Principal, Wendell Phillips Elementary School
Profiles in Leadership highlights the hopeful, hard work of members of the KC community for the good of Kansas City kids. To begin this series, we asked Deloris Brown, Principal of Wendell Phillips Elementary, to reflect on her leadership at Phillips and their journey to become a trauma-sensitive school. SchoolSmartKC has been proud to support Phillips Elementary and Deloris’ leadership through grant support under our Strategic Growth Program with the Kansas City Public School District.
How has Phillips changed in the last year?
We’ve been able to take steps towards becoming a trauma-sensitive school through many staff training opportunities and the addition of a social worker. Our children come from very challenging circumstances that they have no control of. If they’re in survival mode, that’s all they’re concentrating on. It’s important how the adults in our building engage with our children. We’re learning how to support our children because their circumstances aren’t going to go away overnight. We don’t want those situations to be a hindrance to us delivering the best instruction we possibly can and to holding our students to a high standard.
We’ve also been able to fund an academic interventionist who helps evaluate our students’ math and ELA data for and with our teachers, because if you don’t get to the core of what children don’t know, you’re doing superficial teaching. We need to help our students build and develop their skills. Our students have missed blocks of time and therefore blocks of learning. This interventionist supports our students through small group learning and tutoring for students who have been absent to bridge that gap. We’re laser focused on what our kids need.
What evidence have you seen, beyond the test results, that Phillips is creating an environment of success for its students?
We now have the resources to be able to make some inroads and address some of the challenges we know we have in the building. We’ve brought on a social worker, and started parent activities. We realized that we wanted to dedicate a lot of our time to parent involvement because in order to be successful we have to do things differently, and that includes going the extra mile to include our parents. We were blown away at the turnout for our parent events. It’s a good feeling knowing that our parents are looking forward to coming in the building. We also make home visits and bring our social worker to help families know that we’re on their side and we do what we do because we love their children.
How has your leadership grown over the past year?
I feel like I grow so much each year. I’m always learning how we can better serve all of our families. I know so much more now about trauma research and how that impacts our students and our staff. The grant has required us to be open, honest and transparent, see where we could improve, learn more how to do that, realize it’s about our students and behave in a way that reflects that. Our children are number one, and when I say that, I must be willing to do what’s necessary to help our children be successful in our school.
One piece of advice you have for fellow KC school leaders?
Everything is not the result of a “bad child.” There’s a purpose and a reason for everything. And whenever you see children displaying a certain behavior, look for why. If you really want a good environment, you’ve got to meet people where they are. It’s a calling to work in a high-needs school and it might not be for everyone. You’ve got to be honest about if it’s the right fit for you. Set goals. Have a vision or you’re operating in the dark. What is it that you really want to see happen in your building this quarter, this school year, in the next two years? Have milestones, some are big and some are small, and celebrate those. You’re not going to make a total turnaround overnight. But celebrate the milestones along the way. Celebrate the journey.