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In Conversation With ... Rachel Crider

Rachel Crider

on servant leadership and the importance of professional learning

Kentucky School Advocate
October 2019

In Conversation With … features an interview between a leader or figure involved in public education and a representative of the Kentucky School Advocate. 

This month, in recognition of National Principal’s Month, we hear from Rachel Crider, principal at Allen Elementary School in Floyd County who was named the Kentucky Association of School Administrators’ Building Level Administrator of the Year. Crider, who has been a principal for five years has been involved in KASA leadership initiatives including the Leadership Challenge Steering Committee. She’s also one of 25 women selected for the Kentucky Women in Education Leadership program.

Q: Congratulations on your award from KASA. It is always meaningful to be recognized by our peers.

A: Absolutely. I have tremendous respect for KASA and its work. I became a member as soon as I became an administrator, and I'm involved in its initiatives, including as a trained facilitator for the Leadership Challenge.

Q: You were a longtime teacher, with a love for the classroom. Why did you want to move into school administration?

A: Jerri Turner, the principal I worked for for 17 years at McDowell Elementary (now closed), would tell me that I needed to go into administration. I would say, “But I love my classroom, I love my kids, I love what I do.” She would say, “You would have a bigger impact if you were an administrator. It wouldn’t just be your classroom, it would be every classroom.” By the way, in a strange turn, Jerri retired and is now my office manager here at Allen.

Q: You describe yourself as a servant leader. What does that mean to you? 

A: People look at the principal as the boss, the person that hands out the rules and the regulations. That’s not the culture in our building. I want people to see me as a resource. I serve every person in this school, providing them with the resources to be successful and to grow. To me, that’s what servant leadership is. 

Q: Do you have an example to illustrate how this works in the school setting?

A: Yes, I have 12 new first-year teachers and I’m serving them by doing different things to help them develop. We are working with the newly released standards, breaking them down, comparing them to the old standards. We talk about how they’re different and how they’re alike and what’s new and what it looks like in a classroom. I’m also sending new and veteran teachers to as many trainings as I can get them to, so they can come back and share. 

Q: It is obvious you believe in professional development as you’ve personally taken the time to be involved in many leadership development programs. Why is it important for principals to do that?

A: As lead principal, a lot of our job is compliance, but I try not to confuse compliance with complacent. If I’m asking everybody in our building to be better today than they were yesterday, then it’s up to me to remove obstacles that they might have to get them to the trainings, to get them mentors. For example, I have assigned all of our new teachers veteran mentors. I want them to know that I believe in my own professional development, that I want to be always getting better and I want them to see that in me. That’s why I take on new initiatives. If I become complacent, everybody else will too.

Q: One example of expanding your professional development is the Kentucky Women in Education Leadership (KWEL) Program. What have you gained from this program?

A: It is such an empowering experience when you get that many powerful women in a room and they start talking about opportunities. The idea behind KWEL is to bring women together, and provide women with opportunities. It’s not a man-hate group. But as women, we feel like we can be CEO or superintendent. 

I received a mentor through the program. Her name is Linda France. She’s a retired superintendent and she’s worked at KDE (Kentucky Department of Education). She’s visited my school, and we talk about career choices and next steps for me.

Q: Most Kentucky school superintendents are men. Do you see that changing and is that something KWEL talks about?

A: That is one of the underlying goals for the group. We need to build awareness and recognize the work that women are doing in our schools and our districts. They need to know who’s behind the scenes making things happen and who is highly effective in their districts. I do think if we get more of that we will see more female superintendents. 

Q: Your school serves a rural population. What are some differences that educators in rural areas face that those in the urban areas might not understand?

A: When you think of Eastern Kentucky, first and foremost it is geography. It is difficult for us to have school many days in the winter – last year we missed 23 days. Of course, we always make up our time. And, this is not just a rural issue, but the drug epidemic is huge in our area. We have thought about running statistics of children whose guardian is their grandparent. We have high numbers of kids that are being raised by grandparents. 

Q: How about technology? Eastern Kentucky’s been innovative and made strides there.

A: I can’t speak for all districts, but here in Floyd County we’re technology strong. We have digital conversion. It’s a one-to-one initiative – from fifth grade through eighth grade, they all get laptops. I take a lot of our title money and other funding and buy Chromebooks and iPads for our students in kindergarten through fourth grade.
 
So we are almost one-to-one here at Allen. And I’m using a Gear Up Grant to purchase more Chromebooks. Our classrooms have interactive Smartboards. I just had classroom speaker systems put in with microphones to amplify the teacher’s voice and student microphones. We’re incorporating a lot of STEM within our instruction and our district has got a STEM bus. I think there are only two in the state.

Q: Does the rural setting pose any obstacles for technology though?

A: Yes, we have all this technology and then kids take it home to homes with no Wifi. 

Q: Allen is preschool through eighth grade. Do you find challenges for serving that span of grades and ages?

A: Of course, with each grade the curriculum changes. We get to see your children from the time they’re babies to the time they’re young adolescents. As they grow there’s some emotional challenges and things that we help our students with. We try to incorporate things like making good choices, tolerance and respect into our classrooms. 

Q: Your school participated in the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative’s first cohort of the Activating Catalytic Transformation. How did that benefit Allen?

A: It was a fine, well-put together initiative. ACT is an overall school improvement plan that involves all stakeholders. It gets schools looking at where their kids are and it brings all the data together. What’s so special is it puts all stakeholders together. So everybody that has a part in the school has a part in the school improvement and all teachers have a plan of action. People know the plan and they know their part. 

If you’re an ACT school, you get $5,000, and you can use that for training teachers. One area that we decided to work on was student engagement, engaging students at a high level in the classroom. We are looking at children and their different ability levels, asking if we have planned for appropriate opportunities for each child to engage and be successful. Teachers can plan the lesson but it may not engage every child. A teacher may not have thought through the abilities of the children. How is the student who is a bit behind going to be able to keep up? What’s going to be his problem? It has really led to some deep conversations.

Q: If a school board member asks, “What could a school board do to help support principals in their district,” what advice would you share?

A: Provide principals with opportunities to grow. We don’t want principals to become compliant. We’re the instructional leaders of the building. What we believe and what we value will happen, so we need to be current. We need to have opportunities like the KASA Leadership Challenge.
 
Photo: Before moving into administration, Rachel Crider taught for more than 17 years before moving into administration at Allen Elementary School in Floyd County. Crider now leads 12 first-year teachers at the K-8 grade school. Photo provided by Crider. 

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