To the loyal and awesome members of the #TMGenius tribe (aka TM leaders, geniuses, and proud families):
I was inspired to begin this tradition of writing a letter to our tribe this year when my good friend and leadership coach, Danny Bauer, shared his third annual letter and the reasoning behind this valuable practice. (Interested in writing your own? Check out his awesome resource HERE.)
As Danny states, the purpose behind writing this letter is to:
- force me to slow down
- reflect on the year
- appreciate how far we’ve come
- meditate on how I’ve learned from my mistakes
- and make some bold predictions for the future
As I reflect on the past year, 2019, and hold myself accountable to each of you, your growth and ultimately the success of every single one of our students, I would like to thank you for your trust, belief, and investment in our community. Without you, the gifts you offer, and entrusting us with our greatest resource, our children, Taylor Mill Elementary would be nothing and I am grateful for your support.
Thank you for making 2019 a wonderful year for me and our #TMGenius community.
Our vision, created by our team in the fall of 2016, guides everything:
“At Taylor Mill Elementary, we INSPIRE passionate learners, create a community of LEADers, and challenge ourselves to EXCEED expectations.”
I sit here as the proud principal of Taylor Mill Elementary, leading and serving a staff of incredible leaders. In the school year 2018-19, we set lofty (we even named them unrealistic) goals for ourselves, clarifying our priorities and being intentional about measuring our impact on student learning and achievement.
We have internal school-wide lead and lag goals to help us focus on moving forward on our path to greatness because we know we make progress together.
We visit these goals often (in our weekly staff newsletter and each time we gather face-to-face as a team) and began tracking them on a shared spreadsheet three years ago.
Most of our lag goals, goals that happen “after the fact,” are tied to our district goals that directly align with our present work.
On 18-19 KPREP, we earned a 4-Star rating, showed improvement in almost every area of achievement, putting us 15th in the state, or top 2% of all elementary schools for growth on KPREP (Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress.) We made progress towards all of our 4 CSIP (Comprehensive School Improvement Plan) goals, exceeding 3 of the 4 of them.
We are continuing our work in reading & math proficiency with a specific focus on our gap populations, economically disadvantaged students and particularly our students with disabilities. While our growth showed little gap between our overall population and subgroups, we still have significant work to close our gap in achievement. We are measuring both mastery of grade-level standards AND progress towards IEP goals to ensure we have the correct supports in place for students to meet our high expectations.
While we made gains in Separate Academic Indicators (on-demand writing was our highest achievement gain), we still have improvement to make in the areas of On-Demand Writing, Science, & Social Studies.
We continue to make efforts to increase our attendance because we know that if students aren’t at school, they aren’t learning. Last year, our average attendance rate decreased and we ended at 95.72%. This year, we are tightening up our follow-up procedures for students who are chronically absent and working to ensure families have the necessary supports to get their children to school.
Research shows that students who exit 3rd grade reading on grade level have increased success in middle and high school and beyond. To this end, we are working towards our 3rd grade literacy goal and currently have 43.33% of our 3rd graders reading at 3rd grade end-of-year reading level, an increase from last Fall. (For reference, national average is 25% in the Fall.)
We are really proud of our work towards engaging our students in activities beyond the academic school day. This is our fourth year offering school-wide clubs where 100% of our students connect with and participate in a club of their choice. This fall, we offered over 40 different clubs based on teacher passions, truly an awesome monthly experience for our entire school.
Lastly, this year, we added the additional lag goal of becoming a Model PLC School because that is work that is valued and important to us. Our PLC Task Group has been courageous in their leadership with this continuing work and we have made huge gains as a direct result. (For more details, check out Our PLC Story.)
Our internal lead goals, goals that give us indications about our progress towards our vision and lag goals, are directly aligned with our vision. Below, you can see our lead goal dashboard from last school year and what we currently have this year.
We are focusing on what quality instruction looks like by implementing strategies to ensure ALL students are thinking as well as making progress towards one of our school-wide goals of having a high-level task every instructional block, every day as measured by Hess’ Cognitive Rigor Matrix. We are collaborating to analyze student products with Hess’ matrix in weekly PLCs and using this as a tool to plan for rigorous thinking and learning opportunities.
We started to measure our progress towards this goal this year by collecting data on student products analyzed during weekly grade-level PLCs and currently, we are averaging a DOK level of 2.4 and 3.2 on Blooms’ Taxonomy, between Apply and Analyze.
We continue to make being positive leaders a focus by continually building our leadership skills and creating various leadership opportunities. I am proud that we continue to host a monthly twitter chat on our school hashtag, #TMGenius. Every last Thursday of the month from 8-8:30 PM you can find Taylor Mill staff on Twitter leading other team members, as well as educators from around the country and world, around professional learning.
