Principals: Reach Beyond the Walls of Your School
For the past five years, Fouke (Ark.) Elementary School has witnessed academic improvement in all K–5 grade levels. Attendance has also improved over the same time period. These accomplishments did not happen by accident, instead they are the results of the hard work by staff, students, and families. Not I as principal, not one teacher, nor one program alone is responsible for these successes. These achievements are a result of creating a collaborative and positive learning environment for all our stakeholders.
To achieve our essential goals, our school adopted elements from the Arkansas Leadership Academy and developed five areas to add more breadth, depth, ownership, and sustainability.
Creating and Living the Mission, Vision, and Core Beliefs
At Fouke Elementary, our vision, mission, and core beliefs were developed and revised by having all stakeholders involved in their adoption. Our core beliefs are modeled every day and have become the foundation of the cultural change that moved our school from good to great. The five core beliefs are
- Everyone and everything matters.
- Learn, lead, and achieve.
- Own it.
- Whatever it takes.
- Zero negativity.
When our parents were interviewed by a site-visit team on March 11, 2013, the parents were unanimous in their comments that the principal, assistant principal, and teachers are strongly committed to maintaining a caring culture for students.
Developing Deep Knowledge About Teaching and Learning
Our teachers have implemented a process for continuous improvement that is tied directly to the Arkansas standards. This process has resulted in high levels of achievement on the state benchmark assessments in all grades in literacy, mathematics, and science. Fouke Elementary has been recognized as the 2011 National Distinguished Title I School for Closing the Achievement Gaps in Literacy and Mathematics; the 2011 and 2012 National Center for Educational Achievement Higher Performing School in Science; and the 2012 National Model Professional Community Learning at Work School posted to the Solution Tree/Richard DuFour "All Things PLC" website.
Our teachers and I focus on both individual student learning and engagement in student-centered group learning experiences that have contributed to these outstanding outcomes. Our staff members are committed to applying positive energy to the implementation of the new Common Core State Standards. Learning has been broadened significantly beyond academics to focus on transforming social and emotional health and wellness skills of students, staff, families, and community members. Our programs permeate the culture to reinforce the continuous development of these skills. A number of our programs have received state, regional, and national recognition. In 2010 and in 2013, Fouke Elementary has been included—out of a five-state region of Texas, Arkansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Louisiana—in a federal report forwarded to Washington, D.C., on the Healthy School Model we developed and implemented. (View a television broadcast highlighting our programs: parts one and two.)
Leading and Managing Change
Principals need to implement a strategic results-based framework for leading and managing change as a constant in the continuous improvement process. Our school has accomplished this by creating seven weekly professional learning communities where all grade levels and the specialty teachers meet for one and one-half hours per week to discuss improving adult and student learning.
Building and Maintaining Collaborative Relationships
This is the cornerstone to develop respect between the school and all stakeholders. This year at Fouke Elementary, our teachers have communicated with all stakeholders through our district website, our Facebook page, e-mail, texting, telephone calls, Monday folders, and so on. I have had the opportunity to work with my Student Ambassadors; the Community Advisory Committee, which includes all eight sectors within the 271 square miles of our rural school district; and the Closing the Achievement Gap Committee, which assisted our staff with our Arkansas Comprehensive School Improvement Plan and our consideration of adopting standardized report cards for first and second grades.
All of these relationships, from our volunteers to the agencies that give us grants, have assisted the students, staff members, families, and community to work together in a collaborative manner to provide a high-quality education.
Building and Sustaining Accountability Systems
A system is in place at Fouke Elementary for the continuous review and analysis of student progress on state, interim, and formative (e.g., The Learning Institute, STAR testing, DIBELS, IXL Math, IOWA, and Augmented Benchmark) assessments. The teachers and I use this data along with classroom assessments to place students in learning experiences appropriate to their needs. For example, our system has always been proactive with grade advancing students and subject advancing them. Our weakest students are placed into the best opportunities for success. Data walls to support this process are maintained by teachers, our Literacy Specialist, and me. As a result of these efforts, student performance is high and has continued to improve significantly while reducing the achievement gaps. In 2012 Fouke Elementary—in every grade level from kindergarten through 5h grade—scored above the state and regional averages on all state exams for reading, mathematics, literacy, and science.
Ken Endris has been the principal of Fouke (Ark.) Elementary School for seven years. The school has received physical education training from SPARK (a whole child partner) through an Arkansas Department of Education program, and Endris continues to be a SPARK advocate. Read more about the Fouke Elementary success story on the Official SPARK Blog.