McCastland teaches away from court
New KHS volleyball coach well-versed in leadership training, school improvement efforts
PLAINFIELD—Before taking care of volleyball business for Kaneland, Kerri McCastland is directing a group of upperclassmen on a Tuesday morning for her day job at Plainfield North High School.
While it’s taking place in the gym, there’s not a volleyball to be seen.
McCastland, having been certified nationally in programs such as Link Crew and Conflict Resolution, passes on training to the older students in order for the group to help steer the incoming Tiger freshmen in 2013 and beyond. A portion of the morning is exchanging personal stories of dealing with or observing school conflict.
The Geneva resident has developed leadership curriculum for students since being involved with the Plainfield School District.
After the Plainfield North principal and assistant principal became oriented with Link Crew, the decision was made to bring it in locally three years ago, according to McCastland.
“Link Crew is a freshman transition program with 1,000 high schools,” McCastland said. “I was trained to do it for my school as an investment by my principal to get trained nationally and do it for my school. We train top-tier leaders in the school how to run freshman orientation.”
Twelve freshmen are paired with one upperclassman and remain in contact with them for the freshman campaign.
“It builds relationships and gives freshmen a feeling that they can have a place in their school and they already know people,” McCastland said.
The guidance provided by McCastland and colleagues provide a helpful tool for the upperclassmen.
“They are the first problem-solvers and innately taking control of our building. A great school has all those elements in there because they know way before we do when something is wrong,” McCastland said.
A normal training day, three days before the start of school, begins with approximately 70-strong at 7 a.m. Listening and note-taking leads to smaller group activities, paving the way for the leaders to conduct those same activities for freshman orientation the next day.
“They’ll get down to the floor and talk about instances that will probably happen during the school year. How do we do our best to protect kids?,” McCastland said.
Employing leadership skills also paved the way for McCastland and her fellow educators to try something new last year, called Changing Your School in 36 Weeks.
“We sent a video capsule to Ellen (DeGeneres) for her show, and to show we did this and to change the culture for the better. We had three altercations at school last year total, with two remediated by students way before any adult got involved and mostly verbal, which was huge,” McCastland said.
Bringing a pedigree of training and experience, McCastland hopes the incoming Lady Knight volleyball squad can benefit.
“We foster a lot of leadership on the team and we are accountable to each other,” McCastland said. “Like a good teacher, the practice is the homework and the test is the match.”