A Conversation with Our New Director,
Dr. Michael Finley
Q. What drives your work in education?
A. “I went into education because I had a model teacher who inspired me. I’m finishing my fourteenth year in education. In that time, I’ve been a classroom teacher, a coach, a grade-level chair, an assistant principal, and a principal. Most important, I’m a mentor to students, which is my passion.
I love trying to connect the dots for students; trying to create the best conditions for them to learn…to help them develop academically and in the social and emotional aspects of life. If you can be an inspiration and you can help a kid turn the corner by what you say, by how you carry yourself as a professional, and by providing resources they need, it’s the best thing in the world to see them turn the corner. That’s what makes my heart beat a little harder.”
Q. What led you to UCAP?
A. “I believe in UCAP’s mission to remove barriers that are in the way of kids accessing a good education. I have experienced some of the struggles that many UCAP students experience. Students need consistency and a place to come to that they consider their safe place. I believe that is a major strength of UCAP. It is providing a consistent space in a way that meets kids where they are. Some students lack the consistency outside of school needed to help them be successful. UCAP has done a great job in connecting students with after-school activities and enhancing their education through its Beyond U Program.”
Q. How can we help students learn?
A. “If you really want to know what kids need, you need to talk to their teachers. And listen to them. My experience as a teacher and a leader is that students need consistency, safety, a voice in their education, and someone to believe in them.
Middle school kids are curious. They want to figure things out. They’re capable of doing what they want to do; they just have to put in the effort. Giving them more voice and choice in the classroom is important to help them facilitate their own learning. I think it’s our job to connect their learning to the bigger picture. However, that doesn’t happen overnight. They need positive reinforcement to help facilitate their educational process successfully.
I look at students as seeds…you have to water them, and you have to give them sun. They don’t all sprout at the same time. They might not get it the first day, second day, they might not get it all that year, but you have to believe that with effort and support each student is capable of learning at a high level in their own way. You have to give your all in helping them through that process. I will work with our students to help them carry themselves upright and head held high because they’re golden. I want people to see the gold.”
Q. What is your philosophy as a leader?
A. “I’m a believer in the “we walk together” philosophy. Not one in front of the other, or one behind the other, we all work together as a team to ensure we provide the best environment for our students. When we come together and collaborate, there’s no challenge that we can’t overcome. I’m a team player. I believe in true collaboration, meaning we all use our ears and listen to what others have to say; we agree to work together for the better good of the students in a way that’s respectful.
In order to walk together, you must have trust and that comes from building relationships. In my 14 years in education, it is the relationships I’ve built with the students and with the staff that has created strong teams that have respect and a shared desire to move our school forward. My first focus will be on building relationships…talking to the kids, the teachers, the office staff, the counselors, the custodians and the parents. You can’t do this alone.”
Q. What will be your focus in working with UCAP’s partners and the community?
A. “I will focus on making sure that we continue to have good partnerships and collaboration with our partner districts. Cultivating a positive relationship helps to ensure that we can receive students from our partner school districts and help in meeting their students’ needs. I will be setting up meetings with each of the districts so we can get to know each other, talk, and learn from each other.
I’ll also be visible in the community – attending and supporting events. Keeping an open line of communication is important to enhance and build positive community partnerships and relationships. It’s a two-way street. If you want people to support you, you have to support others.”
Dr. Michael Finley
Dean of Students
Facilitator of Student Life
Director of Beyond U Programs
Director of Special Ed
Director of Development and Communications
ACADEMIC SUPPORT SPECIALIST
HEALTH AND PHYSICAL EDUCATION
SCHOOL SOCIAL WORKER
PARENT ENGAGEMENT COORDINATOR