New principal focused on improving Peete Elementary performance

 

The motto of new Peete Elementary School Principal Jonathon Kegler is "The wildcat way … win the day every day."

Peete is one of nine Tyler ISD schools rated as "improvement required" in the state accountability program.

"We are not looking at trying to change it overnight," Kegler said. "Right now we are focusing on each day. We are not putting the cart before the horse and looking at the finish line yet. We are putting one good day in front of the other and once we can put together 10 good solid months, hopefully we've won the school year."

By having a goal to win the day and win the year, Kegler said, he means meeting the needs and educating each individual student to be successful, perform well and meet state standards.

This is the third year that Kegler has accepted the challenge of seeing over a school rated as "needs improvement." The two previous schools came out of an "unacceptable" classification, he said.

"The change (in their accountability rating) wasn't about me, but it was about a team atmosphere," Kegler said. "With my coaching background, I love to build a team atmosphere and everyone buys into what's going on."

Kegler called it an "all hands on deck approach." One of the first tell-tale signs of the upswing is a whole change in the school culture and environment, then the learning takes off exponentially from there, Kegler said.

Kegler said he is building a team at Peet. "I'm excited to be entrusted to be the leader of Peete," Kegler said, saying in a short period of time, the school has become "dear to my heart."

A strategy he has implemented is small group instruction in reading, balanced literacy, math and science.

The principal said he wants to increase students' level of thinking and raise the rigor for them.

"Whatever students specifically need, we are trying to supply it," Kegler said.

The state accountability test will "will take care of itself if we teach the students what they need to know," he added. "We need to educate our students in a way we can definitely help them to reach that goal. Each individual student being successful is the No. 1 goal."

Every day after school, grades three through five participate in an enrichment program involving researching and building a project that interests them. Students performing below their grade level work on getting caught up, while higher-level students are challenged to perform at a still higher level, Kegler said.

"We don't have homework here; we have goal work. Goal work is specific for each student," Kegler said. "We don't give blanket home assignments for every kid to go home and do, but we are giving specific targeted things based on the data (showing) each student's needs."

Each student also has personal goals they want to reach while working hand in hand with the teacher's goals, Kegler said, stressing the importance of high expectations.

Saying he lives for the moments when a student smiles brightly and says "I get it," Kegler said he tries to create an environment for students as well as staff that is conducive for learning and growing.

Kegler said he tries to supply teachers with anything they would need to be successful and then empower them to make changes in students, whether it's is raise the student's reading level, math computation skills, proficiency in writing or science skills.

"I like to give my teachers chances to take risks. We want to support them through the risk-taking as long as it's a calculated risk based on data," Kegler said.

Each Friday is designated a college day at Peete, when students are encouraged to wear college T-shirts and each classroom adopts a college, Kegler said. "We talk college with the kids, starting in kindergarten. We are definitely trying to teach and instill in the students that there is a possibility of higher education," he said.

Kegler, 32, has a bachelor and master's degree in education from Stephen F. Austin State University.

His first position in education was as a physical education teacher and coach in the middle school in Nacogdoches for three years. Then he became an elementary assistant principal in Nacogdoches for a year. The last three years he was principal of a Nacogdoches elementary school.

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