If Park Trails Elementary School students are ready to help change the world through kindness, they share a goal with the Parkland school’s new principal.
Charles McCanna, who has worked for Broward County Schools for all 32 years of his educational career, plans to implement a spreading kindness theme for the upcoming school year. Kindness is what endeared McCanna to a fifth-grade boy at another school. He recalled the youngsters were walking to class when the boy stared at McCanna. He wasn’t annoyed, but wondered what the boy was thinking.
“Mr. McCanna, why are you so nice?” he recalled the student asking him. “I never expected that answer and it was really great to hear,” McCanna said. “It made me feel like I was doing something right. I really try to lead by example.”
McCanna said he explains to children that being kind to people all the time is hard. “It’s easy to lash back at somebody if he or she was mean to you. But in the end, being nice pays off,” the administrator said. “Being kind to people is really the way to go. It can change the world, actually.”
Since December 2002, McCanna served as principal of Nova Blanche Forman Elementary in Ft. Lauderdale. He said an atmosphere of peacefulness pervades the halls and classrooms. McCanna added he can only recall three or four fights in 15 years.
McCanna has won several accolades during his time at Nova Blanche. He was voted by his peers to represent 139 elementary schools as chairperson of The Elementary Principals’ Organization. Apple Computers honored McCanna with a Distinguished Program Award in 2012 and 2013 for serving on a discussion panel regarding Strategies for iPod Use in Schools.
As principal of that school, he “led one of the most diverse elementary schools in Broward County,” according to his résumé. The ethnic breakdown of the school’s 756 K-5 students is as follows: 23 percent White, 43 percent Black, 24 percent Hispanic, 7 percent Asian and 3 percent Multi-Racial. Among the student body, 7 percent are English language learners, 55 percent are on Free or Reduced Lunch and 10 percent are in an Exceptional Student Education program.
McCanna said having a diverse student body benefits them. “They have the chance to learn about other cultures, and while they may be different from one another, they can not only get along but become friends. A diverse environment offers many opportunities to practice acts of kindness,” he said.
McCanna said he accepted the opening at Park Trails Elementary because he was ready for a new challenge. He will be in a less-diverse, larger environment; Park Trails has 1,300 students. But the soft and pleasant-spoken McCanna didn’t sound fazed during a phone interview. “It’s going to be fine,” he said.
Throughout his career, McCanna has taught for about four years, served as mathematics supervisor for three years, assistant principal for 10 years, and principal for 15 years. He said he has no desire to become a district superintendent.
His decision to enter the education field was cemented in high school in his home state. The teacher handed out dittos and gave the class “busy work.” McCanna thought he could do better as a teacher. He received an elementary education degree for his bachelors and a graduate degree in science education. McCanna said he soon felt his heart belonged in elementary school.
“They’re very honest, usually,” he said, referring to students that age. “Some of them have very few filters. They’ll tell you exactly what they think about things, especially (the) youngest ones. It’s just hilarious. And they just want to make the teacher happy at that age.”