Cara Cronk is celebrating her first anniversary this month as principal at Buddy Taylor Middle School. Her husband, Justin Cronk, is an assistant principal at Indian Trails Middle School, which she says makes for an interesting dynamic.
They moved here 17 years ago from Palm Beach County where the Cronks were ESE teachers at John I. Leonard High School. At the time they were just tagging along when Cara's sister, Jennifer, and her husband, Jason, were looking for a house in Palm Coast. Justin and Cara decided to join them.
"We fell in love with the area," Cara Cronk said. "We had young children at the time, and Palm Beach County was getting very expensive for two teachers. So we took a chance and God opened up all the doors for us."
Before becoming principal, she was an assistant principal at BTMS for two years and at Matanzas High School for two years. Before that she was an English teacher, literacy coach and teacher support colleague at Indian Trails.
Their daughters – Hailey Cronk, 25, and Rebecca Smith, 20 – are out of the house now, so Cara and Justin recently fostered two young girls for seven months.
Cara Cronk sat down with the Observer recently and discussed Buddy Taylor's PBIS rewards program, students who who threaten school violence and painting by numbers.
The Positive Behavior Intervention Support rewards program is a mouthful to say, and the concept of rewarding points via app to students for positive behavior sounds like something out of Harry Potter. Has it been positive for the school?
I think it’s having a positive impact, even with the small start that we’ve had, because kids are checking their points, they’re wanting to keep track. The teachers are buying into it and wanting to use it. And I am seeing more students taking responsibility for their school.
What are some of the behaviors being rewarded and what are some of the rewards?
Basically what we're trying to do is encourage the positive behaviors that we want to see on campus. A perfect example is I had a student who saw me sweeping up food in the cafeteria and just out of the blue, he came over and started helping clean off the table and picking up some trash. We also have categories for engagement and activities, so if you are walking in through a class and you know you've got a group of students that are really engaged in the discussion, you can reward them a point, because that’s what you want to see. Ms. Mindi Scala, who is one of our deans, and Mr. Toussiant Roberson, who is one of our assistant principals, are leading the charge with the PBIS rewards. They wrote a grant and got funding through the Kiwanis to purchase things (the students) can redeem their points for, whether its snacks or slushies in the cafeteria or gift cards.
Is the program more for motivating kids who aren’t already motivated?
The nice thing is we can do different tiers. Tier 1 is school-wide. Everybody has the same opportunity to get points. It can get more specific to groups of students that we are targeting. Josh Reinert, he is our behavior interventionist. He is using the app to do check-ins with our students who are struggling with behaviors. So, he has groups he meets with regularly. He also will use the app for just their social, emotional check-ins. We can do check-ins with academics. So it targets everybody, but we can make it even more specific to students who need a little extra.
What is the best advice you ever received from principals you’ve worked with about being a principal?
I’ve had the privilege of working under quite a few different principals, and I love it because from each one you take something a little different. I would say the best advice I got is about relationships, relationships with kids, relationships with your staff, relationships with your parents.
And the other advice, and this was from Jacob Oliva, when he was superintendent and I was an assistant principal at Matanzas. He said, get out of your office. Get into classrooms. Get with your kids. Get with staff. And I try to make sure I’m doing that all the time. Yes, we get bogged down at times or situations come up, but I think I’m at my best, and I’m happiest, when I can go into a classroom, pull up next to a group of kids, say, Hey what are you working on? Share it with me. You get to know the kids more, and the teachers see you, that you’re there for them with them, supporting them. My goal is to hit every classroom at least once a week. So, to make sure I’m doing that I keep maps and highlight classrooms and the dates that I’m in there.
What’s the dynamic like with you and your husband being administrators at each of the county's two middle schools?
We have a fun rivalry at times for sure, but the nice thing is we can bounce ideas off each other a lot, and we want both schools to be successful, because if both schools are successful, then the kids are successful, the district is successful. But it’s nice having a spouse in education, because we understand what each other's going through, and the situations we’re dealing with are very similar.
There have been two recent arrests of BTMS students for allegedly threatening gun violence (and another since this interview). Since the Parkland shootings, there has been zero tolerance. Do the kids in general understand this? How are these threats affecting the student body?
"Students want to be safe, and the expectation should be that they come to school, and that is a very safe place for them."
CARA CRONK, BTMS principal
The recent arrests or the threats, that’s something you never want to see happen on your campus, especially with the Parkland shootings, which were not that long ago. So, safety is the utmost importance, keeping our kids safe, keeping the staff safe. Anything that is brought to us, whether a kid thinks it’s real or it could be a joke, it’s absolutely taken seriously. As a result of the threats that have been made, we sat down as a team. Mr. Roberson and (School Resource Deputy Jason Williams) came up with the idea to have some student assemblies. We need to let the kids know the seriousness of what is taking place. We need to inform them about statutes, and we need to make sure they know who they need to contact on campus if they do know something or they do see something.
We did the assemblies, led by Deputy Williams through our Eagle advisory classes, so every student in the school has been through that assembly and they took it seriously. You could walk into any of those assemblies and you could hear a pin drop, because students want to be safe, and the expectation should be that they come to school, and that is a very safe place for them. But one thing I would say about our kids is they are amazing at letting us know. They know they can send an email to any administrator. They can tell us face-to-face. If they’re nervous, they can come and write something down in guidance or the dean’s office, if they don’t want to draw attention to themselves. But they know they can go to any adult on this campus, and we are going to investigate it, and if it needs to be turned over to law enforcement it will be, because we take their safety very seriously, 100%.
What do you like to do to relax? What are some of your hobbies?
My daughter, Hailey, got me an acrylic paint-by-numbers for Mother's Day. I do enjoy painting. I think I got that from my grandfather. I will not say I’m good, but I like doing it. So she said, you don’t even have to think about this one, mom. It’s just follow the numbers. I just finished my first one. It took quite a while. It is where you can kind of zone out and relax and not think about anything. I also enjoy spending a lot of time with family. We have a big family, and we’re together quite often. Traveling, I love, but I haven’t been able to do much of it. I have been able to go to Colorado a few times and see my daughter (Rebecca) out there, who’s in the Army. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.