At Piedmont Elementary School, Principal Brigett Stewart has built a flourishing academic environment by leading the implementation of rigorous curriculum, making data informed instructional decisions, and centering the school’s focus on what is best for students. Since Principal Stewart’s arrival as principal five years ago, Piedmont Elementary School has made significant gains and was recently named a “High Flyer” school by the Alabama Education Lab for its high scores in both ELA and Math. Members of the school community attribute much of this success to Principal Stewart’s deep commitment to helping each child reach his or her full potential despite their circumstances or challenges.
Before beginning her leadership role at Piedmont Elementary, Principal Stewart was an elementary teacher, and served in district roles as a Digital Instructional Specialist and Director of Technology. She continues to embrace technology tools to improve teaching and learning. Every Piedmont Elementary student has a unique Individual Learning Path, informed by student assessment data. In monthly meetings, Principal Stewart and teachers conduct a deep analysis of student data using the Targeted Instructional Plans (TIP) tool – a system she developed that helps the whole team identify individual student strengths, needs, and improvements, as well as to see trends across grade levels. Accordingly, teachers can make timely instructional decisions to keep all students supported and challenged.
Principal Stewart also invests in educator development, and is committed to shared leadership. For example, she has mentored many Piedmont teachers through the process of becoming National Board Certified. She begins each school year with a collaborative meeting, providing the whole school with a voice in setting goals and identifying key priorities for the upcoming year. Even future educators have an opportunity to develop their skills at Piedmont. Through a partnership with a local university, pre-service elementary teachers delivered individualized lessons to Piedmont first-graders, who then left school that day with a new book and a literacy activity to share with their families at home.
Principal Stewart demonstrated a commitment to collaborative community building right from the outset. She spent the summer prior to her first school year meeting individually with each staff member, seeking to understand their values, traditions, and hopes for the future. This approach helped her determine one of her first priorities: to unify the school, which physically occupies two buildings, as a coherent team through building a shared culture of trust and teamwork. She made this commitment visible to educators, students, and everyone else who visited the school by adopting a schoolwide theme for the year: superheroes. Volunteers donned superhero costumes for parent orientation, a life sized-Spiderman perched in the front lobby, and the whole school adopted the hashtag #oneteamonemission. Since then, Piedmont Elementary has met as a team each spring to choose a theme for the following school year.
Students, families, and community members are celebrated and thoughtfully included through Principal Stewart’s leadership. She leverages partners and creative ideas in response to school needs. To recognize student character and get to know families, Principal Stewart created a “Student of the Month” club, driving to the selected students’ homes to personally deliver signs to be displayed in their yards. Recognizing a need for young boys to connect with adult male mentors, Principal Stewart recruited community stakeholders including the mayor, superintendent, high school football coach, and local university faculty to build relationships with Piedmont’s fifth grade boys through mentorship and participating in life skills classes.
In reflecting on what has made her an effective school leader, Principal Stewart points to her focus on ensuring that teachers have the support they need to be most effective in their classrooms. She sees herself foremost as an instructional leader, serving as a resource to teachers by regularly visiting classrooms, offering support, and keeping a pulse on what teachers and students need to thrive.