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New Dean of Students Role Pays Dividends
Kara Treweek has no trouble getting in her daily steps.
One minute, she’s walking to a classroom to visit a student. Next, she’s circulating around Mount Nittany Elementary’s cafeteria helping monitor lunches, joining a recess, and visiting more classrooms, back and forth across the school. Any given day, she may clock as many as 15,000 steps, enough to don a hydration pack.
“I’m just in so many different spaces throughout the day, I have water on my back so I always have it with me,” she said.
But that’s life for one of State College Area School District’s busy new elementary dean of students. This year, Treweek and her counterpart at Park Forest Elementary, Becky Kabala, are debuting the position, along with Katie Ricker, a special education dean of students assigned to Easterly Parkway Elementary.
So far, they’ve focused on reinforcing positive school wide behavior programs, providing student support, and assisting faculty and staff. Working with principals, counselors and psychologists, they serve as roving facilitators within buildings, rather than administrators per se.
“They don’t evaluate anyone,” Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education Danielle Yoder said. “They are there to work with everybody to help improve all the systems. They’re partnering with their principals, helping to regulate unstructured places such as recess and hallways, supporting students as a positive role model and teachers with students who need a little more help.”
Though all elementary schools would benefit from a dean, Yoder said, the district chose the pilot schools because they have high student social-emotional needs that call for extra assistance.
Both Kabala and Treweek, veteran elementary teachers with principal certifications, were drawn to the job as a way to stay connected with classrooms while exploring a potential leadership stepping stone. From the start, their energy and cheerfulness have bolstered their schools. Kabala’s first day included discussing kind and respectful playground behavior with students. “It started our recess off on a really positive note because everyone knew that we’re all in this together,” she said.
Similar talks about hallway, restroom and assembly expectations followed, as well as a joint effort with teachers to make a video showcasing examples of positive student behavior. Like Treweek, she’s constantly on the move between interactions so varied that one child introduced her on back-to-school night this way: “Mrs. Kabala is kind of like a teacher, kind of like a counselor, kind of like a principal, but she’s not any of those things either.”
“I’m out on the playground, in the cafeteria, greeting kids in the morning,” Kabala said. “Certain kids I check in with every day. They might need a break, to have somebody they can have time with. What I do is really based on what the kids need.”
That’s also the case for Treweek, who never can predict how days will unfold. Her schedule may have planned stops, such as student check-ins about support plans, but then comes a recess issue. A child is distressed, leading to another restorative conversation. A grade struggling with lunchtime misbehavior prompts the creation of a mini-unit on acceptance and empathy.
Whatever’s happening, she usually winds up at lunch enjoying conversations and playing games with students. “They’re getting to see me,” she said. “I’m learning their names, their likes and dislikes, what they’re doing after school, so it really helps with relationship-building.”
She and Kabala also have prioritized connecting with teachers. That support could be the snack cart Treweek devised for teacher meetings, or it could be a willingness to listen and seek solutions. Often, it amounts to freeing teachers to teach.
“Our dean of students helps provide a responsiveness needed when students are upset and in need of breaks,” PFE third-grade teacher Nicole Titus said. “Becky’s an asset that allows teachers to continue providing instruction while simultaneously assisting students that need time to process behaviors. The position has helped save valuable instructional time.”
Mount Nittany Principal Mark Feldman has appreciated his new partner. Collaborating with Treweek on improving student behavior and school climate, he said, means he can do other parts of his complex job, such as teacher evaluations, more thoroughly.
“What we have here is very promising,” he said. “It’s a great role.”
By Chris Rosenblum
Photos by Nabil K. Mark
Published Nov. 30, 2023