Shaker Road case study highlights South Colonie’s ability to effectively adapt during COVID-19

In March of 2021, the NYKids research team set out to conduct a study with the hopes of understanding the experience of educators throughout the first year of the pandemic. Researchers were especially interested in how these unprecedented conditions may affect different levels of stress and job satisfaction. A grand total of 38 schools from all across New York state were selected to participate, one of which being our own, Shaker Road Elementary school.

a picture of the front entrance of Shaker Road Elementary.
Shaker Road Elementary School.

Now you might be wondering how Shaker Road stacked up when compared to the other schools? Well, the reported percentages of Shaker Road educators who were satisfied with the way their administrative team handled these uncertain times was in fact, 43.1% higher than that of the other schools surveyed. This placed Shaker Road in a position to be considered a positive outlier in the study with a score of 80% in regards to satisfaction, while the average reported level of satisfaction ranged closer to 36.9% overall. This meant that Shaker Road was doing something special and researchers took note, opting to create a case study on the elementary school to better understand the systems put in place that allowed for such a staggering success rate. 

“At South Colonie, we take great pride in our involvement within the community,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. David Perry. “And with that, we did not view the pandemic as a reason that we should stop our efforts to give back.  Instead, we viewed it as an opportunity to use those prior relationships, and let our community know we would do everything we could to ensure the health and safety of both themselves and our students.” 

Schools were evaluated in four different areas and their ability to effectively adapt to this “new normal” such as approaches to leadership, academic learning, social-emotional learning and mental health, as well as parent or caregiver engagement. The case study aimed to answer the question of why Shaker Road received such glowing reviews in each of these categories. Researchers relied on interviews with the faculty and staff to answer this question, which revealed three common themes that had been reported among the educators.

A tight-knit community fosters safe space for students and staff

The first, and most commonly addressed reason for this palpable satisfaction, being the tight-knit community and consistency fostered by the faculty and staff. This made the school a reliable and safe space for many during the pandemic. Researchers specifically noted that many educators had a unique perspective on what it means to be a parent or student in their school community because of the fact that many were fortunate enough to have had their own children pass through the school district; or even that a handful of teachers themselves are Shaker Road alumni. This along with the benefits of having long standing professionals in leadership positions helped Shaker Road solidify itself as a family-first community.

“Everything that goes on here is student centered,” said Shaker Road Elementary Principal Bill Dollard. “It would be very easy to fall into a pattern of doing what’s best for teachers and believe the kids will be fine. But fortunately, every one of our teachers and staff members seem very, very unwilling to take that approach. They continue to keep the kids at the center of what they’re doing.“

Solidarity throughout the district aids in professional growth

This sense of solidarity fostered extremely open and honest modes of communication between leadership and educators which also made communication with families that much easier. The researchers noted that districtwide communication efforts had made these high levels of satisfaction possible, with educators and administrators willing to share their success and learn from each other in order to constantly improve the methods they had in place. An emphasis was placed on Principal Dollard’s approach to communication with his staff as being understanding and accommodating; allowing for teachers to vocalize the needs they were observing within their own classroom, while his focus remained on ensuring that they were given the support they needed to keep their classrooms running smoothly. 

“And to the credit of our staff, I always tried to use the distributive leadership model from the moment I got here, and they responded to that. Sharing some of those responsibilities as we went through peaks and valleys and different forms of delivering instruction – it paid off no doubt,” Dollard added.  

The benefits a team-based approach had in securing success

This support from administrative leaders and their team-based approach, as well as re-evaluation and re-imagining of systems the building had already had in place, helped Shaker Road’s faculty and staff to ensure the success of their students. By prioritizing the basic needs of those in the community and maintaining expectations to better suit the needs of families, Shaker Road was able to overcome many barriers placed in their way by the pandemic. The common mindset highlighted in the case study that was shared by administrators and teachers was the common goal to use this as a stepping stone to better understand the strengths and deficits in the school’s preparedness. By approaching the pandemic as an educational opportunity, Shaker Road and South Colonie as a whole were able to identify more effective modes of communication for students and their families, as well as implement the use of technology that has since greatly improved the learning environment at South Colonie.

“We were so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this study and to learn more about the needs within our schools and community,” said Dr. Perry.  “Our goal is always to make sure our students and community come first. We have an amazing team of educators, and the results of this study simply reiterate what those in our community already know: we care about our families and students, and we will do whatever we can for them.” 

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