Star School Leader Award: Recipient Announcement

Star School Leader Award: Recipient Announcement

What is the Star School Leader Award?

In lieu of National Principals Month, this award was created to honor principals who are the greatest school leaders — and who better to ask than those on the frontlines; teachers?

The nomination period lasted a little over two months, from Oct 14 until Dec 19. During this time, we received hundreds of stories from teachers across the country who were inspired by their principals.

To all those who submitted, we sincerely thank you for your contribution to this award. Your responses were a delight to read — you made us laugh, smile and even cry a bit, at times. But more importantly, your voices instilled in us a vast hope for the future of education, and a sense of how great leadership can pave the path to success for schools, teachers, and students.

You sent so many stories of exemplary school leadership that we were compelled to expand the contest to include multiple winners. In other words, we began with the goal to find a star, but we ended up with a constellation 😉 — of twelve recipients.

So, What Makes a Star School Leader?

Great school leaders empower their teachers. What teachers do is one of the most difficult, and often thankless jobs. And while we all agree that teachers are the true heroes of every school system, it takes a special kind of leader to enable their teachers with the right support to focus on the important things. Like teaching.

The Star School Leader rubric stands on three pillars, hanging from one common theme:

  1.  Empowering others by setting a positive attitude, culture, and environment.
  2.  Empowering others with the right use of technology as a means and not an end. 
  3.  Empowering others through supportive coaching and access to professional development.

What do they win? Recipients will receive a physical Star School Leader award, an Amazon giftcard, free professional development guides, and an upcoming spotlight feature on the Teacher Voice blog — so be sure to check in to view the spotlights in the upcoming months!

And now, without further ado… we present to you:


The Star School Leaders

Shameka Gerald

The Inspirational Leader, Star School Leader Recipient

Shameka Gerald is the principal at Heritage High School, Virginia. Nominated by Tiffanie Smith.

Mrs. Gerald is an amazing leader that inspires both students and staff.  She is very caring and seeks to meet the needs of everyone. Mrs. Gerald’s leadership has allowed faculty and staff to go above and beyond in many areas.  This includes teachers being leaders in and out of the classroom. Over the past four years as our leader, she has instilled many leadership qualities in teachers to be an effective teacher leader.  This has allowed many to step out of the normal box and try new things in the classroom. Her leadership is very unique in that a few teachers have moved on to higher positions.”

Read Principal Gerald’s Star School Leader Spotlight here.

Priscilla Salinas

The Life-Long Mentor, Star School Leader Recipient

Priscilla Salinas is the principal at Henry Ford Elementary, Texas. Nominated by Narda Lugo.

Mrs. Salinas inspired me to continue to move forward in my education by always encouraging me to attain my masters.  I worked with her for seven years as a teacher before entering back to school to attain my Masters in Library Science.  I will forever be grateful towards Mrs. Salinas for giving my first teaching position then for hiring me again as a librarian.  I love my job and I could not have done it if Mrs. Salinas had not encouraged me to continue my education. She is a role model to many and continues to encourage everyone to continue to educate ourselves in a daily basis, even if that means losing one of her educators.  She says, “She might lose a teacher, but gain a role model to others.” She is always looking for ways to encourage us to continue to grow which makes us continue to want to.”

Principal Salinas’s Star School Leader Spotlight is coming soon.

Keith Nemlich

The Thoughtful Leader, Star School Leader Recipient

Keith Nemlich is the principal at Central Elementary School, Vermont. Nominated by Judy Verespy.

Mr. Keith Nemlich is a principal who truly prioritizes children’s needs. He is a caring, compassionate, thoughtful, inspiring leader who models patience, persistence and playfulness… He encourages mindfulness breaks in the classroom. He encourages teachers to share our expertise with one another at staff meetings, and to briefly observe colleagues at work when we can. Keith researches new, more effective ways to accomplish something he believes in, and patiently, persistently works to get administrative support from the district. I could go on and on about the joy of working for a principal who is intelligent, thoughtful, supportive and inspiring. With tighter school budgets, more stringent standards, plentiful new initiatives cutting into already rigorous school day schedules, teaching has become more stressful. Keith Nemlich makes the teachers, para professionals and students at our school want to go to work each day, and be the best we can!”

