Perspectives on Schools Today from Growth Accelerator Leaders

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, schools across the country collectively shifted to a remote learning model. Families found themselves wondering, Can my child receive an adequate education if they’re not in the classroom?

Without question, the pandemic and the virtual landscape it called for spelled new territory for educators nationwide. However, for just as many teachers, returning to in-person learning presented its own unique set of circumstances. Enter our Growth Accelerator principals.

Together with staff members, students, and their families, these leaders confronted the brand-new challenge presented by COVID and transformed it into an opportunity for sustained growth — not only for their schools, but for their communities.

For Growth Accelerator Principal Keviyona Smith-Ray, COVID and the shift to remote learning translated to a de-emphasis on education. Luckily, since in-person learning at Randolph Elementary has resumed, Keviyona feels that this trend is being reversed, both through decreasing COVID rates and positive academic and attendance rates.

Like Keviyona, Growth Accelerator Principal Ed Collins of Burbank Elementary is mindful of the toll COVID has had on his students, who he’s noted have had difficulty adjusting to the transition away from remote learning.

“You see students who have tougher days than they did prior to [COVID], which makes us have to rethink how we are tending to their individual needs,” Ed shares. “I think something that the pandemic has taught us is that now students can be in the driver’s seat.”

Carolyn Jones, Growth Accelerator principal of Perkins Bass Elementary, can already see the potential for a brighter future, or what she calls the “new normal,” taking root.

Carolyn believes that as life continues to stabilize, the community will find its way. Of course, part of what makes that stability possible in even the most challenging of times is the all-encompassing nature of the support our Growth Accelerator principals provide in their leadership roles.

To Keviyona, leading Randolph Elementary means more than just providing students with a place to attend school. “We are all things [to the students and the community],” Keviyona says. “I always tell people we are the church, we are the hospital, we are the doctor’s office sometimes.”

But the support doesn’t stop there — Keviyona prioritizes the mental health and safety of her students, which is why Randolph always has two counselors and a social worker on site.

Mental wellness is likewise important to Principal Pam De La Cruz. Thanks to a robust network of social workers, counselors, and teachers, students don’t just feel comfortable at Hanson Park Elementary — they’re happy to be there. “We feel like we’re kicking them out!” she jokes.

When it comes to Burbank Elementary, Ed describes a similarly positive environment. Whether for their individual goals through the school’s Shooting Star Program or at Burbank’s monthly assemblies, celebrating students and their achievements is embedded in the school’s culture. “We model the love in our staff that we want to see exemplified in our classrooms,” Ed says.

To Carolyn, the students at Perkins Bass Elementary are role models in their own right. Through their Student Voice Committee, they take on active leadership and advocacy roles, implement school-wide projects, and ensure student perspectives are meaningfully acknowledged.

“Everyone is really about not only growing the community but also sustaining that growth once it is put in place,” Carolyn shares.

From the classroom to remote learning and back again, each of these educators has demonstrated the vision and strategic planning that is at the foundation of the Growth Accelerator — and we couldn’t be more honored to work with them!