By Deb Reynolds (@debprincipal), Hermantown Elementary School Principal, MESPA Northeast Division President-Elect
As I near the end of my tenth year as the principal at Hermantown Elementary School, I reflect over the increasing demands of the principal position. We have a large kindergarten through fourth grade elementary school with 760 students. Always having the best intentions for increasing student achievement, a typical day for me might consist of a behavioral incident being reported, followed by an investigation, student interviews, parent phone calls, parent meetings, teacher notifications and documentation. Following up on behavioral incidents that occurred on the bus, in the lunchroom, or on the playground could easily consume much of the day. Thank goodness we have an amazing staff that demonstrates professionalism and competency.
The addition of a full-time Dean of Students this year has tremendously impacted my role as a principal and the learning opportunities for our students. Our Dean of Students concentrates on promoting good attendance rates, identifying behavioral problems, and addressing those issues with students and parents to create positive outcomes. She contributes to maintaining a positive, caring, orderly, and supportive student culture and learning environment. She proactively communicates with teachers and visits classrooms to promote positive behaviors and mitigate problem behaviors. Our Dean of Students leads the parent drop-off and pick-up procedures as well as the recess and lunchroom procedures. We have a much more proactive approach in which students are being taught the skills that are expected.
This addition of Dean of Students came at a critical time. At the beginning of the school year, we were identified for targeted support for reading and math achievement for one of our student subgroups. This group was also identified for targeted support for attendance. As disappointing as this was, going through the training and steps for continuous improvement this year has been an exceptional experience. Having a Dean of Students afforded me the time to focus on school improvement and work with the various leadership teams. Creating a Continuous School Improvement Leadership Team and completing a needs assessment helped us identify some root causes. These causes include:
- Students receiving special education services for reading and math were being pulled from the regular education classrooms and missing out on being taught some of their grade level standards.
- Because of having shared specialists, the schedule did not allow for quality blocks of time for reading, math and interventions.
- Our classroom teachers had no common prep time for collaboration and planning.
We have developed a plan for school-wide improvement. Our school has solidified an MTSS grade level collaboration structure in which teachers meet weekly to collect and organize data, unpack standards, and align curriculum. They are moving forward with the process as our MTSS leadership team and standards team supports them. Revamping the schedule to allow more common collaboration time will enhance this process. Other improvements are increased STEM opportunities and the adoption of a new rigorous reading series. This summer we are having an assessment team trained to use FAST for our school-wide assessment tool. We realize the importance of screening, diagnostic, and progress monitoring, in order to determine the appropriate levels of student support.
Through all of this, a surprising number of teachers have stepped up to lead in all of these practices and implementations. In recognition of our students, staff, and community, we will be submitting our application for the Minnesota School of Excellence. I truly believe that without our Dean of Students freeing me up to be more of an instructional leader, much of this would not have been possible.