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Higher Achievement Leads to Greater Expectations for Link Elementary School Principal, Staff and Students

HOUSTON - Oct. 11, 2019 - Welcoming fifth-graders into her Link Elementary School classroom, Lefondria Scroggins takes a moment with each student, making eye contact and exchanging a quick fist bump or high-five. The practice, known as “threshold,” is one of the SpringWay systems and routines that teachers have been implementing across the district.

“Threshold, for me, is a way for me to check in with my kids before they enter the classroom,” Scroggins said. “It’s a way for me to greet them, and to let them know that someone cares about them.”

That message – that someone cares and that everyone at Link is working together to achieve success – is central to the district’s core values. It’s also central to the leadership style of Link Principal Justin Jones, who arrived at the campus in 2017, and the message is having an impact. Link’s 2018-19 accountability rating climbed to a B – with a score of 88 out of 100 – following the previous year’s score of 64 (D).

“There’s no ‘us’ and ‘them’ here, there’s just us,” Jones said. “We are a team. and we work through all these things together. You can’t empower people you don’t work alongside.”

Threshold and other Spring ISD systems and daily routines are helping create new habits and new expectations for student success. Combined with the district’s aligned curriculum and its “begin with the end in mind” approach to planning, the effects have been noticeable at Link, where one of the hallmarks of the 2018-19 accountability ratings was the school’s high performance in comparative academic growth.

Going into the 2018-19 school year, when Jones outlined his high expectations to Scroggins and her fifth-grade teaching team, not everyone believed the goals were attainable. But Jones was insistent, and his optimism and vision for student growth ultimately inspired the teachers to give it their all.

“He saw something in us that, when he initially said it, none of us saw in ourselves,” Scroggins said. “And we said, ‘We don’t know how we’re going to get this done, but if you see it in us, then we’re going to make it happen.’”

Through all the challenges of navigating the new accountability system, Jones said he’s been impressed with the spirit and drive that Link’s teachers and administrators have brought to the work.

“As an admin team, I think we’re very vulnerable with our staff, and we try to lead by example,” Jones said. “We don’t try to get them to embrace things that we haven’t already modeled for them. You need to be prepared to lead your staff, but at the same time, they need to see you have that productive struggle with the work, too, and still keep going. I think that made a big difference.”

The process has involved growth and learning not just for students and teachers, but for Jones and his administrative team as well. One of the biggest lessons he’s learned is not to mistake effort for effectiveness.

“I’ve never worked harder in education, ever, than my first year being the principal here, but working hard and hard work doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being effective,” Jones said. “I think there was a place where I had that equivocation in my mind, like ‘I know things are going well because I’m working hard, because I’m expending so much energy and effort.’ But the two are not synonymous.”

Taking a more targeted approach, Jones and his team have implemented a professional development coaching system that encourages ongoing reflection and growth. They’ve also worked to support small, teacher-driven professional learning communities where faculty can collaborate and hone their skills. Jones said he and his team are trying to foster a culture that demands excellence without burning out teachers and staff.

“It was so much different going into year two,” he said, “when we had that sense of focus. It was still a lot of hard work, but it was different. And all our planning, it all tied back to the outcome – where do we want to be, and how is this going to move student achievement forward?”

As Jones and other administrators emphasized, that achievement would never have been possible without the support of Link’s neighborhood community, including the involvement of many parents who are themselves graduates of the campus.

“None of us can do this alone. He does a great job of just naturally bringing the community in. It’s really about shared ownership, and it involves administrators, teachers, students and the community,” said Chief of Curriculum and Instruction Khechara Bradford, reflecting on Link’s success under Jones’ leadership.

For Jones and his staff, news of Link’s “B” rating for 2018-19 was definitely cause for celebration. But, with the new school year now underway, everyone at Link is looking toward new heights.

“All of our kids deserve to go to an ‘A’ campus,” Jones said. “And so, we have to make sure we’re giving them everything that we can. It’s not about chasing the ‘A’ – it’s about what we’re doing for kids. And every year, I think we owe it to them to just make sure that we’re pushing ourselves to be the best.”