Winning a principal of the year award is more than an accolade—it’s “a profound responsibility,” says Community Elementary School Principal Angie Krause. The recognition only reinforces her commitment to upholding high standards of educational leadership, inspiring teachers and students, and cementing relationships with the school community, explains Krause, who was named a National Distinguished Principal by the National Association of Elementary School Principals.
“Receiving the award is definitely a moment of great pride, but it is also a reminder that our work is far from over,” says Krause, whose building, Kansas’ largest brick-and-mortar elementary school, is part of rural Coffeyville Public Schools. “Educators must remain steadfast to high expectations, use data to drive their instruction, work collaboratively, and have a commitment to student success.”
Unique experiences of an elementary school principal
Krause recently talked to District Administration about the most rewarding things about leading an elementary with 1,000 students.
DA: What is it like leading an elementary school with 1,000 students?
Leading a school with 1,000 students can be both challenging and rewarding. It requires effective management, strong leadership skills, and a deep commitment to education.
Managing a school of this size involves numerous administrative tasks. This includes overseeing budgets, scheduling, curriculum development, hiring staff, building relationships with staff, students and parents; ensuring communication is clear; providing a safe learning environment, evaluating teachers, attending meetings, dealing with discipline problems, balancing work and home—and learning names. That’s 1,000 student names, 150 staff members and over 2,000 parent or guardian names.
Leading a school with 1,000 students also provides many opportunities to celebrate achievements, whether it’s academic excellence, sports victories, or creative accomplishments. Recognizing and celebrating successes is essential for morale. Students love hearing their names read over the morning announcements when they level up in Lexia, when they receive Student of the Month or they are the winner of a drawing contest.
But the best part about being the principal of a school with over 1,000 students is the hugs you get every day and knowing that I’m making a difference in all of their lives.
Describe the school culture when you became principal and the steps you took to improve it.
It was evident when I walked into Community Elementary in August 2019 that the staff was disjointed and the building had previously been run as two buildings rather than one large building. The culture and the climate were in need of a huge overhaul.
First, I had to communicate that everyone would be receiving the same message, everyone would have the same expectations, and everyone in the building was responsible for every child in the building—not just the students in their class. Next, I scheduled a 20-minute meeting with each staff member. During the meeting, I first asked personal questions. I wanted to know each staff member as an individual. Did they have a husband, kids or animals, did they live in Coffeyville, how long had they been teaching or working in education? My goal was to let each staff member know that I truly care about them.
Next, I asked them what was working in the building, what needed to be changed, did they like their grade-level assignment and what they needed from me. After meeting with all of my staff—yes, that included the custodians, teachers assistants, secretaries, nurses and child nutrition workers—I sat down and looked for common trends. Everyone was asking for better communication, for me to be visible and to have their backs. I was shocked to learn the former principal was never seen in the halls and always had her door shut.
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I’m seen each morning, rain or shine, opening car doors to greet my students with a smile on my face and offering a high five, fist bump or hug. What a great way to meet parents and let them know I love their students and that they are sending their children to a safe place.
I’m not a doctor, but each morning I tell my secretary, “I’m off to do my rounds.” Basically, that means I’m headed to visit each of my 52 classrooms and check in with the other secretaries and assistant principals. Teachers quickly learned this was an expectation I had for myself. If something comes up and I don’t make it to a room, I’m sure to send that teacher a text and let them know I’m sorry I didn’t make it and why I didn’t make it. The teachers look forward to my daily visit as much as the kiddos.
Come on in! Yes, my office door is always open and my blinds are open. I encourage my staff to stop by and visit with me whether it is about a concern they have, a celebration, or just to share something going on at home.
“I say Nado, you say Nation”: This is the schoolwide call back my staff voted on to use with our students. I not only use it during assemblies, but I also use it during staff meetings. Staff meetings? Yes, we meet on the first Tuesday of every month. The previous principal didn’t have staff meetings, but the staff quickly valued our monthly meetings. It is a time to celebrate one another, learn what is happening, share concerns, and share upcoming events. At first, the teachers were shocked to all be in the same room receiving the same message. Another way I communicate with my staff is by sending out a weekly newsletter each week. Each day lists birthdays for the day, events occurring, and staff out for the day. Even though the weekly is shared on Google each Friday for the following week, it often has to be updated each morning due to staff calling in sick. I have made it clear to my staff that family comes first. They should never feel guilty for being a parent, sibling, or spouse.
Mrs. White, my secretary, tells me Mr. Y is on line one. Oh no, who has made him mad again? Picking up the phone with a positive tone and listening goes a long way. I always listen and provide empathy as well as let parents know I’ll check into their concerns. Next, I check with the teacher to hear their side of the story. When I return the call to the parent, I restate the concern they gave me and share my findings, always supporting my teachers.
The request needed by my staff was an easy fix and should have been happening prior to me being hired. They just wanted to be supported, listened to, and receive better communication. Because of these simple adjustments, I’ve developed a great relationship with my staff and the culture in our building has improved greatly. Our yearly staff surveys continue to improve. Ninety-three percent of the staff responded favorably when asked how understanding their school leaders are when challenges arise in their lives; 91% responded that they were respected by their school leaders, and 98% responded that they were excited to be at work. I’m thankful to work with such an amazing group of educators.
How would you describe the culture at the beginning of the 2023-24 school year?
