Building trust and a school culture – Episode 2

Students react to eating edible bugs

NOTE: This week’s episode is a continuation from last week’s discussion with Marcy Simmerson, a fifth-grade teacher at Killarney Elementary. If you missed it, click here to listen and see the blog post.

Listen to the podcast (click play button above) to hear Marcy and Principal Kelly Steinke discussing trust and school culture. We brought them together in this episode to help explain the way they each used their position and skillset to help transform their school. 

Killarney grew from a  D to an A school grade, despite being Title 1, having the largest homeless student population in OCPS and a 53 percent mobility rate.

How’d they do it?

Kelly says the lessons learned from their book studies:  Teach Like a ChampionThe End of Molasses Classes, and #KidsDeserveIt, were the foundation for their school transformation. It wasn’t an overnight process; it took time to practice and cultivate changes.

Part of transforming their school culture came from the Ron Clark Academy idea of creating a House System so that everyone in the school has a place to belong. For this movement to be successful, Kelly knew she needed all stakeholders to “buy in.” She felt taking a few baby steps toward the end goal, rather than going all in at the beginning, helped get her faculty on board, which, in turn, increased student engagement, and led to classroom and school transformations.

Killarney has four houses (Tezeti, Kupa, Isazi, Bepall) based on their core values and a daily creed that helps drive them, in the respective order: Goal oriented, Outstanding citizens, Lifelong learners, Determined to succeed. We are GOLD.

The competition aspect of the House system helps students keep their focus on maintaining good character, and the overall “whole home mentality” has positively impacted the school community.

While it may seem like it’s all fun and games, Killarney’s success, didn’t happen overnight. It took hours of teamwork to plan creative lessons that align with the rigor of the standards and that are on target with the Scope and Sequence. It’s Kelly’s trust in her professional learning communities that affords her teachers the ability to think outside the box.

One such creative lesson ended with students taste-testing edible bugs. To get to this point, students conducted a close read to answer FSA aligned reading comprehension questions about the passages. For each correct answer groups received “sticks of dynamite” to blast away “rocks” that covered the flavored bugs.

Watch to see the students and Kelly’s reaction:

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Want to discuss this podcast with your staff and/or peers? Click the image to open the discussion guide.


Marcy Simmerson has a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Florida and returned to Orlando to teach in the district that helped raise her. She began teaching at Killarney ES six years ago. 

Kelly Steinke is in her sixth year as principal at Killarney ES. She believes good leaders model the behavior they expect from others.

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