Melissa Brady views her students as more than scholars—they are leaders in her elementary school now and in the community in the years to come. Empowering students with “leadership jobs all over the building” at Linden Hill Elementary School in Delaware is a key part of helping children overcome some of the social-emotional ordeals of transitioning back to school after the COVID pandemic.
“It’s embedded in our culture,” says Brady, who was recently named a National Distinguished Principal by the National Association of Elementary School Principals. “We are giving them good, real-life examples of what a leader in the community can achieve.”
Her students are developing competencies in socialization, public speaking and taking initiative, among other skills, adds Brady, whose building, named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2022, is a part of the Red Clay Consolidated School District.
For the adults in the building, she has prioritized distributive leadership by creating grade-level and multidisciplinary leadership teams that include special education teachers and counselors. Among their key roles are helping to set goals and craft Linden Hill’s continuous improvement plan.
The school also has a staff recognition team called the Sunshine Committee, which organizes regular events such as staff yoga and meal training for ailing colleagues. “It’s so important for people to know that, yes, we work very hard but we are also human beings and we have other priorities outside school,” she says.
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Brady, like many other superintendents and principals District Administration, has spoken with over the past few months, is finally feeling confident that school is returning to normal after the disruptions of the last several years.
“We are really getting to where teachers, myself and support staff are falling in love with teaching again,” she notes. “Teaching to a screen is not where elementary teachers are at their best—they are active, they are animated, they move around, and we’ve gotten back to that.”
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Her own focus is shifting back to instructional leadership and coaching, and tracking special education compliance, all tasks she finds more fulfilling than worrying about who and who isn’t logged into Zoom. However, Linden Hill and many other elementary schools in Delaware and across the nation are contending with a widening gap in the skills students have when they enter the early grades.
“It’s very hard to fund all of the support that is needed to level the playing field,” Brady explains. “Our teachers and our school counselors are being asked to do some pretty remarkable things.”
Complicating the issue are Delaware’s charter schools, which have siphoned off more affluent students from the state’s public K12 system. Marginalized families don’t have the same bandwidth to research their K12 alternatives, she contends. “Some of the charters have become quite elite,” she concludes.