Greenbrier’s Stephanie Worthey has been in education for 16 years but last year embarked on a new journey in her professional career.
After serving three years as assistant principal under Peggy O’Riley at Westside Elementary and three as its principal, Worthey accepted the principal position at Greenbrier’s new Springhill Elementary School.
Westside, she said, was a great school but O’Riley built it and she just kept it afloat.
“I think the challenge for myself [was] to see if I could build something,” she said. “I guess I wanted to, just for my own career challenge, to see [if I] could I build something. Could I take a staff from all three buildings, could we take kids and could we build something that was beautiful for kids?”
Now a year later, Worthey said when she finds time to think back to the beginning of it all, realizing what she and her staff were able to accomplish, feels amazing and makes her realize they were all a part of something special — all pieces of a bigger puzzle.
While the journey has been fun, she said starting at a new school with new staff members and new students was tough.
“Nobody knew how to even go through the cafeteria line,” Worthey said. “I think at the beginning of the year everybody was just trying to get everybody where they were supposed to be and ‘how do we do this’ and ‘what’s our routines,’ ‘what’s our systems.’”
She said the staff put focus on several objectives for the first year, including developing relationships with the students off the bat.
“It was just beautiful to watch as an administrator, and just making sure the kids stayed in the focal point of it, and once we kind of got up and going, to see that we had some really great things in place. I think that was good to see,” Worthey said. “We had hard-working teachers that came on board and accepted some of the new systems they weren’t used to and made it work for the kids.”
Starting from the ground up, the school adopted its theme for the first year — building the foundation — which was a lot, she said.
Worthey said they wanted to establish a growth mindset at Springhill, teaching students to keep pushing forward, to persevere and overcome frustrations that are presented to them daily; everyday being a new day and an opportunity to learn and fail because learning comes from failing.
“I think we just wanted our kids to embrace that,” she said. “One of our mottos was ‘I can’t do this … yet.’ There’s lots of things that kids couldn’t do but we wanted them to put the ‘yet’ on it.”
From the beginning of the year to the end, Worthey said she saw the difference and was thankful for focus on the personal challenge for each child, teacher and staff member, including being one of the top schools in the district — third, fourth and fifth grade — in ACT Aspire test scores.
“We were ecstatic because we didn’t expect that but we knew that we had worked really hard, and I think that was awesome to see. And our teachers [got] to celebrate that all that hard work had paid off and our kids were the winners,” she said. “I think that’s the powerful part of last year is that everyone was striving to be the best that they could be and keep growing.”
In addition to that focus on growth, Worthey said her school also had several other systems in place she feels drew other educators into the district from across the state, including its PROWL (Panthers Reading Outstanding Works of Literature) Intervention Program, which pinpoints intervention and enrichment needs in the students to meet their individual needs. Also, the school’s data assessment wall and the student conversations conducted on Fridays for assessment also contributed.
Worthey said those school aspects brought visitors last year from Alma, which sent every teacher in K-4, Pottsville School District and others. This year, Cabot School District has visited campus.
“I think that’s been one of the key components for people wanting to come to Greenbrier School District to see what’s going on, and our test scores support that,” Worthey said. “We’re doing something right.”
With last year’s focus on building a foundation, she said this year the school staff is sanding out strengths and learning how to put them to work at Springhill to help the students. One of those ways includes a chart in which teachers can welcome each other into their classroom through peer observations.
“We have great teachers in this building,” Worthey said. “We can learn great things from each other.”
She said she has loved every second of the past year, and despite it being tough at times, couldn’t see herself doing anything else.
“My job has a true purpose every day, and I think that’s the best part about it is because every day we can make a difference for kids,” Worthey said. “It’s been fun. It really has and I look forward to it. We still have things to accomplish.”