Summer of 2019 found us connecting again around our summer book studies. This last summer, we had 12 different groups learning together, all staff-chosen and led. (See How to Summer Book Study Like a Genius)
Our shared school blog, Moments of Genius, continues to be a platform for our staff to reflect, share learning and curate resources. Simply said, everyone has a story to tell and this is ours.
Additionally, we are working on how we work as a team because we know that in order to build a culture of excellence, it takes each of us being excellent in our roles and as a collective team.
As of last May, we measured at Stage 3 of the Organizational Health Inventory and are making intentional efforts to get to Stage 6, a High Interdependent team. We scored high as a team in terms of being goal focused, but also realized we had some work to do in the communication and problem-solving areas.
This year, we are increasing our efforts in ensuring that 100% of students are positive leaders. This is our third year implementing a school-wide SEL curriculum. We are a third year certified Energy Bus school and merge our Energy Bus and Choose Love curriculums to build necessary social-emotional and leadership skills within our students.
We are also intentionally and systematically providing leadership opportunities for our students both in our classrooms and throughout the school, including student leadership notebooks where students set goals, track & own their data as well as document how they are positive contributors to our school.
I am incredibly proud of one student leadership opportunity, in particular. Katelyn Callahan, a TM Leader, working with Emerson, a 4th grader, has created and produced our first-ever student-led podcast, A Spark of Genius. Emerson gathers ideas from students on topics they are interested in debating and then hosts guests, which have thus far included students, teachers and district staff, to discuss these issues. Creating for an authentic audience is what it is all about and this is just plain cool.
Last spring, we also had leaders start student-led conferences with great success and these two teachers have offered PD sessions to other interested TM leaders. We expect to see this empowering practice grow in the coming year and beyond.
One goal we have set for ourselves is to have 80% of students at 80% or better on our weekly Common Formative Assessments. Last year we were in the design & implementation phase of these biweekly standards-based assessments. This year, we are refining these, goal-setting with classes and students and doing weekly data analysis in a collaborative PLC with both general education and special education staff to determine next steps for each of our students.
Last year, one of our goals was 75% of students to meet or exceed their typical growth on the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) math and reading assessments. This was certainly a lofty goal since we had ended the previous year just above the national average of 50%. We exceeded this goal in the Spring of 2019 with 77.7% of our students meeting or exceeding their typical growth on reading & math MAP. We are excited about our new goal of 80%.
4 Pillars of Professional Learning Community
2019 saw our TM Leader team completing the fourth and final pillar of an effective PLC, our core values. We’ve had our vision, mission and aligned goals in place for a while now and while we are always revisiting and clarifying those, this final step was an important one.
Like most things, we decided to take a bit of a different approach and created our four Sticky Core Values.
Curious about what each of these mean? Good! That’s the point. Links to each of the core value stories as told by TM Leaders are linked in the post above. We wanted them to be sticky to us, especially, and are storytelling and iterating these within our team to help guide and amplify our culture.
What’s in store for 2020?
- Increase student leadership opportunities and build positive leadership skills to ensure that 100% of our geniuses are also positive leaders
- Increase student ownership of their goals and progress towards those goals
- Increase student-led conferences
- Clarify our sticky core values
- Increase leadership opportunities for our staff and continue an all staff-designed and -led PD plan
- Become a highly functioning and interdependent team that embodies collective efficacy
- Submit Model PLC School application and become awarded this distinction
- Increase authentic family engagement
- Grow each and every student by identifying and building on their strengths AND supporting their growth areas
- Creating and cultivating a culture of belief
I am proud of our team and particularly proud of our TM leaders and geniuses We are all proud of our accomplishments and growth we’ve made, but it is a positive discontent that we have because we are even more excited about our next steps and where we are headed.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our fabulous TM PTA. They continue to amaze and inspire me with their tireless support of our staff and students. Their efforts to engage with all families, offer incredible family activities like the Fall Family Dance and their fundraising which goes to support so many important initiatives are a partnership that any school leader would dream to have. They are invaluable partners along with journey and we literally could not do what we do without them.
Thank you for being a valued member of this community and for your continued support. You are the reason I continue to “show up” and work to be the best version of myself and leader I can be.
Our shared “why” is: “At Taylor Mill Elementary, we INSPIRE passionate learners, create a community of LEADers, and challenge ourselves to EXCEED expectations.”
It excites me to see how much we have grown and accomplished in the past and dream about how we will move forward on our path to greatness in the future. The work that is wrapped up in all of this is what I believe to be the most important work in the world, an investment into our children, our geniuses. I look forward to serving you in 2020.
Welcome to Where You Belong,
Principal and Believer-in-Chief, Taylor Mill Elementary School