When Prichard Elementary assistant principal Derrick Jordan first started his career in education, he worked as a special education teacher. That experience, he said, really informed the direction he wanted to take as an administrator.
“We've developed a trauma informed approach,” Jordan explained. “We have a lot of students that come from trauma, from backgrounds that aren't the best. So, instead of just disciplining those kids when they do something, we try to get to the root of the problem.”
This seems simple enough, but it's a change from the typical disciplinarian role that principals have traditionally played in the school system. It's one of the reasons that Prichard principal Jason McGlone nominated Jordan for the National Association of Elementary School Principals' Outstanding Assistant Principal of the Year Award – and one of the reasons the organization chose Jordan to receive it.
Jordan, for his part, refuses to take full credit for the change in approach.
“We've had really good teacher buy-in,” he explained.
“It's really easy to suspend a kid when they come in and they have some behavior issues,” he continued. “But it's a lot better if you can find out why they are acting that way. Ninety-nine percent of the time it's because of something at home, or something from their past, and if you can get them in some kind of counseling, some kind of support, even from a teacher or myself of (McGlone), someone they can look up to, their (disruptive) behaviors lessen.”
“To sum it up, it's basically strengthening staff and student connections,” Jordan said. “It helps improve our school environment.”
As part of this approach Jordan identified 25 students who staff considered to be the most at-risk. They then met with teachers to develop guidance plans for those students.
“When I say at-risk, that encompasses a whole lot,” said McGlone. “Basically what Derrick and the teachers did is make sure those kids had an adult that was asking about them, and checking in with them. It makes a difference. So I think that's been something phenomenal that he has put into effect.”
Another of Jordan's innovations was facilitating professional learning communities. This is something every school does, he explained. But at Prichard they have moved beyond a focus on the analysis of state assessments and continually review assessment data to “refine instructional practices.” This includes identifying and targeting students who are not meeting certain benchmarks for intensive interventions.
In some ways this strategy is similar to the individual education plans (IEPs) that Jordan had to develop for each of his students when he worked as a special education teacher.
“It can lead to (an IEP), but most of the time it doesn't,” Jordan explained. “Most of the time that you see these kids that need these interventions, all they need is (extra focus). These kids are just a little bit behind.”
“It's different, with the kids that need interventions than it is with special education,” he continued. “It's a different dynamic.”
It may be a subject they struggle with, he said. Or it may be one unit within that subject they are struggling with. Whatever it is, he said, they work with the students and the teacher to address it in a proactive manner, rather than a reactionary manner.
“That's the beauty of this,” he said. “Teachers will do a unit, and if they see a child that is struggling – they may have been their top student on the last week's unit – but they might struggle with fractions, and they'll put them in that RTI (response to intervention) group.”
But the teachers, Jordan noted with more than a touch of humility, are the ones who carry most of the responsibility for that.
“They initiate it. They monitor it. We're just the facilitators behind it,” he said. “We have really good teachers, at the end of the day.”
While McGlone is more eager to celebrate Jordan's contributions than the humble assistant principal is, he agreed with his observation.
“That's the bedrock of the school,” McGlone agreed. “It really is. But I will say this about an assistant principal, and I've said this for years, the assistant principal truly has the pulse of the building in their hands. I mean, the day to day operations of the school. Of managing discipline. Of managing transportation. Of being in classrooms to do classroom walk throughs, he shares that responsibility with me. And he knows exactly what's going on in this building. I'll say this about Mr. Jordan, he's very proactive at seeing potential issues and addressing those issues and the needs that arise.”
For his part, Jordan says what motivated him most to become involved in administration was feeling like he wasn't doing all he could to help the largest number of students.
“I always knew I wanted to be a principal at some point,” he said. “But I felt like there were kids in the building I didn't know, and that bothered me.”
It isn't a problem that Jordan has in his new role, and that's something the kids of Prichard Elementary, and their parents, can be thankful for.
Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.