew I was coming home and I knew I wanted to be back in the Heights.”

The stars aligned and Mr. Carpenter was hired to teach at Oxford in 2011. “I fell in love with the district right away, and everything it has to offer.” But he wanted to make sure that all the extraordinary opportunities offered to middle and high school students could be available to younger kids as well.

He looked outside the classroom walls to provide opportunities for “kids to explore their interests at a younger age” by helping launch things like Girls on the Run and the Disney Musicals in Schools program, which continue at Oxford to this day.

Mr. Carpenter was always looking to make a bigger and bigger impact on the students he served. “When all hands are on deck, what are we capable of?” he mused. “I know that the sky’s the limit.”

In 2017, he enrolled in Cleveland State University’s Inspired Leaders Program, a 16-month mixed online and in-person program to earn principal licensure. When the principal’s position opened up at Noble, he was “out of my skin with joy. I screamed on the phone when they offered me the job.”

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This is not a job that comes easy though, even to someone as dedicated and enthusiastic as Principal Carpenter.

“I realized that I’m a person who thrives on routine. And I believed that with the best-laid plans, this building would operate like a well-oiled machine.”

He laughs. “No matter how proactive I am, every day’s an adventure.”

“No matter how proactive I am, every day’s an adventure.”

Not everything goes according to plan and he needs to be flexible, trust in his team, and take ultimate responsibility for what goes on inside the school. “I’m the one who has to make the tough calls. I always knew that but I didn't know what it would feel like until I was here.”

One of the toughest things he’s had to do as principal was suspend a student. “I lost sleep over that. I hate to remove a child from a learning environment.”

He is thankful for the consistency of the district’s new Student Code of Conduct that makes such decisions more objective than subjective. And he relies on restorative practices “to reinstate a sense of humanity between adults and kids. The purpose of discipline after all is to change behavior in the long-term.”

He’s also learned that it can be lonely at the top. “I can't just walk into the teachers’ lounge with my lunch and sit down to chat.”

He has found that camaraderie with his fellow elementary principals though. They talk at least weekly and meet in-person at least monthly. Sometimes it’s a work meeting and sometimes it’s purely social where they try not to talk about school. But they always end up back there, comparing successes and failures, seeking advice from one another, laughing—or crying—as the situation demands, or just offering much-needed support.

“They truly get it,” he says. “They get me. Leaving those get-togethers, I feel empowered to do even more.”

The best moments come from connecting with kids and their families. He uses the text-based app Class Dojo to interact with families on a weekly basis, sharing news, updates and reminders along with photos, videos and success stories with all Noble parents. “Because Class Dojo is secure and it’s just between school families, it really breaks down barriers between the school and home.”

Parents deeply appreciate the regular communication and feeling like they know what their children are experiencing all day long. “How can you not smile when you hear Mr. Carpenter’s voice saying ‘Heeeeeelllllooooo, Noble families’?” said Alicia Burkle, mother of 1st grader Andersen.

“Knowing that I have 390 families standing behind me, counting on me but also encouraging me, is really motivating.”

“Knowing that I have 390 families standing behind me, counting on me but also encouraging me, is really motivating.”

He is motivated enough to spend countless Saturdays at his building, despite a weekday schedule that stretches from before-school meetings to evening concerts or community events. Saturdays are quieter and Mr. Carpenter can be found sorting items for the “Noble Mall,” a clothing pantry for students and families in need, or simply at work in his office.

“There is a vibrancy to this community,” he says of both the Heights and especially the Noble Neighborhood. “People are passionate and I’m excited to be part of keeping it successful.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Noble’s success, like that of all schools, depends in large part on the dedication of its teachers.

“These people are doing the work,” Mr. Carpenter says of his staff.

But they feel likewise about him. The third grade team and instructional specialists describe their principal with words like brilliant, open-minded, optimistic, positive and wonderful.

“He has firsthand experience in elementary school,” says one.

“He gives you autonomy but listens to everyone’s voices and has a hands-on approach to problem-solving.”

“He gives you autonomy but listens to everyone’s voices and has a hands-on approach to problem-solving,” says another.

“He has a deep understanding of the curriculum and the materials used to deliver it,” says a third.

And, in the ultimate compliment from a classroom teacher: “He has the mindset of a classroom teacher.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Patrick Carpenter mentions a picture he received as a gift from a kindergartner that included the words, “I love you.”

“I didn't even know any of them noticed me,” he half-joked.

Oh, they notice him all right, in all the best possible ways. And he notices them back. Parent after parent after parent mentioned that he knows all of their children by name.

“He knows every child and family’s name and makes us all feel special.”

“He knows every child and family’s name and makes us all feel special,” said Ashley Bigler, Noble mother of two.

Jennifer Woda, mother of a 5th grader, said, “He seems to know every student by name and takes the time to connect with them every time he sees them.”

And Taliba Hodge was reassured when Mr. Carpenter met with her and her son the summer before he took over at Noble. “He listened to every concern I had and answered every question I asked. He has been nothing more than caring for the students and their families.”

While most days for most buildings leaders are spent returning phone calls, responding to emails, participating in or leading meetings—with teachers, parents, district leaders, or community members—and putting out

proverbial fires, it’s the time he spends with children that is his favorite.

Popping into a classroom for an informal observation and getting to join a few 2nd graders at their table while they work through a science experiment or listening to the 5th graders practice for their upcoming music concert or reading aloud to a class of rapt kindergartners are the balms that soothe a tired principal’s soul.

“It’s all about the kids,” he says, more than once. “They’re why we do what we do."

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