An interest he’s been pursuing since he was a little boy has proven to be a valuable source of training for Erik Park’s career as an educator and in his new position as assistant principal at Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School.

Parks has been studying Shorin-Ryu, an Okinawan martial art – since he was six years old. Having attained a second degree black belt, his involvement in Shorin-Ryu brought him to Europe for training and kept him busy for many years as an instructor. Although family and work responsibilities now take up most of his time, Parks continues to independently practice the art.

“Shorin-ryu has greatly influenced my life,” said Parks. “It has taught me dedication, a strong work ethic, and discipline.”

One of the principles of Shorin-Ryu is to teach others, and so Park’s teaching experience began when he was only seven, instructing the students in the lower ranks of his martial arts school.

“The principles of education are the same, regardless of what you’re teaching,” he said. “You’re conveying a need to learn information, making it interesting and relevant, modeling and demonstrating, expecting certain results, and continually assessing to find areas of competency and where improvements must be made.”

Overseeing curriculum and instruction

After working as a legislative aide for a New York congressman, Park’s formal teaching career began in 2001, when he joined the Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School faculty as a social studies teacher. He was made supervisor of the school’s Social Studies Department three years ago, and last spring he was selected for a new position created at the school - assistant principal for curriculum and instruction. The duties of the school’s other assistant principal, Jeff Heaney, are focused primarily on student management.

Among other responsibilities, Parks oversees the curriculum and instruction for the academic content areas, coordinates curriculum projects, plans professional development, analyzes student data, and implements changes necessary for improvement.

Previously, each academic department at the school was coordinated by a supervisor. The new position of assistant principal for curriculum and instruction also assumes the supervisory positions for social studies, math, science, and language arts. There continue to be individual supervisors for special education, art and music, and world language.

“Becoming more familiar with other academic areas is one of the best parts of the job,” said Parks. “The hands-on opportunity with all the subject areas makes it easier to build cross content connections into the curriculum.”

Technology Initiatives

Park’s personal interest in technology has also proved useful in his education career, and as assistant principal, he hopes to investigate more ways to effectively use technology in the classroom. When he was teaching, he designed and implemented the district’s first “paperless” classroom. His eighth grade social studies class was entirely web-based, with the students using Google Docs to communicate and collaborate. Parks was also awarded a Summit Educational Foundation grant that funded the purchase of 25 iPod Touch devices that greatly enhanced the all-tech approach.

“Technology is one of the best ways to differentiate instruction for students’ individual needs,” said Parks. “It allows students to personalize and customize what and how they learn. It creates an environment in which most students are comfortable and, unlike a teacher’s lesson that is given at one point in time, an online video, document, or website can be revisited as many times as a student might need.

“Although we must be selective when introducing technology into the classroom,” he added. “There’s a lot of technology out there, and we have to be sure that it’s appropriate and useful in a public school classroom.”

Parks said the move from the classroom to a full-time administration job has not been a difficult transition. “I’ve worked at the middle school for 10 years and have a good rapport with the staff. We work well together,” he said. “And most important, we all share the vision and the desire for excellence.”