Michelle Sontag does not want her principal's office at Heritage Elementary in Saline to be a scary place for students to be sent. She learned from raising three children that yelling and harsh discipline "never work," but positive reinforcement does. A combination of experiences – teaching students in Monroe and Mason, working with teachers in educational product sales and curriculum training, and her gig as principal at Monroe Catholic Elementary Schools – all prepared her for her new job. She says that her sensibilities as a parent also inform how she approaches her work.
"What I learned from raising three children is that my expectation of our students is simply this – do your best. We never demanded grades, but they still got them on their own, because they wanted to work their hardest," Sontag says.
You and your husband are both educators. What topics in education come up in your conversations at home?
Our on-going conversations sometimes relate to parenting skills. We talk a lot about that because we've seen a transition. I think, in our society, kids are exposed to so much more now. I don't know that all our parents feel well-equipped with how to handle things at a young age. Kids on Facebook who are not 13, for example, they just don't have the maturity. When parents are presented with what their child just did, I don't think they always know how to act or what the repercussions should be. Sometimes when parents don't know what to do, they just don't do. In Saline, I think, many parents are already very supportive. It's just hard for parents to keep up with an ever-changing world.
How can parents get more involved in their kids' educations?
At one point, I ran a business so that we could afford for me to be a stay at home mom for 12 years. At that time, I was very involved with school, I was the class mom. I was on PTO. I was active in the classroom with reading groups, and very involved because I wanted to be active in their lives.
How are you settling into existing initiatives and goals at Heritage Elementary?
A lot of their goals are things I'm already passionate about. Their strategic framework really follows the "Four C's." They are building technology. For example, we have a computer lab, laptops and iPads on carts that teachers can check out, and four Next Gen classrooms with technology set up in various parts of the room. The push is to get our students prepared with 21st-century skills. Curriculum-wise, it is a lot of project-based learning. The things they have chosen for this district are what I would expect from a high-achieving district.
What else do you envision for Heritage Elementary?
There is also starting to be a push towards STEAM education [science, technology, engineering, art, and math], and there are a lot of people talking about that. People often talk about STEM, but I don't want to see the "A" for art left out. I hope it's the direction we are going.