Tight Community and Right Technology: Our Formula to Quality Education
By Kim Shepherd
For more than 20 years, New Hope Christian Academy has provided a safe learning environment with a loving and caring faculty and staff. The school’s emphasis has been one of community with a strong bond between teachers, parents, and students. With attention to Leadership, Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (L-STEAM), the school has recently achieved status as a State STEM equivalent designated school.
I was honored to be appointed principal a few years ago and frankly never expected to be in this particular leadership position. I’ve grown to love and embrace my role that sprouted from an early devotion to teaching. As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to teach, and that enthusiasm fueled my outlook through the years.
Allowing for an emphasis on the individual
At New Hope, we focus on values-building as part of our legacy. A typical school might say, “We want you to go to college and get a good job and make a difference in the world.” But for us, it takes on even greater meaning. It’s something that sets us apart from other schools in our county. There are four excellent public schools in the area, and I was a product of one of them, but the public system sometimes lacks a focus on the individual. New Hope emphasizes mentoring kids and going that extra mile for our students and families. We take the time to teach life skills and social-emotional skills and the things that go far beyond reading and writing.
We’ve also had minimal teacher turnover, which augments the benefit of our small size. But in recent years, the biggest challenge is, do we have one class, or do we have two classes in a particular grade level? And how many teachers do I have in a specific grade level?
This year, in the elementary, we have one classroom per grade level, and it presents a particular set of challenges. Teachers are without specific counterparts to plan and work on lessons, so a great deal of planning between grade levels is necessary to help with vertical alignment.
Getting a handle on the work
About six years ago, we started using Chalk for curriculum planning, and this has given a boost to our routine―turning our grade-level challenges into simply changes. We had a first-grade teacher at the time who was always going above and beyond the call of duty. She was using the Planboard tool for her lesson planning, a free resource available to teachers, and then she showed it to me, sharing, “I think this is something that would benefit New Hope as a whole.”
She presented it to the admin team, and we all felt like it was a missing piece for us. We adopted the school-level solution the very next year. It’s helped us in several different ways, including when we have an occasional teacher turnover; it’s nice to be able to hand something to incoming teachers instead of just saying, “Here’s a textbook.”
Instead, we say, “Here are the units that the teacher taught last year, in this particular order. Here are the standards that go with each unit.” Ensuring curriculum is aligned to standards and lessons are in turn aligned to curriculum is an essential process that Chalk makes simple, and the real-time standards-tracking is one of the features we love. Teachers can reference, “Hey, I taught 100 percent of the standards that I needed for each grade level,” and see exactly where students stand in the moment. On the occasions where the number isn’t 100 percent, they know exactly what to go back and cover. In this way, our teachers have the information they need to do their best work in covering all standards.
Another area is the curriculum mapping piece, which we’ve jumped into in the last couple of years. It has allowed us to see the vertical alignment in the grade-to-grade transitions. In some of our PD last year, we sat all the K-12 math teachers down and said, “Okay, tell me about numbers and operations in Kindergarten?” Then we went all the way up through pre-calculus. To see all of that played out has been so beneficial for us, and then to be able to search and identify gaps and fill in those gaps has been tremendous.
Benefits of “being there”
Like so many schools in our county, we went fully remote during much of the COVID shutdown. Luckily, because of our small size, we could get back to full-time by August and remain in that position.
It has been our families’ vision from the get-go to be in school as much as we can. I’m grateful that we’ve been able to be in-person. I’ve seen the benefits both personally and professionally for our students. The advantages of being in-school are numerous, particularly for our students who have special needs.
One such student who stands out was one of our 2020 graduates. He had a tough early life. His father was not in the picture, and his mother, an addict, had died in a car crash. His grandmother desperately wanted him to attend New Hope but didn’t have the money. A sponsor agreed to cover his tuition to educate the boy. It was inspiring to see him graduate, especially knowing the odds and what he overcame to get to his high school diploma.
Belonging to a community
The former example represents the kind of close-knit community we have at New Hope. Everyone from the student to the family to the faculty and staff enjoys a connectedness. It’s a belonging that one rarely finds in a larger public school. The connection recently emerged through a conversation over a student preparing to transfer. The family said, “There has been so much loss this year in our previous school. A going back and forth and not knowing what was going to happen.” They were looking for community.
When I think of all the challenges we’ve been through as a school, I remain thankful for the teachers, families, and students who find a way to rally together to make things happen.
About Kim Shepherd
Having known since kindergarten she wanted to be a teacher, Kim Shepherd obtained a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio. She began working at New Hope Christian Academy in 2006, teaching ELA, Social Studies, and Bible classes to students in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades.
When the school adopted a new reading program a few years later, she worked as the Foundations & Frameworks Coordinator and continued to teach part-time. From there, she moved into the role of curriculum director, and finally, into her current position as elementary principal. Kim’s passion is fueled by watching students grow and mature, both academically and spiritually. Kim has been married to her husband Jason for 15 years, and they have two children, Leah (9) and Camden (5). Outside of work, she enjoys hiking, reading, shopping, and watching sports
- edCircuit –
- edCircuit –
- edCircuit –