Extreme Makeover: McAlpine Edition

Principal strives to improve “teacher morale”

by Morgan Smith

McAlpine Elementary principal Ernie Saxton wants his teachers to know he appreciates them, but sometimes he has a hard time saying it.

So with the help of the school’s parent-teacher group, Saxton spent his spring break giving back in a big way – proving to his teachers that actions speak louder than words.

Saxton and a group of around 10 volunteers spent last week painting and redecorating designated teacher spaces, surprising the school’s teachers with new bathrooms, a workroom and lounge.

“I just wanted the spaces that teachers utilize to be more inviting,” Saxton said. “When people feel good about where they are, they will give 150 percent.”

Saxton added the project was an attempt to help raise teachers’ spirits. You can sum it up in two words, he added – teacher morale.

“The last few years have been really tough for teachers,” Saxton said. “How can I show my appreciation with more than just saying it? … Caring is an action word.”

The project was the finale for the year-long initiative Saxton likes to call “Extreme Makeover: McAlpine Edition.”

Saxton, who has been at the school for almost three years, said the 1984 building has been in dire need of revamping, and with the help of the parent-teacher group, has taken several steps this year to improve it.

Throughout the year, a courtyard with gardens, an eagle mural and continent murals, as well as additional bulletin boards were added not only to make McAlpine more visually appealing, but to help take education beyond the classroom.

The new courtyard was installed over the summer with the help of Hands On Charlotte and parent volunteers. The space provides a garden for each grade level and many teachers utilize the yard for science exploration.

The continent murals, along what Saxton has dubbed the “International Hallway,” gives teachers an opportunity to display student work about different cultures and geography.

“I wanted to bring the hallways to life and make it more appealing and instructional” at the same time, Saxton said.

But last week’s project was the biggest endeavor yet, considering the only outside help was Ingrid Butler, a designer with no affiliation to the school who donated her time to the project. With a budget of around $900 from the parent-teacher group, Butler was able to turn the old “prison-like” spaces into beautiful sanctuaries.

Lowes at Promenade also donated materials and paint to the project.

“Really, we (couldn’t) have pulled it off without them,” Saxton added.

Stacy Ellis, the school’s parent-teacher group president, said they were happy to help Saxton out with the project.

“Ernie is a great visionary. He comes to the PTA with an idea and we make it happen,” she said. “We thought it was a lot to take on this year, but we did it and we are really proud.”

Ellis said she hopes the renovations create positive morale among teachers and staff.

“We can’t give them raises, but we can show them we appreciate them in other ways,” she said. “We try and make an impact where we can.”

And the teachers are very receptive to the changes.

Jenny Johnson, a veteran teacher at the school, said she was surprised when she walked into the new bathrooms, comparing the new look to a spa-like atmosphere.

“It was so refreshing,” she said. “This is a more stressful time with end of the year tests approaching, so it was a nice stress reliever.”

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