By JULIO ZAMBRANO
Principal, Van Allen Elementary
Van Allen Elementary, in sunny Escalon California, is a great place to learn and work. Staff and students are motivated and our school environment is one of high expectations and constant communication and collaboration. The culture at Van Allen is powerful. From our classified to our certificated staff, we are focused on creating the best environment for our students. School culture does not begin with the students on campus, it begins with the adults. We must maintain awareness that our attitudes and beliefs are important factors that impact the daily experiences of our staff, students, families, and community members. For this reason the intentional cultivation of a positive school culture is crucial to the success of our school. In his book School Culture By Design, Phil Boyte makes the following statement, “Positive school culture is built on relationships that are dependent on trust, which is carried out through vision, that grows into community, and is sustained through habits.” In John Hattie’s incredible book Visible Learning, school effects, a category which includes culture and leadership, has a differential effect of 0.48 which, put simply, means that it has a profound impact on student outcomes.
So what are some of the things that are happening at Van Allen that demonstrate our culture at work? The most powerful dimensions of our school culture this school year is Professional Learning Communities (PLC) which truly encompasses the gamut of: relationships, trust, vision, community, and habits. This is a system of organizing, teaching and learning around four questions: What do we want students to learn? How do we know they are learning? How do we respond if they don’t learn? How do we respond when they are learning? PLC has brought a new focus to the work of our teaching and support staff and impacted everything from the organization and presentation of lessons and monitoring of progress, to our intervention program for students who are struggling, to our special education program. The goal is for students to receive support that is more frequent, longer duration, smaller ratio, more targeted, and with the most highly trained person administering the intervention. Our third grade level team, which was one of the first grade levels to pilot PLC last school year, experienced unprecedented growth in Math and Language Arts on the state test which occurred in May.
Another aspect of our positive culture is communication and developing relationships. Our weekly Monday Night Message goes out to families telling them of events that are happening and offering advice on a variety of topics such as attendance and study habits. Our Save the Date provides families with a handy list of monthly events that are clearly labeled as family or student only, so that families are aware of school expectations for these events. Extended family and younger (non-school age siblings) are welcome to participate in family events, whereas student only events are accessible only to students and parent volunteers with a TB clearance on file. Our weekly staff bulletin The Week in Review, provides highlights of events that transpired during the week, celebrates staff members that are doing great work. It also provides a preview of the upcoming week so that events and activities run smoothly. Our school website has also been updated and has a wealth of resources for families under the “Families” tab that includes everything from student calendars, important links, schedules, to explanations of support services that families can access at any time.
The final piece of our positive culture are community events that happen throughout the year. Our Farmer’s Markets, which happen in conjunction with our Math and Open House Nights respectively, are a showcase for the relationships we have developed with captivating local vendors and institutions such as the Escalon Public Library, 4-H, and the Farmington/Van Allen Gardening Club. In addition, Parent’s Club plays a unique yet crucial role organizing events throughout the school year such as our red carpet on the first day of school, Jogathon, Harvest Festival, Sweetheart Dance, and Spaghetti Tri-tip Dinner. When students see their families involved in making these events happen, it helps them develop a strong sense of pride and a sense of identity linked to our school and our Viking culture.
Here at Van Allen we are wishing everyone a safe and successful school year, and look forward to building and strengthening the positive culture of our school site, school district, and home town this year and for many years to come.
Principally Speaking is a monthly article, contributed by principals from Escalon Unified School District sites, throughout the school year. It is designed to update the community on school events and activities.