Melissa Isbell, Business Manager April 20, 2020 By wpengine I love what I do and who I do it for. If I’m having a busy and stressful day, I can go into a kindergarten classroom and the young students just light me up right away Can you talk about the journey to your current position? I’m the Business Service Manager here at Friendship Armstrong Academy and I’ve been with Friendship Public Charter School since 2004. I had one brief hiatus when I left for two years and went to another charter school but I came back. And when I did, I was greeted with open arms. I felt like I was coming home. I have filled so many different roles in this organization, from Office Assistant and In-School Suspension Coordinator to Office and Business manager. It’s been a wonderful journey and I’m excited to still be with the organization. What do you like most about what you do? I’m a “behind-the-scenes” kind of person. I like to make sure that the teachers have everything they need. It makes me happy when everything comes together smoothly, resulting in a meaningful program or aesthetically pleasing building. It sounds like you have to be very organized in your position. Do you have any strategies for anyone who wants to become more organized? It is crucial to keep an up-to-date schedule. As a Business Manager, I work closely with Human Resources, Finance, and Maintenance. All of my tasks are organized by day: I complete finance-related tasks on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and I do purchasing for the building, events, and field trips on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Being at a school, of course, things always come up, so I have to stay flexible. What do you like about Friendship? Friendship is family to me. When I didn’t have that at my other school, I missed it. People check in with you and ask you what you need. We work together. Even CEO Brantley knew when my mom had been sick and checked in with me. That makes you feel important and it is not just about the job. Business Managers across the network have monthly meetings where we check in with each other and others that we work closely with. If I don’t have something, Mr. Cotton might have it. We share different documents that are useful for each other. I never have to be scared that I don’t know how to do something because there’s always someone here to help me with the task. That sense of support feels good. Even Community Office staff help my day-to-day work. I appreciate people like Dee Sule, Morgan Sydnor, and Latrell Watson. Even in our leadership meetings at Armstrong, we have people who are really good with the planning, while others are good with scheduling—everyone brings their unique strengths to the table. When I go to recruitment fairs, I explain to candidates how Armstrong is a great place to work. We have a wonderful Reggio Center and a new robust Performing Arts program. Also, we are centrally located in the city. Students come from all over D.C., from Ward 1 to Ward 8. It’s a great community, and parents love coming into the classroom to talk with our teachers. We have an open-door policy, which really works here. I know you manage the Friendship Armstrong Facebook page, and you do a really awesome job at that, but I was wondering if you have any suggestions for any other school that wants to expand their online presence? I started managing Friendship’s Facebook page when I was at Friendship Southeast. Soon after the page was created, we had our first-ever earthquake here in D.C. The phones were down, but some people could still access their social media accounts, so teachers used it to send messages through social media. I started it because our parents, in this age of information, are always on social media. I try to post at least once a day – even on weekends. A lot of people think, “Wow, Ms. Isbell, you are always taking pictures,” but it is the teachers that take the pictures and share them each day. They share beautiful photos and videos from their phones, which I then post to our Armstrong pages; we’re on Facebook , Instagram and Twitter (follow us!). We tell teachers, “If you’re doing something great in your classroom, share it.” Our principal, Ms. Cowan, also walks around and takes a lot of photos of great instruction and activities. We seek multiple means of letting parents know what we’re doing in the building. If you send messages in bookbags, a week later, you’ll open the bag to see it still there. The day of paper is over. Parents like to stay in touch this way and they like sending private messages, especially during winter when there are school closings. They’ll ask, “Have you heard anything yet?” They know we’ll post updates as soon as we get the news. Is there anything that I haven’t asked that you want to be sure to include in your spotlight? I have had a lot of mentors along the way, including Ms. Brantley, Mr. Speight, Mrs. Bhegani, and Mr. Waller – all amazing people that I’ve worked very closely with. They give me support where I need it, and the support factor is really important for me. This is another reason I came back. I also enjoy the new support systems from Armstrong such as Principal Cowan, Mr. Harris, and Ms. Hayden. I work to be a support to other people, too. I want to be positive, supportive, and make this a great place to work. I am just working on my facial expressions. I love what I do and who I do it for. If I’m having a busy and stressful day, I can go into a kindergarten classroom and the young students just light me up right away. My office is filled with drawings from kids who drew me something saying, “Ms. Isbell, we thought of you!” I’m the Business Manager, so I’m not in front of them every day, but they make me feel like I’m a part of their education process. Most of my work is adult-based, but in a school it just brings me so much joy and pride to say, “Our kids are learning, and they’re learning because of something that I helped them get.” Is there a fun fact you would want to share that maybe your colleagues don’t know about you? I’m a classically-trained opera singer, and I’ve been singing opera since I was 10 years old. I’ve been to Paris, France, Lucerne, Switzerland, and Munich, Germany. I’m especially excited for Armstrong to now be offering such a robust performing arts program. Also, I am not as hard on staff as others might think but don’t tell anyone. What have you learned during this temporary transition to online learning? We all can learn new things and adapt. Our school community has come together in such a powerful way. Our parents love the interaction and the classroom work on Zoom and Google classrooms. I post on social media every day to share our new innovative ways to teach and connect. Even those of our teachers who aren’t as tech savvy have been learning with the support of colleagues and administrators. I believe we all have grown from this challenge.