South Creek Elementary School Principal Toni Stevenson is focusing on forming strong character in students, and it’s transforming the culture at the Indianapolis school and improving test scores.
A reporter with the education website Chalkbeat recently visited with Stevenson after the school improved its state grade from a ‘C’ to an ‘A’ over the last year to talk about the progress.
During the stop, a kindergartner emerged from a classroom to show Stevenson a ticket she received from her teacher for good behavior.
“I was being quiet in the hall!” she told the principal as she stuff the paper into a mailbox outside of her classroom.
“Lauren!” Stevenson said. “Good job!”
According to Chalkbeat:
The brief exchange showed what Stevenson believes is a central part of the culture at Franklin Township’s South Creek—a focus on positive character traits to build community and school spirit. When students are seen being respectful or exemplifying another positive trait, they get a ticket. The more their class collects, the better shot they have at small prizes and schoolwide recognition.
Stevenson told the news site educators at the school were “very emotional” after South Creek went from an ‘A’ rated school in 2014–15 to a ‘C’ school in 2015–16, and she pushed educators to collaborate on best practices. The school district also reduced South Creek’s population by 10 teachers and 200 kids, which prompted teachers to refocus their efforts on how to boost morale and improve happiness.
“After we lost those students and those teachers, we really focused on . . . How do we bring joy back into the classroom?” Stevenson said.
Initially, teachers were reluctant to collaborate, but “slowly, you saw that gradual change where the teachers were very proud opening up their classrooms,” she said. “You saw this ripple effect going through the school, and they opened up their classrooms, and they started sharing.”
The result: student test scores went up by 15 percentage points, with more than 80 percent now passing both English and math portions of the state’s standardized test. The school’s state grade also improved to an ‘A.’
“I was ecstatic,” Stevenson said. “People have different feelings about being recognized by grade, but I felt very happy.”
University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, notes the powerful influence of culture in forming character.
“Much of our moral sensibility, of course, is acquired in our early socialization through the acquisition of language, and in our participation in everyday life,” Hunter wrote in The Death of Character. “Yet primary socialization is also that stage of life when moral instruction is articulated.”
At South Creek, Stevenson and teachers are articulating those norms with the focus on character formation, and the benefits to the school culture and academic performance speak for themselves.
Educators can explore ways to delve into the dynamics of their school culture with help from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, which offers an introductory video as well as a host of other resources.