Halverson principal aims to support students where they need it

Published 11:26 am Thursday, March 3, 2022

COVID-19 might have paused typical school operations, but it hasn’t stopped Tonya Franks, principal at Halverson Elementary, from striving for more — even after distance-learning became the norm in the spring of 2020 and after the district adopted a four-day model during most of last year.

Instead, she’s thinking about what needs improvement.

“When I came here a number of years ago we were looking at working through a process to improve our students’ performance,” Franks said. “My work has been focused on looking at what our students need and responding to our data appropriately.”

And for the past couple of years, Franks has been focused on a multi-tiered system of supports that looks at academic data and uses interventions to help with needs.

“Those could be in reading or in math, and that is specifically responding to data,” she said. “So if a student’s data says that they’re needing additional support in phonics then we make sure that we find an intervention that maybe works on word blending. Maybe it works on isolated phonemic sounds.”   

She admitted the halted school schedule caused learning loss and that she wasn’t seeing yearly growth in every student.

Franks emphasized the need to saturate resources and ensure everybody available was in the correct place and used the school’s intervention reading program — Respect, Ownership, Acceptance and Readiness — as an example.

“During that reading time I look at who’s available to help,” she said. “I have my classroom teachers available, I have educational assistants available to help, I have success coaches available to help that speak Spanish and Karen … I pull all of my resources together, determine whose available to help and then assign interventions to students with the help of my resource specialists and instructional coach.” 

Another idea she’s focused on was meeting students’ social and emotional needs with a particular focus on younger students in first and second grades who haven’t known anything except pandemic-modified learning, which meant always wearing a mask, shortened school weeks and exposure to virtual learning.

“They just don’t have the stamina to be students like they did prior to the pandemic,” she said. “They’ve never had the experience to be a full-time student from bell to bell.”

To help with that, she and her team have developed a specific curriculum.

“That’s provided consistent language in the classroom but also throughout our building,” she said. “It’s having common language for how we’re addressing our student needs.” 

Franks is also embarking on the high reliability schools process, and the school is already certified level one.

“It’s putting the right people in a position to do the best work that they’re able,” she said.

Franks has been with the Albert Lea school district for almost 20 years and has served as a principal for seven years. This is her fourth at Halverson. Before arriving in Albert Lea, she had worked for two years in Mankato.