UA COEHP IMPACT Fellow Changing School Culture in Camden, Arkansas

UA COEHP IMPACT Fellow Changing School Culture in Camden, Arkansas

When University of Arkansas graduate Cindy Bever (Class of 2018) was approached last summer by her district superintendent about taking on the role of principal for a newly reconstituted Ivory Intermediate School to serve approximately 300 fourth- and fifth-graders, she knew she was ready for the challenge.

Mrs. Bever had spent her recent career successfully serving the Camden-Fairview School District as an instructional facilitator and assistant principal, and she credited her participation in the IMPACT Arkansas Fellowship Program as preparing her to take on the challenge of creating a positive school culture at Ivory Intermediate School. In fact, Mrs. Bever regularly states she “would not be the leader” she is “able to be today if it were not for the amazing IMPACT Arkansas program.”

She had always been a seeker of knowledge about new approaches to school leadership even before participating in the 2nd cohort of the IMPACT program. Having previously completed graduate studies in the field of education, along with participation in the Arkansas Leadership Academy’s Teacher Leader Institute, she jumped at the chance to pursue a graduate degree in educational leadership in order to be prepared to lead her own school.

Upon being elevated to the role of principal at Ivory Intermediate School, Mrs. Bever immediately set a course toward clear expectations, collaboration, and strength-based coaching for students and staff. With the singular goal of “changing lives one day at a time” the school implemented a system of four houses as a platform to reward positives. Before the school year even started, every staff member selected a house that resonated with them. Each student subsequently spun a wheel to be sorted into houses.

Students earn house points by being respectful, holding doors open, picking up trash, academic excellence and more. To frame the positive culture, once a student earns points they are in the count forever, and there is no removal of points ever. The results thus far have been striking as Mrs. Bever’s vision for a positive learning culture is already coming into focus. Teachers at Ivory Intermediate School regularly report they are happier this year than ever before. Attendance and engagement among teachers and staff has improved this year, as well.

Perhaps most striking is the incredible improvement in student engagement as evidenced by a dramatic reduction in student disruptions to classroom learning. During the first eight months of the 2022-2023 school year, the school has seen a total of 97 office referrals for student discipline. This reflects a 90 percent reduction from the same period during the 2021-2022 school year in which students in the same grades were referred to the office 893 times. The reduction in referrals is even more notable in comparison to data from the 2020-2021 school year during which the majority of students participated in virtual learning, yet there were still 238 discipline referrals.

Cindy Bever can regularly be found flipping through her IMPACT program binder, which houses the 14 projects she completed through her leadership internship and coaching sessions, as a guide to her decision-making process. She credits the coaching, mentoring, and on-the-job training she received during her IMPACT experience as strong points that set the program apart from other leadership experiences.

By focusing on the CARDS — Caring, Achieving, Respecting, Discovering, and Serving — students and staff at Ivory Intermediate School in Camden are embracing the notion that “learning is required.” Their leader, Cindy Bever, is contributing to a massive change to a culture of positivity that can be felt as soon as one steps onto campus. Students and staff are happy and engaged in the learning process. Recognition of success can be found all over the walls, and expectations are rising that student achievement outcomes will grow substantially on this year’s state-mandated assessments.

Cindy Bever talks with students in Camden-Fairview School District.
Cindy Bever talks with students in Camden-Fairview School District.

The IMPACT Arkansas Fellowship Program is a non-traditional leadership preparation program provided by the University of Arkansas and funded by the Walton Family Foundation. The fellowship’s purpose is to prepare future leaders in low-income schools throughout Arkansas. Fellows receive a Master of Education in Educational Leadership upon completion of this 18-month program. To date, the program has prepared 105 graduates for school leadership positions, and more than 90 percent of IMPACT graduates are working in high-poverty Arkansas schools today. The program’s 8th cohort was recently selected, and these new fellows will begin the program in June. More information on the program can be obtained on this website.

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