Three years ago, Michael Moss' first priority was looking after his troops in Iraq.
Today, the Army Reserve captain is on a different mission, one he considers no less important: to help shape the nearly 600 Fuguitt Elementary students under his charge into responsible, conscientious citizens.
"The military is about leadership," said Moss, 40. "They teach some basic principles of leading by example, taking care of your troops. I think that's influenced my style." Since taking the helm at Fuguitt in July, Moss and assistant principal Diane Allen have instituted a variety of programs focused on character education.
Teachers and administrators said they're seeing dramatic changes this year. There are fewer referrals for classroom disruptions and bullying, something that has been a problem in years past.
Allen credited Moss for implementing programs she considers critical to a school's success. "He's brought in programs that bring more parental participation and he's brought in more student recognition programs, which is very good and very needed," she said.
Among the new initiatives:
-CHAMPS, a program that sets and enforces schoolwide expectations. When everyone on campus has a clear understanding of what's expected, rules are easier for all to remember, follow and enforce, according to Fuguitt faculty members.
-A new 5000 Role Models for Excellence chapter that pairs adult mentors with boys who are struggling or at-risk.
-The Character Book of the Month program, which is popular with students and parents. Teachers read their classes a book that illustrates a chosen character trait, such as honesty, kindness or responsibility. Kids then read the book at home with their families and collaborate to write journal entries that may be shared in class.
-A new Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE) or "bully-free club," started by Allen. The student-led program teaches kids to recognize and discourage bullying behavior among their peers.
-A weekly Caught Being Good program that honors kids for making good choices.
-A weekly feature on the school's morning television show for teachers to compliment their students for good behavior.
-A popular Muffins for Moms/Donuts for Dads program that brings parents to the school monthly to read with their children.
-An All Pro Dads chapter that sponsors a monthly breakfast for fathers.
Administrators and faculty said they're seeing positive results, and quickly.
Discipline referrals are down from 88 last fall to 47 for the same period this year, Moss said.
Rita Farlow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4162.