Education column: Principal says positive school culture important to success

Cindy Kleyn-Kennedy

Things are hopping at Marshall Middle School. Recent conversations with high-energy Principal Jay Brady and his staff revealed some proactively positive trends taking place at this school.

Building a positive school culture is important to student success, according to Brady, as he discussed the importance of setting high standards both for academics as well as for behavior to create the optimal learning environment.

“Teachers can save lives,” Brady said, describing the critically important influence teachers can have.

“It’s about building relationships and consistency,” Brady said. “We’re about high-impact teaching that’s timely, relevant, and with good assessment in place.”

Building strong work relationships among staff to strengthen aligned goals also contributes to a positive school culture.

“Sometimes simple changes make a positive difference. For example, we moved our faculty meetings from Mondays to Fridays.”

Brady maintained the difference in reflecting on teaching practices and dealing with typical meeting topics in a relaxed manner at the end of the week made a huge difference to the stress levels typically present on Mondays.

An arts-infused curriculum is now standard at Marshall. Brady discussed at length the research-driven importance of the arts in helping students learn better.

Not only is infusing arts aiding academics, enrollment in music electives is up considerably over the last couple of years. Band members now number around 185; choir is around 200, and a men’s choir of 88 young men is astonishing when only a couple of years ago the choral program was struggling to stay afloat. (See Marshall’s events calendar at to catch some upcoming events).

I had a closer look one evening recently during Marshall’s Math and Science Night, organized to highlight activities in those subject areas.

As parents and children arrived, signed in and made their way to different classrooms, each with a different activity, Brady greeted each and every individual by name with conversational snippets as they passed by without missing a beat in our conversation. Some of the activities included, “Recipes With Fractions” and “Integer Wars.” Other classrooms had an array of materials ready, and teachers were mentoring students at various stages of their science projects.

Donna Tivis, one of the teachers involved with organizing the evening, elaborated on other new strategies they’d tried this year. In an innovative approach during the last parent-teacher conferences, the students led the conferences, presenting their own work to their parents and, with few exceptions, loved it. Talk about student engagement.

Increased parent involvement, another goal, has also come to pass.

Monthly Parent Involvement Committee meetings now organize a host of activities on a regular basis to build community. Improved behavior strategies have also made a big difference with dramatically decreased discipline referrals. Contributing to this are proactive efforts by on-site counselors, Lynn Fronk and Bob Pullings with resources, educational activities, and contests. As a matter of fact, the 5 poster winners (out of 200 entries) from the Anti-Bullying Poster Contest are about to be announced, and the winner’s artwork will be adopted as the Marshall Anti-bullying brochure.

Additional resources can be found at: or

William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.”

Marshall’s definitely lighting some fires.

Cindy Kleyn-Kennedy is the Instructional Technology Coordinator for the Clovis Municipal Schools and can be reached at