Principal Lily Albright was not new to the school district when she was recruited to lead Unionville Elementary as principal in 2014. After serving in the district as a teacher, assistant principal, and then principal at another school, she jumped at the opportunity to take everything she had learned from her prior experiences and apply it at Unionville. Within five years, Principal Albright led the school from a performance rank of 55th in the state to 17th.
When Principal Albright joined Unionville, she was taking over after the loss of a beloved principal, who had been there for over 30 years. Unionville, considered a good school, was steeped in traditions. However, after taking some time to learn about the school community, she recognized that the school needed inspiration and an identity. She began by fostering a sense of purpose across the faculty and staff, keeping the school’s goals, purpose, and mission at the forefront of all work. She worked with the school team to develop an inspiring vision for teaching and learning at Unionville. As a school team, the staff developed a 21st Century learning model called, Environment, Art, Resources, Technology, Health (EARTH). This serves as a curricular framework designed to support students to be future leaders and contributors to a better world. Under Principal Albright’s leadership, the school earned the distinction of Indiana Outdoor Classroom of the Year, full STEM certification, an “A” rating from the Indiana Department of Education, and a National Blue Ribbon School award.
Principal Albright led the school to make transformative changes to the curriculum and instructional practice by being responsive, reasonable, and collaborative. While, she realized that change could be difficult, Principal Albright used kindness, infectious positivity, and the collective concern for students’ wellbeing to inspire a shift. She cultivated a variety of partnerships, including writing health related grants with the Indiana University School of Public Health. The Sycamore Land Trust currently provides outdoor/environmental education lessons across grade levels, as well as the Indiana Department of Environmental Affairs and animal welfare groups. She harnessed the power of social media to celebrate and showcase the transformational shifts at the school and reached out to the community to garner further support.
Describing herself as playful, fun-loving, relatable, joyful, and positive, Principal Albright also set up the structures and systems to support high expectations and innovative curriculum and instruction. During her five years, she acquired over $47,000 in supplemental grants, increased school enrollment, and solidified a school identity. She empowered teachers to take leadership roles. She listened and used their information to make strategic decisions related to distributing resources, applying for grants, and tailoring professional development. Principal Albright’s vision to create a school identity and a learning community, where students and teachers could be creative and connect with the larger world, is materializing. The school is often described as an inspiration and an outstanding place to work and learn. When asked what the key to the school’s success is, Principal Albright is clear that it is not a certain program or an intervention. It is “a way of being that includes shared high expectations for teaching and learning, strong community connections (including parent support), the pursuit of joy, and the application of a strong vision.”
Developing trust is one of the keystones to Principal Albright’s leadership style. She understood from the outset that the work of leading and inspiring requires a positive relationship between herself, staff, faculty, students, families, and the community. Part of her strategy is to honor and value past traditions while creating new and meaningful experiences for the whole school community.