Chris Brockman is the new principal at Pahrump Valley High School. Prior to that he was an assistant principal there for several years.
While an assistant he was the athletic administrator for the high school. He graduated from college in 1983 with an education degree. In his early years, he started out coaching football. He coached at the University of Idaho and Idaho State. He then went to coach for Dixie State under Greg Croshaw.
Before he came to Pahrump, he was in the private sector working as a training director for Advanced Concepts, a consulting firm in Las Vegas that works with corporations in leadership and management development.
The PVT sat down with Brockman to see what his goals were and how he was going to make Pahrump Valley High School a better learning institution.
Q: How was your transition from assistant to principal and what qualifies you to lead the high school?
A: I think the biggest thing was I had worked very hard with the staff doing training when I was the assistant principal and I gained their respect. That makes the transition much easier.
I have learned to talk with different personalities over the years. You size people up and look at their personalities, you pretty much know how to approach them and to get them to work more effectively in that personality.
What I did with Advanced Concepts, I did with coaches and now I do it with teachers. I will be trying to get each teacher to work within their assets and make their liabilities and their limitations insignificant.
Q: How do we teach kids effectively in today’s world?
A: When I first came into education I have always worked with at-risk kids. We need to do a better job in education of reaching all of our students. The evolution of how students are taught has led us to where we are at now. We need to teach our kids to problem solve. This is not occurring in other areas of their life.
The new math program, it is a good program because it is teaching our kids to problem solve. That is the answer, but why is that the answer? Math is important because it teaches you to solve problems with a variable.
Do we need to get away from reading, writing and arithmetic? I don’t think so, because it’s a different focus. We have gone to more critical thought and science.
Q: What skills are needed by students today? Is our generation that much different than kids today and why can’t the kids today learn things that we learned?
A: Education is so much more advanced for the younger ages than it ever was. What I am looking at is we are turning out a crop of kids who are much more advanced than we were. We had basic knowledge when we came out of school and then what we gained after that was in industries we went into.
Now the industries are demanding that they come out of school with that knowledge, and so the bar is raised.
At the same time, you are seeing a bigger separation of kids who are working and striving to get that done and other kids because of all the other things that are pulling them away from that. All the games, all the entertainment, music are pulling them away from school.
Q: How do you want your teachers to teach the students of today? What will change look like for the teacher?
A: I am looking at engagement in problem solving. In today’s classroom students need to be able to bounce ideas off each other in group work. I am asking teachers to look at science. In science students have to go into labs where kids are engaged and working with stuff. So tell me what a social studies lab would look like.
For example, here are the mistakes that led to the Civil War, how would you have done it differently? These are things that are far more important than memorizing dates and when things occurred.
They are solving problems that may come up in the future. These kids are our future. They are dealing with problems that we never faced at their ages.
Q: How will you get change to happen at the high school? Teachers at the high school have been doing things their way for so long.
A: The big changes will be in the classroom. We have a great bunch of teachers here and we have great kids. You go to any corporation and one of the biggest problems is change. Somebody comes in to change things and we are all creatures of habit. We want it the way it has always worked. It has worked for them but now we need a little more in the tool box to choose from.
One of the things we did and put in the school improvement plan was changing the culture of Pahrump Valley High School. The culture has to be a culture of change.
I want my teachers always to be looking for a better way than it has been done. To do that we have to value some of the things that the teachers are already doing.
My style of leadership is this, I identify a problem and the teachers come up with a solution. Then I will see if I like it. I learned this from Lou Holtz. He said, ‘We hear about the things we don’t have now let’s talk about the things we do have.’
So I want to make the assets visible and make the liabilities insignificant and then change happens. I need to make sure the staff is valued and I want them to know that I am not trying to catch them doing something wrong.
Q: Besides teachers doing things differently, what are some other changes?
A: This year we will work close with Gear Up which will allow us to bring in tutors. We will also increase the communication with parents to get their students involved with tutoring early.
Our problem in the past has been that ninth and tenth graders came in and did not pass and they dug such a big hole for themselves that they couldn’t dig out.
In addition, we will offer credit recovery right away. I want them working right away to make that grade up. I also want to see more teacher generated conferences. I want to be proactive with the parents. I want parents to be called in for academics.
It’s a process; Will it happen overnight? No. Can it happen quicker than years and years? Yes, I think it can. We have to ask ourselves, are we getting better? Are we improving and what are we focusing on to get better?
Q: What will be your focus to make change happen?
A: My focus will be on ninth and tenth grades because research has shown if I can keep them on track to graduate by the time they are juniors, they will graduate. I need the parents’ support on this. We will make sure they have the process, the system and the teacher. They need to make sure the student goes home. I can’t take them home. Parents — you just do that and we will do the rest. I am enthusiastic this will work and I need the parents to support the efforts we are making here.