Principal Nemlich’s Star School Leader Spotlight is coming soon.

Carol Leveillee

The Culture Builder, Star School Leader Recipient

Carol Leveillee is the principal at Frederick Douglass Elementary, Delaware. Nominated by Jacqueline Allman.

In the four years that she has been our principal she has turned our failing title 1 school around and now we are thriving! She has brought so many ideas to our school through book studies and motivational speakers. Most recently she took a few staff members to a “Get Your Teach On” conference where staff brought back numbers ideas and now she is allowing us to share and implement new engagement strategies school wide. She also has inspired us to build those meaningful relationships with each other and our students and I believe that has helped us turn our school around.”

Read Principal Leveillee’s Star School Leader Spotlight here.

Corey Crochet

The Life-Long Learner, Star School Leader Recipient

Corey Crochet is the principal at Labadieville Middle School, Louisiana. Nominated by Cathy Martinez.

Mr. Crochet has a difficult job; how do you inspire students of poverty to value learning? The answer; go back to school to get your PHD in Education.  Mr. Crochet is constantly learning and because of this, he inspires his teachers to do the same. Teachers meet twice a week during the school day, and often meet after school on their own time to study and learn how to make LMS reflect the efforts of the students, teachers and administration. LMS can be a challenging place to work. However, Mr. Crochet’s attitude of removing all obstacles that get in the way of learning is evident  across the campus. He tackles problems and is not afraid to go back to the drawing board when something is not working. His motto is “”Every Student. Every Day, Whatever it takes””. AND he will do whatever it takes through the lens of education and learning.”

Read Principal Crochet’s Star School Leader Spotlight here.

Tammy Taylor

The Teacher's Advocate, Star School Leader Recipient

Tammy Taylor is the principal at Wellton Elementary School District, Arizona. Nominated by Lisa Jameson. 

“Before she became principal, Mrs. Taylor worked with Donors Choose to get sewing machines for our school. Now as our Principal, she helps teachers apply for donations through Donors Choose. This is just one of the ways that Mrs. Taylor has inspired teachers and staff members at Wellton Elementary. With her positive attitude and incredible energy, she has been an excellent role model for our teachers and staff.”

Read Principal Taylor’s Star School Leader Spotlight here.

Tamara Jones-Jackson

The Analytical Leader, Star School Leader Recipient

Tamara Jones-Jackson is the principal at Ralph J. Bunche Academy in Ecorse, Michigan. Nominated by Sandra Fuoco.

In 3 short months, she has created a functioning PTO where we never had one before, allowed teachers to take leadership roles for the betterment of the school, changed policies and procedures so that every day processes run smoother, provided guidance and instruction on how to use our data more effectively so that we can better serve our students, and created positive relationships with students, staff and parents.  But what astonishes me the most is she somehow, someway gets things done! In a struggling district without extra income, we now have a communication system in the building, ceiling tiles and bleachers are fixed (which haven’t been in years), teachers are getting much needed resources, etc. AND she does this all with a smile and positive attitude. In my 2 decades of teaching, she is truly the most inspirational, motivational, and believable leader I have ever had the pleasure of working with.”

Principal Jones-Jackson’s Star School Leader Spotlight is coming soon.

Rodney Ivey

The Teacher Enabler, Star School Leader Recipient

Rodney Ivey is the principal at Swimming Pen Creek Elementary, Florida. Nominated by Janet Shaw.

Mr. Ivey’s positive leadership and vision for doing what is in the best interests of our children sets the tone for all of our faculty and staff to be positive, enthusiastic, and productive . He sees the best in people, therefore young and old rise to his expectations. Rather than micromanage, he works collaboratively with his staff to plan programs and events. He collects data for us, looking for trends and meeting with us on teams to focus on ways to help individual students. Mr. Ivey finds ways to boost students and staff, from a shout out bulletin board to eating lunch with children. He squeezes every penny out of a tight budget to gets his teachers what they need, even planning and manning fundraisers to accomplish his goals. While most of us stay late planning and preparing, many times, his car is the last in the parking lot. He does what needs to be done, even vacuuming my classroom when the custodians were busy on another project. His kind, accepting demeanor inspires students and teachers alike to be kind and considerate. His frequent walks through our classrooms are welcomed, as he joins in our lessons alongside students; we love it when he photographs engaging lessons and shares them out with the staff. Under his leadership, our campus is a very happy inclusive place, with a supportive family-like atmosphere that encompasses parents, kids, teachers, and staff.”

