Dr. Blau visits

Dr. Herman Blau visits the preschool classroom of Marybeth Patrick, and Julie Hatridge, recently. Students, from left, are Olivia Skaggs, Ava Wisdom and Krew Bailey.

For Dr. Herman Blau, his new job as principal at William Lynch Elementary is a welcome return to education.

Blau was hired by the school board in April after 13 years as an education consultant. Prior to that he was an elementary assistant principal for Waynesville for five years in a K-5 building that later became a K-2 building. He started his career as a high school Spanish teacher at Waynesville.

After several years traveling the country doing training sessions for teachers and later holding workshops on improving test scores, he was ready for a change.

“I started feeling, frankly, this tremendous draw to come back into education,” he said. “I looked for a wonderful spot and found it right here in Salem.”

He sat down for an interview with The Salem News during the first week of school. He said he had no trepidation about coming back, despite the unusual circumstances presented by the ongoing pandemic.

“I’m excited to be here,” he said. “There’s a lot going on. There’s stuff to do, we’re busy. We’re thinking of COVID, we’re keeping the kids safe, we’re teaching them all these things. I’m super elated.”

His goals for the year include building an atmosphere of pride and better preparing students for second grade when they move on to Salem Upper Elementary.

“We want to be proud of everything we do,” he said. “We want to be proud of our space. This is an older building. We want to be proud of the work we do, and we want to be proud of how we treat parents and the community.”

As a consultant, he worked with teachers on how to identify what are called essential outcomes in kindergarten and first grade, the things that matter the most for students to learn.

“What we want to do at William Lynch is continue the work we’ve already done, but we want to send kids out to second grade absolutely ready for second grade,” he said. “We’re going to nail those things that are most important and we’re going to tenaciously stay after it and make sure the kids get it.”

Another goal is a better team atmosphere. “We want to really work on having a good atmosphere here in the building, where we’re a team. We’re working hard but we’re working together to accomplish our goals,” he said.

COVID-19 will make the year all the more challenging, but Blau sees certain advantages to the “cohort” model being used at William Lynch. Students spend the great majority of time with their “cohorts,” or classmates in a single class.

“To be honest, there’s no way to guarantee there’s not going to be a case of COVID here in the lower elementary,” he said. “There are kids coming in from everywhere. It just could happen, but from the very beginning of the day, they’re getting up into their cohorts, what we call their classes, and then they are essentially staying in their cohorts all day long.”

That’s a different system than what is used at some higher levels, where students are mixing classes all day. By staying in one classroom, the risk is reduced.

“There’s just no way for us to effectively socially distance in the classroom, but we can pretty well socially distance between classrooms,” he said. “That’s what we’ve taken steps to do.” Social distancing will be practiced on the playground and in the cafeteria.

Unfortunately, the first case of COVID was confirmed at the school over the weekend.

He anticipated a COVID case at some point. “It’s just likely. But I do feel like we’re taking all the appropriate steps, recognizing that there’s nothing that’s going to be perfect,” he said. “These are still kindergarten and first graders, but I feel like we’re taking good steps. I’m excited. I think we’re doing a good job with that.”

Blau feels his experience with improving MAP test scores will help shape how children are taught to some degree, although testing doesn’t begin until third grade. In addition to the training he offered as a consultant, he wrote a book called “Improving Student Test Scores; Winning the Game Without Losing Your Soul.” He’s willing to help wherever his expertise is needed in the district.

Blau has nothing but praise for his staff at William Lynch, which has undergone some transition since last year.

“I have been so impressed,” he said. “So many of our staff came in over the summer to get their rooms ready, to get everything cleaned. We have five brand new teachers this year. They’re first-year teachers and they’re off on the right foot, doing wonderfully well.”

He added, “I could not have been more warmly welcomed. It has truly been extra amazing.” He complimented the work of school counselor Amber Toman in getting the year organized and former school secretary Debbie Howard, who came in over the summer and helped to train her replacement, Becky Wilson.

“It’s been great,” Blau said. “I was also proud of the fact our parent-teacher organization, FOWL, bought all the supplies for the kids here in the school. I’m super excited to be here. It’s wonderful.”