New Channing Hall administrator believes ‘every school can improve’
Oct 10, 2019 10:41AM
By Julie Slama
New head of school, Diane Wirth, seen in the back right, is joined with students at the beginning of the school year. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
After 32 years in public education, Diane Wirth wanted a change.
But the former elementary school teacher who then went into administration still loved being an educator. So when the position for head of school at Channing Hall became available, Wirth packed her bags and moved 1,300 miles to oversee the charter school.
“I learned about the IB (International Baccalaureate) philosophy and seeing the world as a bigger part of our community,” she said. “It’s who I am and what I believe, so it’s a great match. Our students can be a part of this world and have a bigger impact. One person can make change.”
Wirth was an administrator at an Indiana elementary near Michigan’s lower peninsula that was named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education, which honors schools where students either achieve very high learning standards or are making notable improvements in closing the achievement gap. She now plans to review instruction at Channing Hall.
“What we learned was that we could target student learning with intentional teaching. It’s a different approach to teaching, one that doesn’t look at test scores as an end result, but it includes them as a road map so we know what we need to teach. The inquiry approach to teaching here has students asking questions, gets them engaged and empowered in their own learning, which creates an environment for excellence. They will work together, to integrate IB and the common core, to bring seamless learning to our students,” she said.
Wirth, along with Channing Hall’s IB coordinator Jane Kilby, attended an IB training in Austin, Texas over the summer.
“It really helped my growth as a leader in understanding how this engages the students and have them ask questions that will help them learn,” Wirth said.
The IB program at Channing Hall encourages international mindedness through developing an understanding of students’ own cultural and national identity. Channing Hall students learn a second language and the skills to live and work with others internationally. Teachers also teach students to ask challenging questions, to reflect critically, to develop research skills and to learn how to learn.
Another goal Wirth has is to review math standards and possibly begin teaching guided math. Similar to guided reading groups, math instruction would be taught in small groups, individualizing the instruction to the level of students.
“We want to ensure every child succeeds and if there needs to be an opportunity to reteach, we can do that so all students can master the concepts. Every school can improve,” she said.
Wirth also wants to “create teachers as leaders. These teachers have so many talents that they can lead others how they teach, what they teach and about their successes. We need fearless teaching. We don’t need to be afraid to try something that can take our students to a new level.”
Wirth, who came to visit the school twice last spring, is quickly meeting all students, learning names and getting to know them.
“The relationships with students make it enjoyable and fun,” she said. “It’s fun for me to go into the classroom, be a guest reader or take an active part in a school event or fundraiser. I always loved being a teacher, but it’s more impacting to love 621 students.”
Wirth became a teacher after learning how educators can make an impact on children’s lives from her second-grade teacher, Mrs. Dewitt.
“I loved going to school, but it was Mrs. Dewitt who saw me as a shy student, and she became someone I could talk to, to become confident, to help me see what I could do. By the end of the year, I was excelling in academics and she took me to a higher level.”
With that influence, Wirth earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education at St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Indiana, then went to Indiana University to earn her master’s in educational leadership.
Wirth has already made Utah her home, after quickly finding her way to a pet shelter to adopt, bringing her furry family to three dogs and a kitten.
“It started with fostering a dog and I found incredible happiness and joy that I couldn’t give the dog up,” she said.
While she hasn’t brought any pet to the school as her predecessor did, she isn’t ruling it out either.
She also is known to volunteer, previously helping in the homeless shelters in South Bend, Indiana. After getting settled in, she plans to jump in volunteering here as well.
Meanwhile, she loves to hike, bike and travel and already has visited some of Utah’s national parks as well as traveled all over the world.
“I learn so much as I travel. I meet locals and eat where they eat and experience the places where they live. I have met some of the coolest people and respect all different cultures. It’s so enriching. I’d love to hold a cultural fair and have a celebration here where we can learn from each other,” she said.
Already above the entryway of the school, the school celebrates its diversity with flags representing students from different countries.
“I want us to connect — students and teachers — so we are all a part of the Channing Hall community,” Wirth said.