East Side Elementary – Reflections
In the world of education, July is the page turning month; the month that starts with a deep exhale and some relaxation then ends with the opening of schools once again for teachers and students. July is a time to look back on the successes of the previous school year, fine tune what worked well, and change what didn’t. It’s a time for everyone in the district to catch their collective breath before the wave of teaching and learning begins to build anew.
Over the course of a week in June, each principal in Haywood County Schools (HCS) sat down and reflected on the 2021-2022 school year. They discussed the challenges of the first year of full, in-person learning since 2018-2019. They reflected on their school’s academic successes and looked honestly at areas of needed improvement. Each principal, without exception, praised their faculty and staff and understood the challenges that come with being a classroom teacher. They also discussed tangible ways to positively impact learning during the 2022-2023 school year.
Every school leader and every school brings something unique to the district of HCS. From Anderson Early Childhood Center all the way to Haywood High School, the buildings and staff that make each school what it is are shaped by the administrative teams on each campus and the invaluable work that each classroom teacher performs every single day.
At East Side Elementary School, Principal Tressy Halbrook has always valued data and the ability to use that data to focus on individual student success in the classroom. This past school year, however, Tressy made it a goal to focus on the needs of her teachers, as well.
“I feel like my intentional focus this year was to build relationships with the staff. I had been so driven by student success and student support that I overlooked what the adults were needing. I think this year has told that story – that I was trying to be intentional with the adults in our building and hear their stories,” Tressy said.
Because this year was a year of transitioning back to full time teaching and learning, emotional investment had to be made in the staff at each school. With teachers leaving the profession at exponential rates, providing support for teachers has never been more important than it is now. At the beginning of the year, Tressy made that a priority and because of that initial investment the teacher turnover rate at East Side is at an all-time low.
“We had great camaraderie amongst our staff that trickled down to our students. We all had the same goal – to move students forward academically and socially. It had to start with our staff. It was a great year to exhibit that and to have more compassion for one another,” she explained. “This is the first year that we have had such low turnover in teachers. It’s a definite high point and proof of the positive culture we’re trying to build here at East Side.”
A positive school culture not only impacts the social-emotional wellbeing of students and staff, but it also has a tendency to improve the overall academic performance at a school. When students and staff feel valued and personally cared for, teaching and learning are more efficient and effective. The data bears that out at East Side.
Tressy and her staff made it a point of emphasis to emotionally support students at East Side as they transitioned back into full time learning after two years of interrupted instruction due to COVID-19.
“This school year was an exciting time for us. We were really looking forward to being in school every day and that was as close to normal as we could hope,” she said. “One of the things we wanted to be intentional about was that students haven’t been in school every single day. We were preparing ourselves for the fact that where they are in their lifetime (ages 8-10) that the transition might be challenging coming into school full time.”
The transition back to full, in-person learning didn’t come without expected challenges, however.
“There was a bit of struggle in how the school operates – even simple things like expectations for how students walk down the hallway, being on time for school. Kids are so resilient that it didn’t take long. We prepared for it to be a struggle, but the struggle wasn’t nearly as long as we had anticipated,” Tressy said.
And, at the end of the year, the community of East Side felt stronger than it has felt in a long time. From events like movie night at the school to the career day that was held in April, everyone at East Side teamed up to make a year that could’ve been challenging and turned it into a year that was exceptional.
As Tressy looks forward to next year, she wants to build on the successes that were seen this year at East Side. Not only was there overall solidarity among the staff, the data that reflects how much learning took place was quite impressive. Tressy knows that both of those things go hand in hand.
“I want to continue with how we build our relationships among our staff, but I also want to pull our parents into our culture a lot more. We want parents in our schools during the day and after school, too,” she said as she thought about some tangible goals for next year. “I also really want to focus on our groups of students that are struggling the most and pull them up to grade level achievement. We want to enhance the learning and be intentional about each student’s learning progress – challenge our high achieving students and continue to support and advance our students who are below grade level.”
With so many great things happening at East Side, Tressy and her staff can’t wait to see what’s next.