Yvonne Reins, principal at Cox Elementary School in Dade City, has been named an “Elite Principal.”
She is being honored as part of a new program that’s a collaboration between Florida TaxWatch and Learning Systems Institute Principal Leadership Initiative.
TaxWatch is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit taxpayer research and government watchdog. The Learning Systems Institute is part of Florida State University.
The data-driven awards were based on the ability of students to surpass predicted scores, given their prior achievement, and other student and school characteristics. The predicted student achievement scores were determined by using previous Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores.
Two elementary, two middle and two high school principals of high-risk Florida public schools will be honored in a Jan. 23 ceremony in Tallahassee, where they will receive statewide recognition and a $5,000 cash prize.
Reins, who is from a family of educators, said her mother will accompany her to the ceremony.
The award aims to acknowledge that schools that perform well require great leadership, said Dominic M. Calabro, president and chief executive officer of Florida TaxWatch. A principal has to balance many competing demands. Principals are the CEOs of their school.
While teachers are on the front lines delivering instruction, it takes excellence at the top to create the atmosphere that nurtures, advances and retains great teachers, he said.
High-risk schools were selected for the award because the idea is to demonstrate that all students can, in fact, learn – regardless of language barriers, income level or other potential obstacles, Calabro said. An outstanding leader can turn around a school that’s not working, but a poor leader can quickly undo excellence, he added.
The goal of the program is to study what these principals are doing and to replicate successful approaches elsewhere. It’s also important to include these principals in discussions about state educational policy, he said.
The principals will be incorporated into a five-year study performed by the Learning Systems Initiative to identify a principal’s role in recruiting, retaining and developing outstanding teachers.
The awards are based solely on state Department of Education data.
When Reins received word she’d been named an Elite Principal, she was shocked.
“I had no idea that that award even existed,” said Reins, who has been at the helm of Cox Elementary for five years. “What’s so nice about this award is that it is based on data. Not nominations. It’s based on facts. The data doesn’t lie. It is what it is.”
She said her school uses a team approach.
“This is a tribute to the hardworking staff that I have,” Reins said. “I told the teachers, ‘It’s because of you. This is our award, not mine.’”
But it’s not just the teachers who deserve kudos, she said.
“Everybody here in this school is very dedicated to our students in more ways than one,” she said. “We all truly care about them — everyone from the cafeteria staff, who provides nutrition to our students, to the custodial staff that maintains a clean and safe learning environment.”
There is a culture of high expectation, coupled with support, Reins said. “There are no excuses. We know that our children can rise to the occasion, rise to our expectations. We just need techniques and strategies to help them move along.”
Teachers meet weekly to share strategies and do grade-level planning. It allows them to talk, solve problems, and plan lessons to meet the needs of each and every student, she said.
“There may be a child that is low in reading, but high in math. They’re going to emphasize those strengths,” Reins said. “This significantly affects their (students’) self confidence and their eagerness to learn. It affects their whole attitude about school and its relevance to their lives.”
The teachers use data to inform their instruction. They seek advice from other teachers for strategies to help students succeed.
“That’s all part of being a professional,” Reins said.
Teachers also pay attention to what students already know, so they can build on that, Reins said.
Cox qualifies for additional funding because it is a school serving many children from low-income households. This year, the priority is to use those funds for additional staff and for professional development for teachers, Reins said.
Involving parents is important, too.
“The teachers try to develop a strong school-home relationship,” she said. “They want their parents to become more involved in their children’s education.”
The school soon will host a night for parents of kindergarten, first- and second-grade children to help parents learn how they can help their children with reading strategies.
“Many parents don’t know how to help their children, and it’s through no fault of their own,” Reins said.
While the school is committed to academic success, it still has a long way to go, Reins said. This award, however, is appreciated.
“It’s encouraging,” Reins said.