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A Live-In Principal Explains His Move

To squeeze more family time into an 80-hour workweek, principal Michael Bremont moved his wife and four sons into a building on the school campus. The move fits in with his belief that showing students commitment nurtures success. Included: Strategies for high school reform.

Everyone has heard of folks who "live" at the office. But what about people who actually do move in?

That's what Michael Bremont, principal of Central Linn High School in Halsey, Oregon, decided to do -- almost. His 60-to 80-hour workweeks made it difficult to see his family Monday through Friday. So last year the Bremonts moved into a building on the school campus, so Michael Bremont can stop home during his 12-hour days.

"Now I am usually able to go home for dinner about 5 p.m., before I have to go to meetings at night," Bremont told Education World. "It's a rare night I don't have a meeting going on. This way, I get to see my family a little bit. Before [moving], I would get home about 9 p.m., after my kids were asleep, and be back at school by 6:30 a.m. Some weeks I didn't see my kids until Saturday."

YES, HE WAS SERIOUS

The idea for moving to campus actually came from Bremont's wife, Tamara, a former teacher. She thought moving the family to a vacant day care center adjacent to the high school could give them more time together. Michael Bremont made the proposal to district superintendent, Max Harrell.

"I really thought he was kidding," Harrell told Education World. "I couldn't understand why, as a young father, he would want to do that. But he kept coming back, saying his wife was as serious as he was."

At the same time, Harrell knew the volume of hours Bremont and the elementary school principal worked, and that Bremont was trying to squeeze in as much family time as he could. "I remembered my early days [as a principal]; I didn't take vacation for five years," Harrell said.

The day care center had been vacant for two and a half years, and no other proposals for its use had been made. Harrell brought Bremont's idea to the board of education, which approved it. The district spent about $2,500 to convert the day care center into a home, and the Bremonts rent it for $500 a month. Already the rent payments have covered the cost of the renovations.

The move also benefits the school in other ways. "It's a symbol to the students about how much adults like Mr. Bremont value their education," Harrell said. "It also helps us with security, and provides a concrete sense of 'this is our school.'"

PART OF AN OVERALL TURNAROUND

The move fits in with Bremont's approach to school leadership, which means embedding himself in school life. Part of the reason his days and nights are so long is that he goes to every activity at the grade 7 to 12 school.

"I believe that is an essential part of the kids knowing I am invested in them," said Bremont. "I firmly believe this is necessary to create an exceptional school. In return, I expect them [students] to respond to me with solid performance and good behavior. I believe it does have an impact on the kids. They see someone with commitment and a solid work ethic."

His family members join him at most of the events. They are well known to the students and staff members.

While Bremont's move has attracted local media attention, he told Education World he would prefer people focus on the improvements at the school over the past two years, to which many staff members contributed, rather than the move. Test scores have gone up at the school, and behavior referrals have gone down. Vandalism is at an all-time low.

Central Linn also is the only school in the area to make its adequate yearly progress (AYP) goal under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Last year, more than 90 percent of the graduating class went on to a two- or four-year college.

"I'm thrilled with where we are compared to a few years ago," Bremont added.

Three years ago, when he started at the school as a vice principal, low expectations among students and teachers were the norm. "When I first came, the reaction to a lot of things used to be, 'It's just Central Linn, what do you expect?' and that used to bother me."

Bremont oversaw an overhaul of staff, policy, and curriculum that has transformed the school. "A lot of things came together to make changes," he said. "Some teachers said to me my expectations for behavior and curriculum were unrealistic. I changed a lot of teachers. We've changed staff dramatically. I had kids come up to me and say I wanted them to be robots, because I insisted they behave."

The new vision included more than 20 daily lesson plans for behavior, on topics such as expected behavior for classes, hallways, cafeterias, the school's core beliefs, the dress code, responsible decision-making, sportsmanship, respectful language, even what to do if they are absent or finish classwork early. "We teach those things every day. When I was vice principal, the staff said it was not high school stuff. Now that I am principal, we are doing it every day. The teachers have seen the changes."

In addition, staff members are consistently enforcing consequences, student leaders are involved in discussions, and drug testing has been implemented for student athletes.

"Now the kids are doing better and communicate better and the teachers are less lenient," Bremont said.

TOTAL COMMITMENT

All those changes took large chunks of time, and the biggest plus of the move for Bremont is the increase in family time. "This way, it is a little easier for me to help with the kids," he said. His sons range in age from 18 months to 9. "Now sometimes the kids can come over to the office at lunch, and sometimes I can go home for lunch." Bremont's 8-year-old son belongs to the local wrestling club, which meets at the high school, so he is able to spend time with him there as well.

Because he likes to be in classes and hallways during the school day, a lot of his other duties get pushed to after-school hours. "I spend a lot of time in classes, so I do paperwork and grant writing on weekends and nights," he said. "Now, after dinner, I can spend from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. weeknights and Saturday mornings at school, and be home by the time the kids get up Saturday morning."

Students even feel comfortable dropping by the Bremont house after school so his wife can braid their hair, and she tutors some youngsters. He encourages students and staff to come to his house nights and weekends if they need to get into the building to pick up supplies or use the facilities.

"That is part of why we wanted to be so close," he said. "The kids know they can knock on the door anytime and go get homework, or I will open the gym so they can play basketball. The kids know that I am invested in them, so I hope they will invest in the school."

WHAT'S THE ANSWER?

Harrell praised Bremont for his work, adding that the hours and commitment required from principals these days takes a toll on the existing and potential workforce.

"Our elementary school principal works very hard as well. Everybody here wears many hats," he said. "Some people, the way they charge their batteries, is to stay engaged with it [school], and build relationships. Some are great with course content and other things and just need time to themselves."

"I haven't heard of any administrators not working 60 to 80 hours a week," Harrell added. "It's getting harder and harder to convince teachers to go into administration; I don't think it's bad for school districts to think about incentives, such as housing."

Bremont admitted that some colleagues could not understand his decision to move, and the lifestyle would not suit everyone. "Other principals think I'm nuts," he said. "Some said they would feel like they were never able to leave work. We don't have a private life, but we don't need one right now."

Proximity to family is what takes precedence. "The kids used to ask where dad was; sometimes they say they wish we had more time together," Bremont said. "But I think they understand, to the best of their ability, that for the career I've chosen, I have to put in the time right now."

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