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'They've had a lot more tears than in years past'

Bob Wolfe

 'They've had a lot more tears than in years past'


By Kevin Taylor, Alma Schools 


It's 4 p.m. on an overcast Thursday. Sitting at his desk, papers and sticky-notes neatly placed at arm's length, Bob Wolfe's bright-white shirt and neatly tied tie are as crisp on this late afternoon as they were at 7 a.m. 


But whatever you do, don't ask him what day of the week it is. 


October is National Principals Month, and although Bob Wolfe took a bit of a different approach to get there, he’s flourished during one of the hardest years of his life.


It's been a tumultuous six months for the veteran Alma administrator, beginning with the March 16 shutdown, summer professional development meetings, and the late August start-up. There were no plans pre-COVID-19 — remote classes, masks, Zoom and pandemic were words that hardly existed. 


But that didn't deter Wolfe and his dedicated stable of teachers and coaches from whipping out a plan to resume school's everyday life — save everyone wearing masks — that doesn't look much different from 2019. 


"It's been totally amazing the work everyone has put forward to make things go as smoothly as they have," Wolfe said. "It hasn't happened just by chance; it's because of the work people have put in."


Months before school started, just as lawns were beginning to turn green, Alma administrators worked tirelessly to devise a plan. Before they could open their doors, however, they had to get a blessing from Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. 


The next order of business, after giving parents and students the option of being remote or coming to school, was to figure out how to reach those not on campus.


It hasn’t been easy on Wolfe’s staff. 


"Probably our biggest fault is we care about each kid so much, we worry about them," Wolfe said. "Even if they chose remote, and we're struggling to reach them at home, and if they're not doing their work, our teachers are upset by it. 


"They've had a lot more rough days and a lot more tears than we've seen in past years, because they care about every kid."


Wolfe praised his teachers for not only working hard to reach those not on campus, but making sure they’re not missing out with those on campus, too. 


"The design we built, to give teachers time to have a remote period, and then the work teachers are doing to reach remote kids and to reach their in-person kids is amazing," Wolfe said. "The same goes for the remote parents to take care of their kids — there's a lot of double work for everyone involved.


"It's been rough, but everyone's working really hard to make it the best they can."


There have been ups and downs, Wolfe said.


"Some parts have gone like we thought would, other than we didn't think we would be here now," Wolfe said. "We hoped we would get a couple of weeks in, and get the kids prepared, and we're pleased that we're still here and doing what are with so many kids in-person. 


"Of course, we've been making things up as we go because this is all new."


Quick fix


Wolfe said Alma's administration has been quick to fix things. 


"We've had to change a lot of things as we've gone along. If something's not working, we'll try something else," he said. "We've had a lot of modifications as we've gone through it."


AMS doesn’t have any first-year teachers this year. But they do have three interns. 


Hello, world. 


"They're getting the full package of learning here that none of us ever got when we came through," Wolfe said. 


Despite the modifications, Wolfe said he’s thrilled that extracurricular activities, such as football, cross country and volleyball, have persevered. 


"All those extracurricular activities we can offer kids to keep them engaged is important," Wolfe said. "For so many of them, that's why they come to school. They want to be involved in those activities and come to school to be with their friends. It's important to keep those going. I'm really proud of our staff. Everybody's doing a great job of reminding the kids to make sure we're social distancing and wearing masks. We feel like we've done pretty good with that."


Career path


Unlike those interns, Wolfe didn’t start off with teaching aspirations.


"It was really kind of a late decision to become a teacher," he said. "Then as I worked through several years of teaching, things I did and things I was involved in, I saw the principals and I thought maybe I could go over there and make a difference."


Former Alma principal Jerry Valentine played a deciding factor to get into administration, Wolfe said. 


"I worked for him for 12 years," Wolfe said. "I actually did my teaching in Alma and they didn't have any openings at that time, but I said, 'I want to come back here and work.' 


“He (Valentine) was a big influence on that, and of course Dr. (Mike) McSpadden was an assistant (principal) at that time. Pat Widders came in and I worked under him. I had a lot of good role models to follow."