2008 Milken National Educator Award winner Shannon Harvey, principal at Cascade Elementary School in Renton, recently met with CISL staff to share pointers on effective leadership. When asked the secrets of her school’s success, Harvey cited:
At Cascade Elementary, 22 percent of students are English language Learners (ELL) and 67 percent are students of color. Harvey realizes the importance of making this a welcoming school for her students and families of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. She has a disarmingly simple approach to family engagement -- a focus on positive relationships.
Harvey provides benches where families sit while they are waiting for their children to be released from school. She uses this time to approach parents in informal conversation. Recognizing the importance of allowing families to get to know her as a person and community member, she talks to parents in the parking lot and at community events, which she attends with her own children.
“I joke with parents and the kids. I develop trust and get to know families over time,” said Harvey, who knows many parents on a first name basis.
Harvey makes positive phone calls a priority at the beginning of the school year. Parents value these calls. One family told Harvey they had kept her message on their answering machine for months. “I never want parents to feel I only contact them about something negative,” said Harvey.
Both teachers and staff have embraced the school’s open door policy. Parents are a priority, and staff wants them to feel welcome and know they have someone they can talk with. Members of the staff return phone calls and e-mails in a timely manner.
The school uses its Title I parent involvement funding to provide interpreters at its monthly family events, which are linked to learning in the areas of reading, math, science and art. “With the help of our PTA, we always provide dinner at family events.” said Harvey. Free ice cream is served at PTA meetings.
Harvey understands that not all parents can volunteer at the school. Teachers promote ideas for parent involvement, such as studying at home with their children. Cascade sends home a monthly newsletter which includes activities for families and students to do together in the areas of math, writing and reading. There is a drawing for a prize for those who turn in the suggested work.
Cascade has a free-and-reduced-lunch rate of 62 percent, and a family liaison coordinates support for families in need. For example, an annual coat drive netted sixty coats for students. With support from the Salvation Army, students from six families are provided food for the weekend in their backpacks.
Principal Shannon Harvey was a bit reluctant to talk about herself. But her eyes light up when she’s asked about the work her staff does. “We are a team,” said Harvey.
Cascade has a culture of collaboration. Rather than compete with one another, teachers seek advice and learn from the successful approaches of their colleagues. Harvey creates opportunities for teachers to have time to talk. She provides structure and purpose for each meeting. Teachers often discuss the academic and behavioral needs of their students. All teachers are aware of students in need and collaborate to support them.
The team performs a year-end review. “Every year is a do-over,” said Harvey. Teachers brainstorm the things that detracted from teaching, and celebrate their successes.
In order to promote best practices and create common language, Harvey organizes three professional book studies a year. The discussion time qualifies for clock hours through the local district’s office.
Cascade’s student body is highly mobile. Even a short move from one apartment complex to another can land a student in a new school. Sixty-two new students moved into the service area of Cascade Elementary by October of the 2008-2009 school year.
Harvey recognizes the importance of welcoming new students and their families. Harvey has hired a staff member with Title I money to run a “new student room” and to collect all materials that are sent to parents throughout the year from both the school and individual teachers.
When a new student arrives, the student and family are given a tour of the building and introduced to as many staff members as possible. This way, school personnel meet new students immediately and learn their names. Families are provided with a parent handbook and the materials that the new teacher has handed out throughout the year. New students also take screening assessments.
The staff member in charge of the new student room connects new students with positive leaders from their new class. Together, they make a recess plan to help the new student make friends immediately.
Staff at Cascade Elementary uses a “data wall” to track each student’s progress. Each student is represented on a slip of paper noting test scores in reading and math. Staff meets three times a year to discuss student progress and what interventions each student may need. Previously, services were provided to a classroom. Now the interventions are driven by individual student needs.
This system, which provides greater clarity in tracking student progress, brings more honesty to the process and ensures that no student falls through the cracks.
Shannon Harvey has made Cascade Elementary School a welcoming place for all students and their families in many ways. They enjoy personal, positive contact with Principal Harvey and other personnel. She has involved teachers and staff in a collaborative process of educating their diverse student body. Through the creative systems her staff has instituted, all children receive the educational and social assistance they need to be successful. Congratulations to Principal Shannon Harvey on receiving this prestigious and well-deserved award.