The Hampton Elementary School in Henry County, Georgia enrolls 352 K-5 students. The student body is 46% black, 30% white, and 14% Latino. 9% of students are English Language Learners, 47% of students are economically disadvantaged, and 77% of students are eligible for free or reduced lunches.
When Brian Keefer became principal of Hampton Elementary School four years ago, there was a visible need for a culture shift: there was a coldness, a disconnect, a lack of understanding of where students came from and what they needed to thrive. A culture shift was needed to transform expectations of students, as well as how staff members were expected to meet students’ needs.
When Hampton Elementary School’s student enrollment began to decline due to the opening of another school down the road, rumors began to spread that Hampton could close. Brandi Kotsalis, a fifth grade teacher at Hampton, notes, “We were older, our building was older, our numbers were small, our staff was small. [It] would've been very easy for us to close.” This brought the initial need for transformation to light, and Hampton started exploring STEAM education. STEAM education is an educational approach to learning that uses science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics as access points for guiding student inquiry, dialogue, and critical thinking (link).
Shortly thereafter, Brian Keefer arrived at Hampton Elementary School as the new principal. With evidence of students and teachers lacking connections and having difficulties relating to one another, Mr. Keefer envisioned an improved teaching model for Hampton Elementary School.
Considering Hampton’s STEAM focus, the school wanted to approach this curriculum creatively with the incorporation of project-based learning. Keefer first looked to other schools doing similar work. Hampton found Drew Charter School in Atlanta, a school already implementing project-based learning. Keefer reached out, and a partnership developed between the two schools.
In addition to learning from other schools, Hampton used self-reflection and community input to define its transformation process. “We really put a lot of effort into defining collaboratively what we wanted for our kids,” states Keefer. This process was primarily guided by considering varying perspectives of their Visions of a Graduate. From the staff perspective, they wanted students to have real-world experiences through authentic learning.
Hampton educators wanted their students to be empathetic and embrace cultural awareness. To further construct their vision, Hampton worked hard to include a wide range of perspectives from stakeholders:
To reach as many parents as possible, Hampton used multiple survey and outreach methods. The school held face-to-face focus groups. For those who could not attend, online and paper surveys were distributed. Hampton was able to collect feedback from over 200 parents. Principal Keefer was surprised by the survey results. He reflected on the process:
“[Parents] wanted to see a student who would graduate as a fifth grade student, that would look at a situation or look at a kid or look at an issue in the world and see more than just their own side of it—they would see it from more than just their own lens. And so they wanted students to be critical thinkers in order to really process that, and so that surprised us.
Beyond the broad communities’ visions of their graduates, Hampton also looked to students for guidance. They used surveys regarding students’ learning styles and interests. They worked to get to know their students, their backgrounds, what they were interested in learning and how. With this, Principal Keefer said their students became “active participants and defined in not only what their learning goals are—but the path that they take to meet those goals”.
Professional development was a major component of Hampton Elementary’s transformation. Teachers began with a goal setting micro-credential in order to perfect their school-change knowledge. All of the teachers began looking at the entire feedback process, considering goal setting, reflection, and revision. Teachers then worked with students to learn how to set and attain goals, and how to reflect on their progress..
Additionally, the school team held daily collaborative planning sessions. Staff had the opportunity to plan weekly alongside teachers from all grade levels and disciplines, including connection teachers in music and art.
Hampton Elementary also restructured their leadership team in an effort to ensure that everyone’s voice can be heard. Hampton developed a leadership team consisting of the principal, assistant principal, instructional lead teacher, personalized learning lead teacher, the school counselor, a parent, one rotating representative from the kindergarten and first grade, one from second and third grade, and one from fourth to fifth grade. With this new structure in place, all grade levels have a voice. The team has more opportunity to discuss issues that drive change.
Hampton Elementary introduced a social-emotional learning program using the skills gained through the goal-setting micro-credential. Each morning the students and teacher make goals for the day, which they then have the opportunity to reflect back on at the end of the school day.
Hampton also rolled out a personalized learning math pilot program in 2018. At Hampton, students in one grade are divided into two to three sections depending on how they rank in math assessments. Splitting the students into groups allows them to learn in a more personalized manner.
Based on district level pre- and post-tests for each math unit, student scores are on the rise. Students have seen improved success in math as a result of Hampton’s increased focus on personalized learning. Additionally, Michelle Hill, the personalized learning lead teacher at Hampton, sees students not only setting goals for themselves, but also reaching those goals. Students are excited about their accomplishments.
Hampton now uses the Assessment Validation Protocol regularly, asking the question, “is it equitable?” This protocol helps teachers to discuss and improve their ability to make assessments more equitable for their students.
Teachers like Tiffany Kilgore are seeing positive changes in their students. In particular, Kilgore loves that she does not have to guess if her students understand the material or not. She has seen great growth in her students’ MAP test (Measures of Academic Progress Test) scores and their ability to speak up when they need extra help.