21 stories of triumph and perseverance for 2021

2020 posed unprecedented challenges to students, families, teachers and education leaders. But despite countless obstacles, educators all over the country persevered and achieved remarkable successes. Join NCEE as we celebrate our partners in districts and states across the U.S. who have worked tirelessly to support their students and families. NCEE is humbled and inspired by these stories and those of so many others. We look forward to sharing more successes in 2021.

A district races to provide the tech students need to access learning

“Waterbury Public Schools is delighted to announce that each of our approximately 17,500 K-12 students has a device to engage in virtual learning. While the work towards a district-wide sustainable, technology plan has been ongoing, the pandemic pushed us to reach our goal more quickly. When the district set foot on this journey in March, we quickly recognized virtual learning is not limited to the pandemic. In our work over the last several months, a critical component has been to ensure our one-to-one framework is sustainable for years to come.”

Dr. Janice Epperson, Waterbury Public Schools

A districts finds a way to celebrate graduating students

“Coming together as a district to ensure the graduating class of 2020 received special graduation celebrations during the pandemic. Not only did each school site host drive through cap and gown pick ups and drive through ceremonies, but the district supported a virtual ceremony for each school as well. It was really incredible how quickly everyone worked together to ensure the seniors were able to celebrate their educational accomplishments during such a challenging time.”

Mary Alexander, Desert Sands Unified School District

A school takes all-hands-on-deck approach to keep students fed

“…we have continuously been able to continue feeding our students at home whether they were quarantined or a school closure due to our collaboration and systematic approach between our campus admin, teachers, cafeteria staff, and bus drivers to deliver food to all communities in our attendance zone. It was a major operation and took lots of planning to ensure that we were delivering lunches to 100% of our students that were in need of meals. Not only were we providing lunches but breakfast for the next morning also…This also gave us an opportunity to see students that we may not have otherwise seen for months at a time.”

Bobby Sims, Marshall County School District

A principal advances her school, career and district

“I would like to celebrate Julee Spann who is a 2016 NISL Graduate and Facilitator. Under her leadership as principal of Brentwood Elementary, the school has experienced a 16-point growth since 2017… She earned the CPSB Principal of the Year award in 2020 and was most recently promoted to the district level as Coordinator of Teacher and Leader support.”

Carolyn J. Thomas, Calcasieu Parish School Board

Teachers build confidence teaching in virtual setting

“I have watched teachers who were scared to take the risk of videoing themselves to now being very confident and enjoying posting videos of themselves. Teachers have amazed me with how they have overcome the fear of virtual learning, eating lunch in the classroom, social distancing, wearing masks, teaching both distance and traditional learners at the same time. Teachers ARE superheroes! I am so proud of what we as educators have accomplished during the Covid pandemic! There is no other profession I would rather be a part of.”

Windy Faulkner, Union County School District

A district’s professional learning tech camp for teachers goes virtual

“The PGSD has provided an in-person Tech Camp 4 Teachers each summer for all Mississippi teachers since 2015. We trained several hundred teachers per year from school districts throughout Mississippi. Due to COVID-19 closure of schools, we had to adjust our training. We decided to create a two-day Virtual Tech Camp 4 Teachers in late June. There were 2,221 teachers from 130 school districts in this virtual camp with over 30 sessions available. We managed this training with three members of our Technology Department: Eva Harvell, Director; Jeannie Steer, Technology Trainer; and Stoney Rogers, Technology Trainer. They managed all of the presenters and presentations and provided feedback during the training.”

Wayne V. Rodolfich, Pascagoula-Gautier School District 

A high school partners with a local community college to provide students new learning opportunities

“Columbus High School students were given the opportunity to dual enroll in Principles of Information Security at East Mississippi Community College (EMCC). The students performed well and are continuing to pursue other information systems technology courses…Students can continue their studies at EMCC upon graduating from high school and go directly to work and work in penetration testing, vulnerability assessment, network security, as well as information assurance for network objects, database entries, and computer programming vulnerabilities. They could also continue their studies through a Bachelors of Applied Science at MSU…We will continue to innovate and provide opportunities for students. In the midst of a pandemic and shifts in the job market it is vital for us to collaborate with EMCC. “

Dr. Cherie Labat; Columbus Municipal School District

A teacher, a school, and a bear named Bubbles bring joy to a young student

“I have watched my school community come together in new and innovative ways in service of our children. One particular moment comes to mind that truly typifies this year. We were having a distribution in our parking lot and our Transitional Kindergarten teacher brought her class mascot (a rainbow teddy bear named Bubbles) to assist in the distribution of items. A young lady in her class pulled up in her mother’s car, screaming with excitement and hanging out the window for this was the first time she saw Bubbles and her teacher in person. She was so enamored with her teacher after being in school for just 3 weeks. Every child in her class comes to school each day and is making significant progress. Our work on community, love, welcoming, and belonging is yielding high attendance and academic gains during this trying time. Teachers are working hard to make school the happiest and warmest place there is…even online.”

