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New Principal Champions Continuous Improvement

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July 26, 2011 by wcobserver

Staff Photographer Brooke McNeely Galligan - Phil Costner sits in his office Thursday July 7 as he talks about his plans as the new principal for Greenland Middle School.

By Susan McCarthy

GREENLAND – Students at Greenland Middle School will most definitely be greeted by a new face when they return to school in a few weeks. With his backpack in tow, he may be a full head taller than the students he will walk among, but instead of heading to class, he’ll be spending time in the principal’s office.

Phil Costner, Greenland’s new Middle School Principal, began his new position on June 17. His desk is neat, but piled high with thick, weighty binders including two on how the upcoming new education standards line up with what is already happening inside Arkansas classrooms. Costner is replacing Jay Gardenhire who retired from the school district in June.
“It’s got to be effective teaching and learning,” Costner said when asked what he was looking for in his new job. “We’ve got to always be examining ourselves and our practices and improving ourselves. Learning never ends.”

Costner has spent the last seven years working for the Arkansas Department of Education, and says he’s excited to be back inside a school building every day again. His former role, Costner said, made him familiar with about 30 school district’s improvement plans and among them was Greenland.

“That plan is a storybook plan for school improvement,” said Costner who said that and the school’s strong leadership made Greenland a good fit for him.

“[Dr. Cudney] is an outstanding superintendent, a visionary; one that understands instruction, teaching and learning. He’s an excellent school man. Also, I had an appreciation for the practices going on here,” he said.

Costner’s career has taken him to large and small school districts. He majored in music education before becoming a school principal.

“I’m actually a singer,” he said, adding that he can play a little piano. Costner said he is a tenor, but has a range that extends from bass to first tenor.

While working at Fort Smith elementary schools during the first 13 years of his career, Costner said he was responsible for integrating music instruction into core subject curriculum. Ironically, nearly 30 years later, new education standards that begin rolling out this year aim to do the same thing.

Costner says the new curriculum standards aim to make education more seamless with a conceptual teaching approach. He said the new Common Core Standards will provide lots of opportunities for teachers in art, music and physical education to reinforce material being taught in core subjects. He said that while in Fort Smith, one of the grades completed a unit on railroads which incorporated the music of the era, mapping, geography, math and writing.

“I strongly believe all students can learn,” said Costner, adding that he believes every student can achieve academic success in literacy and math. “We don’t learn things the same way at the same time. We need instruction to meet the way all students learn.”

The Common Core Standards have been adopted by all but seven states. The Arkansas Department of Education adopted the standards on July 12, 2010 and kindergarten and first-grade classrooms will begin rolling out the new curriculum this fall.

Costner said he has spent his first days on the job meeting with members of his staff and asking them what’s working, what’s not working and what can be done to help teachers do a better job. He said he hopes to provide opportunities for creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.

“It’s a never-ending growth process and, as a principal, I think it’s my duty to be a good role model,” he said.
Costner lives with his wife Cheryle in what he calls VanAlma — the Alma and Van Buren area — and plans to commute each day. When he’s not at school, Costner chooses to spend much of his time outdoors. And he sounds to be just as tough on himself outside of work as he is on the job. He said he runs 50 miles per week, 2,600 miles per year and has run one marathon a year for the past nine years. He is also a recumbent cyclist.

“It’s kind of like going down the road in a recliner,” he says of his Rans V-Rex bike.

The Costners have two grown sons and a two-year old grandson which he says is “the light of my life.”

“I am really going to be a cheerleader for Greenland,” Costner said. “I believe we’ve got a good thing going.”

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