Read Principal Ivey’s Star School Leader Spotlight here.

Traci O. Filiss

The Technology Pioneer, Star School Leader Recipient

Traci Filiss is the principal at Taos Academy, New Mexico. Nominated by Elizabeth LeBlanc.

Ms. Filiss is an inspirational leader because she shares decision-making responsibilities with her staff. Her expectations and her trust in their expertise is tremendous. For example, Taos Academy’s Leadership Team is made up of teacher leaders, many of whom also take on administrative roles. She works hard to empower all stakeholders (students, parents, teachers, and families) to be leaders in our school setting.”

Principal Filiss’s Star School Leader Spotlight is coming soon.

Faith Stroud

The Passionate Leader, Star School Leader Recipient

Faith Shroud is the principal at Robert Frost Sixth-Grade Academy, Kentucky. Nominated by Sandra Stinson.

Mrs. Stroud is a very strong leader and true advocate for our scholars and our staff. She doesn’t ask anything of us that she is not willing to do herself. She goes into work on the weekends, yes that includes Sundays and works for the improvement of our school to benefit our scholars. She has worked to put a Chromebook in every scholar’s hands at our school. Which for our district is not the case every where else. She works and budgets to set up field trips for our scholars that have real world ties to their curriculum and provides them with experiences that they may not be able to have otherwise. She is a fully transparent leader. She does not hide things from the staff and expects the same from us. She works diligently to provide our scholars with the best educators in their field and strives to improve us as teachers with embedded PD and opportunities to attend seminars and workshops whenever possible. She is a true inspiration to me as a teacher and I think that our scholars feel the same way.”

Read Principal Stroud’s Star School Leader Spotlight here.

Pam Gildersleeve-Hernandez

The Collaborative Leader, Star School Leader Recipient

Pam Gildersleeve-Hernandez is the Superintendent/Principal at San Antonio Union School District, California. Nominated by Diane Stensrud.

Mrs. Hernandez continually seeks to better herself by reading, participating in professional groups for book discussions, attending conferences, taking classes to remain current, and classes to push the boundaries of education. She focuses on 21 Century Future Ready Skills, and encourages the staff to do the same. I love it when she hears us talking about an opportunity for professional development, and says, “Go for it! Let’s make this happen!” She attends as many conferences as possible with us, and makes every effort to provide team-building opportunities. She also makes every effort to equip us to reach our professional goals. Despite the challenges of working in a small district, and wearing many hats, Mrs. Hernandez continues to grow as a learner, as well as a leader. She is an inspiration to me!”

Principal Gildersleeve-Hernandez’s Star School Leader Spotlight is coming soon.

Sarah Hays

The Motivational Coach, Star School Leader Recipient

Sarah Hays is the principal at Emily Dickinson Elementary School, Montana. Nominated by Tina Martin.

“Each school year Sarah finds a way to motivate us as a staff. This year with the start of a new year with a lot of new staff members and an extra 75 students, we had a lot of movement (rooms, and locations of support staff). This did not stop Sarah from being positive and sharing her passion and goals for us as a staff. At the kick off meeting, Sarah talked about how we all came together and continue to do what is best for the children. She encouraged us and looked at the positives that are happening and not that we are a school bursting at the seams and there is no extra spaces. She shared copies of “The Energy Bus” and had us work break into groups to read each section of the book and come back to summarize what we read to the rest of the staff. Sarah modeled how we too as classroom teachers can share this strategy with our own students.”

Read Principal Hays’s Star School Leader Spotlight here.

