Ms. Carol Leveillee has been in education for over 37 years. Throughout her career she has had the honor of serving schools across the spectrum, including turnaround schools and nationally recognized schools. Principal Leveillee has seen it all, but her devotion to meeting the needs of children has remained a constant guidepost. As she states, “every single thing that I do, including every decision, is always about the children and what is best for them.”
When she arrived at Frederick Douglass Elementary School in 2015, the school was designated as a Focus Plus School by the state. She knew that to meet the challenges faced by Frederick Douglass, she would need to think creatively to shape the culture at the school. She fostered a collaborative leadership approach by soliciting suggestions and feedback from school staff, families, and students through open forums, surveys, and discussions. She ensured communication with families was not only frequent but designed to make families a part of the educational process. She formed a School Leadership Team (SLT), comprised of representatives from all areas in the school, to help her reflect on school practice, determine next steps, and make changes to benefit the school. Within a few short years, Frederick Douglass became a School of Recognition.
Principal Leveillee created new norms that could be modeled every day to help set expectations for everyone in the school community. From answering phones with a consistent, positive message to standing by classrooms to greet students as they enter the building, these norms set the stage for learning and teaching. Although Principal Leveillee has been in a administrator for over 21 years of her 37-year career, she kept her focus on teaching and learning. In addition to visiting classrooms as much as possible, she remembered what it was like to be a teacher. She kept teachers’ spirits up with specialized notes and treats and created opportunities for teachers to highlight each other’s work. She highlighted exceptional instruction she observed during classroom visits in her weekly Friday Focus, and sent personal notes to teachers about the incredible job they do.
Along with these culture norms, she also employed several strategies focused on school improvement and achievement. She created a flexible staffing structure to meet the needs of students, allowing schedules to shift during the year to adapt to needs that arise or adjust when students don’t need as much support. She incorporated team teaching or station teaching in as many classrooms as possible to create small instructional groups. She also focused professional learning to ensure that learning standards and student learning were driving instruction rather than a textbook.
When she arrived at Fredrick Douglass, Principal Leveillee recognized that many students needed additional behavioral and mental health supports throughout the day. She ushered in a school-wide positive behavior program and instituted several innovative spaces in the school. She took an outside-the-box approach and created a read and ride area with stationary bikes and books, and a sensory path down the main hallway with exercises and positive messages. The school added a sensory room designed as a calming space with tools and sensory objects; a Lego wall for students to build and create; and a reflection suite that includes a calming space for children to talk with a counselor.
Principal Leveillee believes that students have opportunities to be leaders and have a voice, even at the elementary level. She has created student ambassadors who engage in school decision-making and service projects, student safety patrol teams, student-run morning announcements, and classroom and office helpers. She instituted weekly student clubs. These clubs are hour-long classes embedded into the school schedule and tailored to the non-academic interests of students. The clubs provide students with opportunities to engage in topics of interest, like cooking, world drumming, and coding. This affords teachers time to participate in grade-level professional development and planning. She also strengthened family and community engagement by ensuring that students are part of the planning and implementation of events and activities.
In the spirit of Principal Leveillee’s focus on doing what is best for students, she has created an engaged, whole school community.