Michel Cazary, San Diego Unified School District

From the district office to the classroom, staff step up to succeed in new context

“Michelle Peace, English Language Coordinator, has set up a color coded, six foot distanced, plexiglass and mask protocol, in person support system for our English Learners. Cheryl Sestito, an ELD teacher and WASC Coordinator, has successfully continued writing our WASC report and gathering data while building relationships and making people feel supported. Our Mod/Severe Special Education teachers have returned for in person learning with short notice, helping our students who have really missed their routines, structure, and instruction/learning. All of our teachers have learned technology and planning/teaching in a 4×4 model while dealing with their own personal situations during this time at home.”

Kelly Brown, San Marcos Unified School District

Arts and music initiative flourishes in a challenging environment

“This year we’ve been able to expand music learning to all elementary students in a re-design approach for responsible staffing to support all our elementary learners rather than a few as we had done in prior decades. We are now fostering music literacy in thousands of students and fueling our secondary programs with stronger articulation…We are exploring ways to support every student to have a well-rounded education which includes the arts and the creative competencies that our kids need to foster innovation, resilience, process, well-being, originality and thinking like artisans to be non-routine in the workforce and have a fully expressed joy-filled life. In other words, we’ve been able to expand the sphere of influence and role of arts education in our students’ lives this year.”

Robyn MacNair, Santa Ana Unified School District

A district succeeds online by providing professional learning for teachers and devices to students

“Hemet Unified has worked diligently to provide the most effective instruction to our students. We trained our teachers and staff before the start of school to support with the transition to online learning. We provided all students with Chromebooks and hotspots if internet was needed. We are working collaboratively to embrace, empower and educate our Hemet Unified family. I am proud to be a part of this district that is so innovative and caring.” 

Alyssa King, Hemet Unified School District

A district moves learning online and finds creative ways to celebrate students

“Our school site was able to transition our staff and Student Acknowledgement System into the distance learning model. We transitioned our site wide behavior expectations to include distance learning in a virtual space and continued to celebrate with our FIRE Awards and Cosmo Class Awards! Our prize redemption morphed into a drive through event! I am proud of our staff!” 

Tiffany Norton, Desert Sands Unified School District

A school comes together to meet the social and emotional needs of students

“…I’ve had several teachers find creative ways to build amazing relationships with their students. They have had fun activities for them, they have had paint nights for them, [and] we continue to use PBIS to reinforce behavior and academic expectations. We did a Halloweeen drive through event that all the parents and students were so thankful for. We do awards assemblies on a regular basis to recognize our students and give them the accolades for showing up to Zoom, completing their assignments, and still making academics a priority. We’ve found creative ways to keep our school climate and values alive.”

Rabia Minhas, Pomona Unified School District

A school broadcast helps students stay engaged and motivated

“This year with distance learning we wanted to create a way to keep our students and teachers connected. Using some streaming software and YouTube live, we broadcast live morning announcements to our school-wide population every Monday and Friday. We try to make these announcements fun and informative for our school and a positive way to start and end each week.” 

Steve Bayouk, Santa Ana Unified School District

Students and teachers learn to connect in a new environment

“Teachers have taken the time to develop positive relationships with their students via Zoom. Teachers have utilized and learned new forms of technology in order to support student learning. Students have become more organized with technology and more creative in how they showcase their work.”

Dr. Robin Williams, Moreno Valley Unified School District

A district provides technology access at scale

“The district’s coordination across multiple departments and all 43 school sites to ensure every student had access to a device and WiFi in order to connect with their teacher for distance learning.” 

Rocio Munoz, Bakersfield City School District

An elementary school takes a systemic approach to distance learning

“We successfully launched the 2020-2021 school year online for 620 students TK-5 during a global pandemic. We engaged students and families in a district-wide welcome week with learning menus featuring asynchronous activities in technology, social emotional learning, and wellness. We distributed devices, instructional materials, and school supplies to our students. Each day, we continue to welcome our students and families into virtual spaces. We provide engaging online lessons focused on the essential skills, strategies, and habits of mind students need to master grade-level standards. We recognize and celebrate our accomplishments. Most importantly–we continue to work together as a school community and to support each other during these challenging times.” 

Kimberly N. Moore, San Diego Unified School District

A district leader keeps the focus on students

“Our superintendent, Dr. Ryan Holman, led our district by being “essentially human” and by believing that “together is better.”…Ryan helped us make the best out of an extremely challenging situation. He kept students at the forefront of our work and always remained positive for the benefit of our families, employees, and community.” 

Allan Miller, Snowline Joint Unified School District 

Teachers and other staff go the extra mile to support students’ education, nutrition, and mental health

“I’m proud of the number of teachers who have continued to work beyond “contractual” hours during distance learning to assist students and parents. Our district has made sure no child has missed a meal during the week, and our counselors have created the best mental health webpage called “Puma Virtual Calming Room.” 

Dr. Mallanie Harris, Moreno Valley Unified School District

School leaders work to create aligned systems of instruction

“Our Virtual Cohort is laser focused on aligning systems per their learning from Units one through seven. Additionally, we are developing a common language around systems. We have movement!”

Rebecca Cook, Desert Sands Unified School District

A school opens its doors for hybrid in-person learning

“We are open for business! What a great day Monday, October 26th was when students returned to school in a hybrid in-person model. Initially we thought that compliance would be impossible, but it isn’t. It is quite manageable, especially when the payoff is kids on campus and learning! Amazing job Principal Espinoza (a fellow NISLer) and staff for providing this opportunity for our kids.”

Ross Swearingen, Helendale School District