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Individual Rotation and Flex: Blended Learning Models

Individual Rotation and Flex: Blended Learning Models

Jessica Hunsinger

Jessica Hunsinger

Product Manager, Kiddom

Former educator passionate about building human potential. Saving teachers time through interoperability is what currently drives me. 

In this third post of our blended learning series, we cover two models that are the best fit for classrooms with central learning labs.

In the first post, view a blended learning infographic to find out which blended learning model is best for your classroom. In the second post, learn about station rotation and lab rotation.


Let’s Start with the Basics.

The individual rotation model, included under the rotation model umbrella, has students rotating between different stations and learning opportunities, but is different from other rotation models in that students don’t necessarily rotate to every station. Each student has an individualized playlist of activities and only rotates to the stations or modalities identified on their personalized schedule, determined by the teacher or, in some cases, an algorithm.

In the flex model, online instruction is the primary mode of accessing content and materials, with additional support from a teacher face-to-face. Teachers share learning activities with students who access them at their own pace, and then teachers use data to intervene in real-time. This model is dependent on self-directed learning and allows for a fluid schedule that is more flexible than other models as online learning makes up the bulk of a student’s direct instruction.  

We grouped these two models together because they require the same technology access and they look very similar in classroom practice. In both of these models, the learning space is designed to have a central learning lab or collaborative space.

As explained in “A Deeper Look At the Flex Model” by Blended Learning Universe, these models “benefit from a larger, open learning space instead of traditional classroom walls. The value of an oversized classroom space is that it allows for students to flow among multiple formats and for teachers to roam more easily among the students.” The main difference is who is in control of the student flow. In the flex model, the student has far more autonomy, whereas the individual rotation is personalized but dictated by a teacher or a data system.   



Choosing the Individual Rotation Model

The individual rotation model is a good choice when you have enough devices for every student to use and you want to use those devices to plan personalized lessons for each student. Data is the main driver of student schedules and materials in this model. With the right tools, individual teachers can manage these decisions, but many schools use a data manager to help dictate the student’s schedule or the stations they rotate to throughout the day.

Individual and flex models are the most common model in world languages (BLU Directory)

Students checking out their individual rotation schedule for the day in a Teach to One classroom

One example of an individual rotation model is demonstrated through Teach To One, an offshoot of the School of One model that many schools have adopted. It is a personalized math program that uses the individual rotation model to tailor learning experiences to learning styles and rates of progress. The program includes nine different learning modalities that support a variety of learners. The video demonstrates how having students identify their learning styles helps students take ownership of their learning and advocate for themselves.

If your goal for exploring a blended learning model is to increase student ownership of their learning, you can also create stations based on learning modalities.  At the individual level this may seem daunting, but teachers can use a individual rotation model that does not require a different schedule each day.

At the default station, students always have work to complete online at their own pace. When teachers use the data from the self-paced curriculum they can intervene as misconceptions arise or mini-lessons are needed. You may use a messaging system or classroom display that informs students that they should rotate to offline stations: “You are scheduled for a small group discussion today” or “Rotate to group work station at 11.”

Illustration of the Individual Rotation Model with a Central learning Lab at the center

One way that teachers or schools do this is by using playlists. A playlist is a group of related learning activities. With a playlist, students are given a clear sense of the path they are going to take but it is also easy to work student choice in along the way. Heather Starks, a blended learning teacher explains how she uses playlists in her blog piece “Why I am Loving Instead of Hating the Beginning of this School Year”.

By using playlists, you can schedule different checkpoints for students. When students need more frequent check-ins, you can easily differentiate their playlists by including more face-to-face teacher time. Kiddom supports the creation of playlists in the Planner feature, which allows you to create a “Teacher Check-In” assignment, like the one in the image below, that will prompt students to see their teacher.

student dashboard showing what a Teacher Check-In” assignment looks like to a students

Getting Started with the Individual Rotation Model

Just like with the other rotation models, you can experiment with individual rotation in your class by choosing a day of the week to introduce the concept to students and practice it to work out the kinks. It would be helpful to decide how you want students to rotate in advance.

Will you use a playlist model which tells students to “rotate” when they get to a certain point in the curriculum or when misconceptions arise? Or will you establish learning modality stations and have students rotate based on their learning preferences? Either way, you can use Kiddom to support this practice.

