Join us during National Principals Month in celebrating the stellar principals at more than 45 schools in Spring Branch ISD.
To better understand of how leadership has changed or stayed the same during COVID-19, we check in with SBISD’s 2020 Elementary and Secondary Principals of the Year: April Falcon-Blanco (Terrace Elementary) and Jennifer Collier (Spring Woods High).
The role of school principal has evolved greatly in the past eight months as every aspect of ‘school’ has been reimagined in light of COVID-19 circumstances – how teachers teach, students learn, maintaining traditions, and rethinking each system and process, all in a short period of time. Leading school staffs to provide robust and equal educational experiences for in-person and distance learning students is similar to running two schools at once.
During the past eight months of COVID-19 adjustments Terrace Principal Falcon-Blanco found that her staff and students were well positioned to pivot to a "new normal." Extensive teamwork on previous projects, a continued focus on Core Values and a positive school culture contributed to her team’s resilience.
In addition to a strong academic foundation, she hopes Terrace students gain the characteristics of problem-solving, empathy and flexibility, which she has also leaned on during the pandemic. “This is exactly why we need to create opportunities in our schools for students to practice empathy and solve problems,” she said. “I often look back at the experiences and opportunities we have had as a team, and am filled with gratitude and pride.”
SWHS Principal Collier finds many positives among the challenges of running a school during COVID-19. “We have uncovered that learning can happen anytime and anywhere for our students,” she said. The principal noted this strength will likely serve them in the future when Houston weather events cause school buildings to close. “We can still learn!” Collier proclaimed.
Another discovery at SWHS is the importance of valuing highly effective teachers. “Good teachers can get you through a hurricane, a difficult time and a pandemic,” said Collier.
Things have not changed
Chosen by their peers, these Principals of the Year continue to demonstrate strength, creativity, courage, optimism, high expectations and motivation for their school communities.
Each strongly credits their teachers and students for influencing their careers as school leaders.
“I would say that the greatest influence in my leadership growth has been the staff and the students at whatever school I am blessed to lead,” said Collier, who has held leadership positions across the district for the past 13 years. Listening to the stories, struggles and successes of students, families and teachers at each unique campus where she has served has required a different style of leadership and pushed her to grow.
“I have learned so much by serving them and have pushed myself to be better each year because of them,” said Falcon-Blanco of the Terrace Elementary students and staff.
“They have supported me, believed in me, and taken risks with me. I have learned to adapt my leadership style to meet the needs of the community I serve as well as the situations we have faced together,” she added.
Foresight pays off
Prior to COVID-19, each principal led the planning and launch of innovations at their campuses, which continue to provide exceptional learning environments for students:
- At SWHS, the Opportunity Culture program provides teacher-leaders to support their peers and maximize student access to outstanding teachers. For example, math teacher Rebecca Love teaches one class of 20 Algebra I students each day to stay relevant during this challenging time. When finished teaching, she spends the remainder of her day coaching 25 teachers in the SWHS math department and facilitating their team meetings to drive instruction. This model impacts all 2200 students who currently attend SWHS.
- Terrace Elementary was one of the first SBISD schools to implement the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Units of Study. This teaching and learning model has transformed literacy at Terrace, resulting in students achieving growth at every grade level. The self-paced language arts curriculum is now in place at all elementary schools in SBISD, with expansion into sixth grade planned for this school year.
Positive school cultures
In order to create a “culture of excellence” at Terrace Elementary where Every Child can learn at high levels, Falcon-Blanco influences her teachers and staff by leading with gratitude and a growth mindset—seeing problems as opportunities for growth instead of barriers. “I believe that building trusting relationships with all stakeholders is critical in sustaining a positive climate and strong culture,” she said.
Principal Collier works hard to make sure her teachers are equipped to be the best they can be for students. “Supporting teachers and giving them what they need, to the best of our ability, has a direct impact on the culture of SWHS,” she said.
Thank your principal for his or her leadership during National Principals Month and throughout the year! This is not an easy job. Your words of encouragement will inspire them to continually expect and achieve the best for Every Child.
Submitted by Becky Wuerth, SBISD Communications