Stories from the Field:

Finding Focus

By Amanda Faulkner

A day in the life of a principal is full of competing priorities--observing classrooms, planning professional development for teachers, meeting with parents, and attending to dozens of other tasks. Joey Sundberg, the principal of King Elementary School in Richmond, California, knows how hard it is to balance multiple demands while moving the school toward its annual goals. Joey recalls that, during her first year as principal at King, “we were working on so many things at one time and not doing any of them really well.”

The following year, Joey’s school teamed up with Partners, and I became her coach. One of the first things I worked with her on was figuring out her top priorities for the school year so she could focus her work. Ultimately, Joey concluded that if reading proficiency grew across grades, the school would be closer to reaching all of its goals. Thus, we decided to help teachers improve their reading instruction.

Our first step was to get a team of teacher leaders to help define our reading goals for the year. These instructional leaders represented all of the grades and were able to give insight into what reading targets were rigorous and achievable for King students. Once the goals were clearly defined, Joey and I had to find a way to ensure teachers would have time to collaboratively plan the reading portion of their days. Together, the principal and I designed professional learning sessions in which teachers analyzed trends in students’ reading performance and used that data to adjust their lesson plans so they were more targeted to students’ needs. 

These planning days became an incredibly valuable opportunity for teachers to align their teaching within and across grades, which has created a clear learning pathway for students. For example, we started with the school’s expectations for sixth grade students and planned backward from there so that K-5 teachers would build up students’ skills each year to prepare them for success in sixth grade. 

Helping Joey and the teacher leaders build their capacity in designing professional learning led to great results for King. After just one year, the school’s students showed significant growth in every tested category in English language arts and math, moving the school out of the lowest tier on state test results from the prior year. 

As Joey moves into her fifth year as a principal, one filled with the challenges that come with remote learning, she feels ready to succeed because she has become more adept at identifying a few areas of focus and designing professional learning to support them. Joey is grateful for all she has learned so far and reflects that “working with Partners accelerated my growth curve tremendously. It was a way better boot camp than my administrative credential program.”