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With new Shiloh Valley school model, neighboring elementary schools show they're "better together"

Shiloh Valley For more than a decade, Sun Valley and Shiloh elementary schools were two very distinct schools despite sitting 500 feet away from each other on the same property.

But that all changed six months ago when then-Sun Valley Elementary principal Dr. Susan Rodgers and then-Shiloh Elementary Principal Scott Spencer presented an ambitious vision to UCPS leadership: one school with two separate campuses.

They knew creating separate schools for students in kindergarten through second grades and third through fifth grades was unorthodox, but both principals passionately believed this plan would allow them to better support students in their community.

 “We didn’t want to be pitted against each other because there has been a competitive edge between our schools,” Rodgers said. “We wanted to completely flip that and join forces in a way where both schools and all of their students benefitted. The goal was to align our strengths.”

Months later, the newly renamed Shiloh Valley Primary and Shiloh Valley Elementary schools successfully opened their doors for the first day of school – the direct result of months of collaboration among district staff, school leaders, school staff, community members, parents and more.

Shiloh Valley Primary, located on the former Sun Valley Elementary campus, now serves students in kindergarten through second grades with Spencer serving as its principal. Shiloh Valley Elementary, located on the former Shiloh Elementary campus, now serves students in third through fifth grades with Rodgers serving as its principal.

“On the first day of school, I was full of nervous anticipation balanced with excitement. This had been six months in the making. We literally opened two new schools in existing buildings,” Spencer said. “The support that we received from everyone -- the transportation, communications and facilities departments, the Board of Education, district staff, the superintendent -- has just been amazing.”

When asked to describe the merger, Spencer and Rodgers immediately said cultivating positive relationships with the community, parents, students and staff was their top priority.

“The history runs deep between the two buildings. We knew we needed to honor the past and also project and look into the future,” Spencer said. “It was a beautiful process.”

This process included meetings with community members who had the opportunity to voice their opinions on everything from the new mascot to the school name.

The schools also merged their parent-teacher organizations, conducted face-to-face meetings, hosted school tours and Meet the Principal nights, held Facebook Live sessions, sent out Connect Ed messaging and more.

“Change is hard, so all of the feedback initially wasn’t 100 positive but that allowed us to be clearer about our mission based on the concerns,” Rodgers said. “We were allowed to make our vision clear because we did get parent input and made ourselves available to parents.”

Now, with a shared Better Together and Future Ready mission, both principals are able to work together to better prepare students for the future in new ways.

However, they’re quick to add that they both having outstanding school staff and administrators who have really taken the lead in championing the Better Together model. From joint staff meetings to prepare for the school year to combined professional development sessions, staff at both schools have fully embraced the new school model in ways that has helped energize students, families and community members.

Today, both schools operate on the same calendar, have alignment with their STEAM labs and offer Spanish Dual Language Immersion programs and the Leader in Me program. Even more, the two separate campuses also allow the schools to better implement best practices for more specific age groups.

“That in itself is a huge benefit because we have the time to work within three grade levels versus six, and better allocate resources whether it be volunteer support, technology and more,” Rodgers said.

Sitting together in a conference room at Shiloh Valley Primary, Spencer and Rodgers eyes still light up when they talk about their shared vision for the future.

“Future ready is not a cliché. Together, we are giving all of the possible tools to be successful. I want them to walk away from this school prepared to be leaders and successful,” Spencer said. “That foundation will rise them up. We had this vision, and now we can’t wait to see these students matriculate through these schools.”

Posted: Sept. 4, 2019