HES – 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.  

Haywood Elementary School is unique.  The colored murals that cover the walls are bright and welcoming.  The building, itself, is a reminder of how schools were built decades ago – high ceilings, large windows, natural light.  And, its leader, Anna Roberts, is the longest tenured principal in Haywood County Schools.

Anna just completed her eighth year as principal of Haywood Elementary School, and – in a lot of ways – it was the most challenging year of her career.

The 2021-2022 school year was the first year of full time, five day a week, in-person learning.  Having students back in the classroom full time was definitely something that needed to happen, but that transition didn’t come without some times of adversity.  

HES is composed of first and second grade students.  For these students, this past school year was the first year they attended school five days a week since they began going to school in Pre-K or Kindergarten.  Admittedly, Anna wasn’t thinking about those challenges before the school year started, but soon found out that there would be some bumps along the way.

“Coming back full time was harder than I thought.  We got used to every other day; students got used to every other day.  We had attendance issues at the beginning of the school year because of that.  It put a strain on teachers making sure they kept the students where they needed to be academically.  In some ways, this year was harder than the two covid years,” she explained.

The re-entry into a routine after two years away from it can be daunting – especially when dealing with 6 and 7 year old students.  There seemed to be more behavioral issues early on as well as some attendance wrinkles that needed to be smoothed, but Anna and her team had systems in place to help navigate those early times of struggle.

“We came into the year thinking it would be like the 2018 school year.  We didn’t really anticipate the problems that came up during the year.  We had a lot more discipline issues compared to last year due to the fact that a lot of our students hadn’t been around each other until this year.  For our students, this was their first year going to school five days a week for a full year,” Anna said.

What students in all grades and in all districts need desperately were extra layers of support woven into the school day to help with social adjustments and academic recovery.  Like every school in HCS, HES had a school counselor as well as a school social worker.  Along with those social-emotional supports, HES also integrated a new intervention support known as The Reader/Writer Project.

“A couple of things we’re very proud of this year was how hard our teachers worked, and the implementation of The Reader/Writer Project.  With this particular intervention, we’re able to meet the students where they’re at and build them up.  Everyone in the school – from assistants to math teachers to our secretary – bought into the program,” Anna said.

Along with the academic supports, for the upcoming school year, HES will make sure social-emotional supports are maximized for students who need it.

“Our school counselor will be teaching classes one week and then working with students on an individual basis the next week.  She’ll alternate the weeks throughout the year in order to meet with students who need that social-emotional support,” Anna said.  “Nearly all the time, behavioral problems are born out of social-emotional challenges that are created outside of school.  Students need that support to work through those situations.  We don’t have a lot of bullying problems at HES, but we could’ve done more with the social-emotional development of our students this past year.”

Joining with added student support, Anna wants HES to continue to focus on teaching reading across the curriculum to make sure every student is reading on grade level by the time they leave HES.  Like every school in HCS, HES saw consistent growth throughout the year on AimsWeb and IReady benchmark tests.  They also saw growth from the previous year on the TNReady assessments.  Even with that growth, the impetus on reading will continue next year.

“Reading is the most important.  If a child can’t read, a child can’t do any other subject successfully.  Our biggest push is making sure our kids are reading at grade level when they leave here.  We saw growth this year, but we want to see more,” she said.  

On an individual professional level, Anna sees areas of improvement needed for herself in order for students at HES and teachers at HES to continue to grow in every way.

“Next year, for myself, I want to be in classrooms more.  During the day, I want to be in classrooms.  I can do the office work after school or before school, but during learning hours, I want to be in the classrooms,” she said.  “We also want to communicate more effectively with our families, so they can understand how to best help their child at home with reading.  We want to take the time to show them the right way to help our students.  We haven’t done a great job with that, and that’s a point of emphasis for next year.”

For all she wants to continue to improve next year, Anna recognizes areas of personal growth that occurred during this past school year.

“I think I’ve grown the most in my one on one communication with parents.  Parents just want to be heard; they want you to know how they’re feeling and how their child is feeling.  If there’s some advice I can give to a new administrator or teacher, it’s that you have to listen to parents whether you agree with what they’re saying or not.  You have to listen and let them have a voice,” she said.  

As Anna and her team at HES look forward to another year of learning, they are excited to see the gains that will be made now that students have acclimated themselves to a full time learning schedule.  The supports in place at HES will ensure future student success.