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Michelle M. Fox, Ridgecrest Elementary School, East Puyallup, WA

Michelle Fox WA Bell

A personal mission of Dr. Michelle M. Fox is to create a trusting and caring school culture where everyone feels welcomed, supported, and challenged to give their best each day. She believes that when students and staff members feel not only welcomed, but wanted; not only valued, but honored; not only trusted, but empowered, they will not only succeed, but thrive.

Educators describe Dr. Fox as a visionary systems thinker and instructional and relational leader who has positive and lasting effects on students, staff, districts, and learning communities. Dr. Fox’s background in education includes not only teaching, but also serving as an instructional coach, earning a doctorate in educational leadership, and seven years as a full-time elementary principal.

One of Principal Fox’s greatest strengths is in knowing the formula for school success. It is a combination of strong systems, academic rigor, a caring community, and her ability to remove barriers for teachers. Dr. Fox clearly communicates her vision, focusing on what is best for students. She leans on the strengths of those around her, and inspires a school team to move with the same purpose.

When Dr. Fox became principal at Ridgecrest in 2016, she focused her work on building trust and strong relationships with her staff, parent community, and students. She personally met with each staff member and used the information gleaned from these initial conversations to guide her steps and focus the scope of her work. She forged strong relationships with the parent community; solicited their feedback by holding open parent and community forums; and actively promoted, supported, and participated in the PTA.

During her first year, Dr. Fox and staff analyzed school academic, attendance, and discipline data to better understand what improvement efforts were needed. She then worked with school leadership and the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) teams to revamp the student discipline and office referral process; strengthen school attendance policies and procedures; and implement several schoolwide positive behavior systems with individual and classroom rewards. To promote a culture of academic achievement, Ridgecrest implemented a certified AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program that promotes a college-going culture and explicitly teaches students the skills they would need in college and beyond.

In her second year at Ridgecrest, Principal Fox and staff revamped the master schedule, prioritized and aligned the instructional and intervention blocks, and implemented student assessment and Response-to-Intervention systems. A sharp focus on the use of perceptual, academic, behavioral, and attendance data drove the school’s Professional Learning Communities. By drilling down and looking at disparities and disproportionalities in the data, the school focused on specific student populations and academic areas. With financial support from the PTA, Ridgecrest was the first in the district to pilot a bully prevention curriculum. At the end of her second year, student achievement, discipline, and attendance data confirmed the school was heading in the right direction.

In her third year at Ridgecrest, Principal Fox organized the implementation of an elementary Early Warning Intervention System (EWIS). The system strategically identified disengaged students and students most at risk for school failure. For these students, the school developed and monitored individual student intervention plans. In addition, Ridgecrest implemented a schoolwide social-emotional and Child Protection Unit curriculum. By the end of Principal Fox’s third year, achievement data confirmed that the targeted school improvement efforts were closing achievement gaps among disadvantaged students and students with disabilities.

During school year 2019-2020 (her fourth year at Ridgecrest), Principal Fox worked closely with staff to convert Ridgecrest’s systems of support, student recognition, and end-of-the-year events so they could be carried out remotely or with proper social distancing. The school targeted families most affected by COVID-19 and engaged students by reaching out, making connections, providing food and practical assistance, supplying technical support, and offering social-emotional/mental health supports. During this time, the staff also met in vertical teams to plan for instruction and interventions for the first six weeks of school in the 2020-2021 school year.

Principal Fox commented that the foundation of Ridgecrest Elementary is built on positive, supportive, and caring relationships with students, families, and with each other. COVID-19 has taught the school community that even though their future may be uncertain, the school’s ability to respond and support one another is essential.

Read a transcript HERE.