An important thing to consider when adopting the individual rotation model is how to incorporate social emotional development. Critics of this model argue that it works best for self-motivated individuals. However, putting in the effort to help students develop that type of intrinsic motivation can be a great impetus for future success.

If you are interested in trying the individual rotation model, be sure to learn from the efforts of early adopters and pay special attention to organizing opportunities for social interaction and development.

Choosing the Flex Model

One of the biggest advantages of a flex model is that it lets students, not teachers, dictate when they rotate. They rotate between various stations when they need them and they are not constrained by time limits. If you’re hoping to increase student motivation and autonomy, this may be the model you choose. This form of blended learning is most often implemented at a whole-school level but can be accomplished at the class level with careful planning. 

The organization Blended Learning Universe explains how this impacts teachers: “Because of the heavy emphasis on student autonomy, the role of a teacher changes in a Flex model. Instead of delivering instruction to whole groups, teachers spend most of their time providing face-to-face tutoring, guidance, and enrichment to supplement online lessons.”  

Diagram of the Blended Learning Universe and the roll that teachers play in Flex

The amount of advanced curriculum planning that goes into developing, curating, and creating the online course materials that allow for students to independently progress through the material may be a shift for most teachers. Rather than planning throughout the year, with a Flex model you will plan and prepare most of your materials in advance.

Another example of this new teacher and student dynamic is illustrated by the case study of  Summit Schools, produced by Khan Academy. At Summit Schools, students sign up for assessments with the teacher when they feel like they are ready to demonstrate mastery. This shift in responsibility also helps to support many social emotional learning skills. Most implementations of a flex model also incorporate some form of weekly check-in between students and teachers that allows teachers to guide students to develop goal setting skills.  

Getting Started with the Flex Model

To get started with a Flex Model, you will first need to choose or create a self-paced online curriculum. There are a growing number of available online curricula but many teachers prefer to organize the online materials to match their style or even to develop their own digital lessons and activities.

Kiddom’s Planner is one way to organize and store your curriculum for a self-paced flex model course. In Planner, you can easily organize all of the curricular materials in units and playlists (groups of related assignments).

When you assign a playlist to students, they can work through the learning activities independently and check in with you when they have completed the tasks. Students can also communicate with teachers by commenting on the assignment and open the dialogue when a teacher is working with other students.

Finally, as mentioned above, the flex model shifts many responsibilities to the students which is a great way to teach social emotional learning competencies.  These competencies can easily be tracked using the 5 CASEL standards available on the Kiddom platform.

This blog post is based on our Blended Learning 102 Guide. For more information, we encourage you to download it here.


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How Marshall County Differentiates Instruction with Kiddom (Watch Mini-Documentary Here)

Abbas Manjee

Abbas Manjee

Chief Academic Officer, Kiddom

Abbas Manjee is Chief Academic Officer at Kiddom. Before Kiddom, Abbas taught high school math serving at-risk youth in New York City. 

Three years ago, the Marshall County Department of Education in Benton, Kentucky abandoned their traditional curriculum and instructional model in favor of individualized, project-based models to offer students more choice and voice.

A change of this magnitude not only requires new furniture, new hardware, teacher training, and community buy-in, but also software to develop a new set of criteria to measure academic success.

Watch “How Marshall County Individualizes Instruction Mini-Documentary” here:

Marshall County decided to trust Kiddom’s K-12 operating system as a centralized source of valuable data to measure student achievement and enable individualization. Since implementation, other districts are following Marshall County’s example as they rethink their own approach to teaching and learning. Since our first pilot with Marshall County, the district has expanded their use of Kiddom. 

It is so rewarding to see how schools and districts tailor Kiddom to fit their pedagogical models as they move towards individualization. The Kiddom team values Marshall County’s vision to use technology to help them transform their instructional practices and we are grateful for the opportunity to have made a difference in this community.

Is your school or district ready to follow Marshall County’s lead?

We’d love to support you in your journey. Book a demo with one of our education specialists below and we’ll be in touch soon.

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