Creating an environment that is positive while motivating and inspiring my staff is a priority for me. I believe a school leader should lead by example by modeling positive behaviors and attitudes and demonstrating a commitment to the well-being and safety of all members of the school community. I greet my students and staff every morning with a smile on my face. Offering a hug, handshake, or a high five to my students is part of my morning and dismissal routines. Some other things that I do to create a positive environment are recognizing grade level teachers each month during our staff meeting, having treats on a recognition cart that the other administrators and I take classroom to classroom treating the teachers, providing a jean pass when I see a staff member going above and beyond as a way to say thanks, working closely with our NEA representatives and most importantly me being in the classrooms every day. According to our 2022 staff survey, 95% of my teachers reported feeling engaged at work and 98% of my teachers reported they were excited to be at work. I believe this shows that my efforts positively affected the culture and climate of Community Elementary.
Recognizing and celebrating achievements is also an important part of fostering a positive environment. Students love to pie me in the face for reaching their award, watch me kiss a pig during our Penny War, see me dress up like the Elf on the Shelf during 12 Days of Christmas, enjoy listening to me read during Read Across America Week dressed up like Thing One.
How do you serve as the school’s instructional leader? How do you work with PLCs, and how many PLCs does your school have?
Utilizing our Professional Learning Communities is a huge part of our culture. Teachers are provided an extra 40 minutes of collaborative planning each Wednesday to review data, plan instruction, create formative assessments based on the grade level standards, and set goals. During this time I make sure to celebrate all successes. Also during this time, we discuss professional development that is needed by the staff. It is imperative that I ensure my teachers have the resources they need to be successful.
I’ve requested to send teachers to workshops that cover classroom management, SEL, brain development, math, phonics, and phonemic awareness. I have also sent teachers to observe programs at other schools as well as observe teachers in our building. When we discovered there was a lack of phonics and phonological awareness instruction, I requested that the assistant superintendent and I take a group of teachers to observe a program being utilized by another district. We quickly determined that we needed to purchase the program to fill the gap in our phonics and phonological awareness instruction. The key to the success of implementing the new program was providing my teachers with the training they needed to confidently teach the skills as well as stating my expectations for the implementation. Some teachers needed more support than the professional development they received, so I arranged for them to observe another teacher and assigned them to meet weekly with our instructional coach. Being a reading specialist has come in handy this year. I got to put my love for teaching reading into action. Two of my first-grade teachers were struggling with teaching reading to a small group while the rest of the class worked independently at a workstation, so I’ve gone in several times and modeled how to teach guided reading.
As stated earlier, implementing the PLC process has had a huge impact on the success of our students. We are a K-6th school, so we have 8 PLCs each week. We have a PLC for each grade level and a PLC for my special teachers.
What are the most exciting things happening at Community Elementary School? What are your goals for the coming years?
A huge success for Community Elementary this year is that our state test scores went up. We had 20 more 3rd-, 4th-, 5th-, and 6th-grade students scoring a 3 or 4 on the state math test. Of those 20 students, 10 scored a level 4, which is very difficult to do. We had nine more students scoring a level 4 on the ELA test than they did in 2022. Our goal is to have 10 more students scoring a 3-4 on the math and ELA tests.
What are the keys to your leadership philosophy, and how do these contribute to the school’s success?
My philosophy is that all students can learn when provided a student-centered education where teachers, students, and administrators are held to high expectations. However, I firmly believe that the purpose of education goes far beyond knowledge; it is about empowering students to become lifelong learners, critical thinkers, and responsible citizens. To accomplish this, creating an environment that is nurturing and inclusive that recognizes and caters to each student’s unique needs, interests, and abilities is imperative. Doing what is best for students will always be the deciding factor in every decision I make.
How have your job/responsibilities changed over the last few years?
A huge focus is placed on social-emotional learning, not just academics. I have to ensure that my teachers have chill-out zones in their classrooms to help regulate their students. Finding tools for my toolbox to deal with students suffering from trauma. What works one day might not work the next day or even the hour.
Unfortunately, school safety has a different meaning than it did in the past. We used to focus on practicing our fire and tornado drills in the event one happened. Now, due to the growing number of school shootings, we have to focus on keeping our students safe from intruders.
COVID gave me a huge curve ball. Students and teachers had to practice social distancing, so students were no longer allowed to play outside at a grade level. They could only play with the students in their class, so play areas had to be created on the playground. Coverage for this was no easy task. Not to mention when the students had to be remote and the teachers had to teach via Zoom or Google Meets.
I’m a hands-on principal. All the managerial things that have to be done take place after my students go home. My focus is on student learning, so I’m an instructional leader that dives deep into the data to determine what each child needs. In order for me to suggest the best strategy to use with a child, I have to know each child. I spend many hours in classrooms building relationships with my students. I have to know about the whole child, not just what they need academically. I attend our Student Improvement Team meetings, and our weekly PLCs, and I model how to teach reading to my primary teachers.
What are the biggest challenges Community Elementary School is facing right now?
Mental health is the biggest challenge we are faced with at CES. Many students come to us with trauma and a high ACE score. They are experiencing stress, anxiety, neglect, abuse, and other mental health issues that can impact their learning and overall well-being. We unfortunately aren’t experts in this field and lack the resources we need.
Read part 2 of DA’s interview with Angie Krause.