“Synergy” is the word of the month at Costner Elementary School in Dallas.
And when a second-grade student told principal Dr. Dan Barber “those characters really synergized together” after he read a story during class, he was impressed. “Go home and check with your parents to see if they know what synergy means,” he told the students.
“Synergy” (when two things come together to create a better result than when acting independently) is one of the concepts that students are learning about in the school’s Leadership Academy. The school’s leadership concentration is based on The Leader in Me program, which was developed by Stephen Covey and centers around seven habits of highly effective people. Synergy is the sixth leadership habit. Others focus on being proactive, having a win-win perspective, putting first things first, and beginning with an end result in mind.
“Having seen leadership at the high school level when I worked as an assistant principal at North Gaston, it’s amazing to see the seeds being planted in our younger students now,” he said. “It’s about getting them involved and making an impact from an early age.”
Barber, who just started in his role as principal in January, admitted he never imagined becoming a principal when he first started his teaching career in Charlotte in 2004. He began working in Gaston County Schools in 2015, and is a former Gaston County Assistant Principal of the Year winner.
“I was so passionate about being in the classroom and helping students, but I knew I was limited,” he said. “Now, I feel like I’m in a role where I can support teachers in their careers and have an influence on an even bigger group of students.”
That passion for students is still evident as he walks through the halls, fist bumping students and donning a tropical Hawaiian shirt for reading a story to second graders.
While Barber says he is still getting used to being a principal, Costner and the Dallas community have felt like a family from the very beginning. He’s grateful that the faculty and staff believe in his vision for the future of the school.
“Costner is incredibly unique in developing leadership qualities in children,” he said. “That’s a transferable skill that we’ll be feeding into W.C. Friday Middle School and North Gaston, too. Our students love to get involved in clubs and activities that they may not get to be a part of otherwise.”
Barber says the take-away from the leadership and enrichment opportunities is noticeable in his students every day. With activities like flag patrol, lighthouse team, student advisory team, and green team, students are able to find things that interest them and allow them to grow as a leader in those areas. There are even fifth-grade students who serve as tour guides to show visitors and new students around the school.
Costner also offers Spanish classes at the elementary level, one of the only schools in the county to offer a foreign language to the youngest of students. It’s just another way to build the foundation to create well-rounded leaders, who will go on to do great things.
“We want our students engaged in leadership in every way possible,” Barber said. “They’re making morning announcements and creating videos called the Costner Cougar News. I joke with them that they are trying to take my job.”
Although he’s a new principal, Barber is looking forward to what is in store for Costner Elementary.
“We’re putting the students at the forefront of the school,” he said. “We’re teaching them about leadership and ownership and responsibility, which makes us a better school and makes them better students.”
Barber added, “I love that our students get to be so involved. Our teachers and staff work together to make sure that students have a chance to step up to be a leader. If we teach them how to be leaders when they are in elementary school, they will carry what they learn with them to middle school and high school and into life beyond graduation. We like to think we are producing the next generation of leaders for Gaston County.”
Students who live outside the Costner attendance area can apply to attend the school and be involved in the Leadership Academy. Typically, students enter the Academy in kindergarten, but there is limited space available at other grade levels. The deadline to submit an application is March 18. For more information, visit the Costner website: www.gaston.k12.nc.us/costner
and click on the “Leadership Academy” tab.