Principal Kerry Purcell

Principal Kerry Purcell

Harvard Park Elementary School, Springfield, IL
Kerry Purcell, Principal

“So many factors made our success possible as a school family. I take no credit for any of it, but rather thank the staff, families and students for believing in me enough to become risk takers.” -- Kerry Purcell to filmmakers off-camera

Harvard Park Elementary is located in a working class community in the central Illinois state capital of Springfield. Today, nearly 387 students in grades pre-kindergarten through 5th grade attend Harvard Park. About 42.9 percent are African American, 46.3 percent are white and eight percent are multiracial. Eighty-seven percent of the students are from low income families, and the school is designated as Title I. The community has a high rate of multiple families living in inadequate housing and a 50 percent mobility rate. A “mobility bus” brings students who have moved out of the community to Harvard, to maintain continuity with their education. The school has made adequately yearly progress (AYP) in reading and mathematics and was taken off the AYP Watch list in fall 2007; the attendance rate was 92 percent.

Principal perspectives
Principal Kerry Purcell was a kindergarten teacher for 12 years, an assistant principal for one year, a principal for two years at McClernand, and was principal at Harvard Park for six years. She and her team are happy that the school is off the AYP Watch list. She contributes this success to the fact that her school staff deliberately uses data in the classroom and disseminates information throughout the school community, especially families. For instance, the school has offered parent data sessions on attendance and its importance for student learning. Purcell still does home visits to connect with parents who might need help focusing on their children’s learning needs.

Purcell also credits her talented staff and her diligence in determining new resource allocations. After-school resources have greatly enhanced student learning as well. For example, a 21st Century After School Program Grant provides daily tutoring to students in need of academic enrichment. The former superintendent (Diane Rutledge) and the current one were very supportive of these efforts, one of the keys to their success. The district provided other instructional supports such as math and reading instructional coaches.

Purcell and her staff carefully monitor student performance. In an effort to stress the importance of achievement, data results (without identifying individual students) are posted throughout the school on the walls, in classes and in newsletters sent home to parents. One bulletin board near the entrance graphically shows all students, represented by footprints, grouped by grade level and below average, average and above average testing sectors represented by colors. It is a striking visual that shows the majority of kindergarten students testing below norms, but much better results in the higher grades. In the private area of the school, hanging pocket folders contain color coded cards with student information: ISAT scores, problem areas, and whether that student is receiving individualized attention to address his or her particular deficits. It is detailed and highly organized. The data is used to make laser like interventions with kids who are on the cusp of passing.

The school uses numerous tools, such as weekly take home folders, teacher newsletters and a principal newsletter – all of which track student progress and provide tips on how parents and families may take an active role in their child’s learning.

In talking off-camera to the filmmakers, Purcell sums up Harvard’s experience as follows: “Looking back we wouldn't trade the ups and downs for anything, as we realized shortly after we started our journey that is was a race worth running. Not for ourselves, but rather for our children whom we are lucky enough to serve. The sense of urgency in the early stages gave us the momentum we needed to stay the course. Our transformation was slow but steady as we began to look at how the following might have an impact on student achievement . . .

. . . culture and climate
. . . professional learning communities
. . . family engagement versus family involvement
. . . reallocation of fiscal, human and time resources
. . . instructional focus, promising practices, SMARTe goals
. . . data driven decision making
. . . empowering others through a flattened leadership model
. . . instructional leadership vs. management at the administrative level
. . . laser-like targeted intervention support based on current and authentic data
. . . looping and getting the right people on the right seat on the right bus

While many other practices were embedded deeply into our work, these are the change
agents that gave us the leverage to begin our transformation.”

Kerry Purcell

“One day at a time. One person at a time. One heart at a time. My ultimate vision as the leader of Harvard Park Elementary School was to empower staff to be leaders and to build a strong community of learners among all stakeholders. This certainly didn’t happen overnight, but took time. Time to get to know each staff member and to utilize their individual talents to strengthen our team. Time to get to know each heart and to work to build trusting relationships built on mutual respect and concern. And time to build in opportunities for those very important conversations about being difference makers in the lives of our children . . . one moment and one child at a time.”

Kerry Purcell began her career in education, in 1986, as a kindergarten teacher for Springfield District 186 in Springfield, Illinois. Kerry’s teaching experience was in an urban school that served approximately 400 students, 70 percent of whom came from low socioeconomic homes. During her 12 years as a kindergarten teacher, Kerry served in various leadership capacities at the school, district and state level. She served on numerous committees and task forces that supported school reform around best teaching practices. Kerry was a co-presenter at state conferences around topics including developmentally appropriate teaching practices for early learners and research based instructional practices in literacy and mathematics. She was also a supporter of the inclusion model, servicing students with various special needs within the regular education classroom. She was also instrumental in starting the first non-paid after-school program at Hay Edwards Elementary School.

While teaching, Kerry received her Master’s degree in educational administration from University of Illinois in Springfield. She began her administrative career in 1998 as an assistant principal at Harvard Park Elementary School. One year later, Kerry accepted the principal position at McClernand Elementary School at which she was instrumental in enhancing the community based reform coupled with the Accelerated School model to service students, 95 percent of whom came from low socioeconomic homes. After a two year stay at McClernand, Kerry returned to Harvard Park Elementary School, serving as principal for six years.

During her tenure as principal of Harvar​d Park, Kerry was instrumental in supporting the school’s successful move off the state watch list. Most recent data indicates that the school made approximately a 45 percent gain in reading and a 50 percent gain in math scores over a five-year period. Specifically during Kerry’s tenure at Harvard Park, she also worked to support the needs of the staff, students, and families by bringing to the school various initiatives and reform efforts including research based teaching practices, after-school programs, programs to support high-risk students, WRAP programs, looping, Response to Intervention and reallocation of resources. She worked to ensure that all initiatives and programs were tightly aligned to one another thus creating a strong system of support aligned to the identified needs.

Most notable is Kerry's work around data interpretation and analysis, building and sustaining professional learning communities, and creative use of fiscal, human and time resources to support school improvement. In addition, Kerry was instrumental in building leadership capacity in staff throughout the district while serving as a district mentor and delivering staff development to instructional leadership teams across the district.

Kerry currently serves as a senior consultant for Focus on Results. In this capacity, she works with district level administration, building principals and teacher leaders in districts across the country. As a consultant, Kerry provides professional development and coaching support to assist districts in understanding how to become data driven decision makers and to use this data to make sound instructional, fiscal and human resources decisions that positively affect the lives of children and families.