footer-rotate
Blog

Leader Spotlight: Paula Kavalec, Principal, Falcon Elementary School, Colorado Springs, CO

We are delighted to feature Paula Kavalec, principal at Falcon Elementary School of Technology in District 49, in the Colorado Springs, CO area.

Paula leads implementation of the Collaborative Classroom suite of programs: Collaborative Literacy, SIPPS (Systematic Instruction in Phonological Awareness, Phonics, and Sight Words), and Caring School Community. In this spotlight, Paula and her team share how this aligned approach to literacy and social and emotional learning instruction has supported their school’s development as a vibrant community of engaged and caring teachers and learners.

Collaborative Literacy, First Edition and Being a Reader, Second Edition are both approved as Core programs, and SIPPS is approved as an Intervention program on the Colorado READ Act Advisory List. Caring School Community is a CASEL SELect program.

Tell us a little about yourself, your school, and the students that you serve.

I have 14 years of experience in education and have been at Falcon Elementary School of Technology for four years—one as Dean, one as Assistant Principal and two as Principal. I live in Colorado Springs with my hubby who is fully retired from the US Army. I am originally from England and spent two years living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where my hubby and I met. I have three kids—Megan (25), Josh (22), and Cameron (20). 

District 49 spans 133 square miles of urban and rural areas in the Colorado Springs, CO area. The district currently serves more than 21,000 students and is the fastest-growing school in the region. Our school, Falcon Elementary, serves 262 students, with approximately 40 percent of the population on free and reduced lunch.  

What is the most rewarding part of being an educator for you?

My most rewarding part of being an educator is those snapshot moments when you see the impact you can have on a daily basis—whether with staff, students, families, or our local community—and recognizing that every single one of us plays a special role in educating our students. It really does take a whole community. 

I love leading this small school and we pride ourselves on being a small school with a big heart—every staff member here has a heart for kids and a work ethic to go alongside it. 

I love leading this small school and we pride ourselves on being a small school with a big heart—every staff member here has a heart for kids and a work ethic to go alongside it. 

We have an understanding that every student is unique and we are intentional in our mission to develop lifelong learners through a committed school community that fosters the successful academic adventure of each and every student. Our combined efforts have contributed to great success, even in the difficulties of COVID.

How did your school become interested in Collaborative Literacy, SIPPS, and Caring School Community?

When I first came to Falcon Elementary, we already had SIPPS as an intervention program, and it appeared to be working well. We had also onboarded Being a Writer and were in the middle of a training session with [Collaborative Classroom consultant] Kathy King-Dickman when it was mentioned how well Being a Writer aligned with SIPPS and Being a Reader, which are both on the Colorado READ Act Advisory List

Because of this, we further investigated Being a Reader and decided that it would allow us to support some of the areas of deficit we were seeing in K–2 with phonics instruction and phonemic awareness.

Implementing Being a Reader also allowed us to streamline and create a more focused alignment of curricular resources that would address reading, writing, and interventions from kindergarten through fifth grade. We found that many of our students that were in intervention groups last year are no longer needing that intensive support. 

As we found ourselves in the midst of the COVID pandemic, we also recognized the intense need for social and emotional learning. Caring School Community aligned with what we were already doing and was adaptable for use with our classroom morning meetings and for grade-level counselor lessons as well. 

How long has your school been implementing Collaborative Classroom programs?

In the Collaborative Literacy suite, this is year two for full implementation of Being a Writer (K–5); year two for full implementation of Being a Reader (K–2); and year one for Making Meaning (3–5). 

We have been using SIPPS for over five years, and we are in year one for full implementation of Caring School Community.  

How has using Collaborative Classroom programs transformed teaching and learning at Falcon Elementary School of Technology? 

We have noticed that since we aligned our systems and now use Being a Reader, SIPPS, Being a Writer, and Caring School Community as an integrated approach to literacy and learning, teachers are creating collaborative environments where there is a strong sense of community. 

We are noticing that Collaborative Classroom programs are aligned with developmentally appropriate approaches, and our students are developing a strong reading foundation due to the explicit instruction and a variety of opportunities to apply skills. 

We are noticing that Collaborative Classroom programs are aligned with developmentally appropriate approaches, and our students are developing a strong reading foundation due to the explicit instruction and a variety of opportunities to apply skills. 

Following the pandemic, the school began the year with a 32.9 percent reading proficiency. We had a lot of work to do and had an “all hands on deck” approach. This approach included training all classroom teachers in SIPPS so that we could capitalize on manpower and be effective with targeted interventions.

By midyear we had moved to 65 percent reading proficiency and Collaborative Classroom’s programs have been an integral part of that success.

Tell us a little about the implementations. What do you appreciate about Collaborative Literacy, SIPPS, and Caring School Community? What do teachers appreciate about them?

(Principal Paula Kavalec referred us to responses by fellow Falcon educators to answer these questions.)

Collaborative Literacy

  • Second Grade Teacher: “My students are really engaged with each of these programs. I’ve never had my students love writing the way that they do with Being a Writer.”
  • Second Grade Teacher: “I’ve taught for 17 years and this is the best reading and writing program I’ve ever used.”

SIPPS

  • Intervention Teacher: “I LOVE the online portal!  It’s beneficial to watch the online animations and videos!  My students make progress because of the explicit direct instruction. Mastery tests help me gauge what my students have learned and adjust my instruction.” 
  • First Grade Teacher: “The great thing about SIPPS is that it is all scripted, with options to see how each lesson should look like. This helps keep everyone who uses the program on track and progressing forward at the same rate.”

Caring School Community

  • Fifth Grade Teacher: “It does what it claims to in its name: Caring is occurring within our classroom setting. The morning circles and closing circles provide a way for students to see and hear from those just like themselves. We in the classroom get a new perspective and understanding of one another … this is very appreciated. Lastly, it allows us to take a moment to step away from the rigor of academics and realize life is happening for us all in very different ways. This program allows all students to be heard and has inspired many of them to come out of their shell with confidence.”
  • Dean of Students: “I love that it is a building-wide curriculum and that the first 10 weeks are aligned across the building. Opening and closing circles are a meaningful way to build community within the classroom and our students and teachers are loving the cross-age buddies program. Our counselor is also aligning guidance lessons with the Caring School Community curriculum!” 

What have you noticed about students’ learning and engagement? What have teachers noticed?

(Principal Kavalec referred us to responses by fellow Falcon educators to answer this question.)

Second Grade Teacher: “My students love reading and writing this year. If we miss anything in a day, the students ask when we will be doing it! They are definitely engaged.”

Second Grade Teacher: “My students are really excited about having fifth grade buddies! A couple of weeks ago they introduced each other by writing letters. This got my students so excited to figure out who their buddy was and they started looking for each other on the playground. Even though our students have met up, a handful of them continue to write each other letters! I love that they are working on their writing skills with each other!”

Dean of Students: “I have never seen students engaged in writing in particular in such a powerful way. Students are excited to write and to share their writing! The texts that accompany the curriculum are also highly engaging.” 

Fifth Grade Teacher: “The participation within the classroom has tripled due to the content and how the program incorporates questions throughout the lesson, which allows for more engaging discussion and viewpoints.”

How have Collaborative Literacy, SIPPS, and Caring School Community shifted teaching practices and/or professional learning in your school?

I see that teachers are focusing more on personalized learning that is restorative in nature. They are concentrating on collaborative strategies for students, and students are looking/working at goal setting and tracking of data for monitoring of success. 

Caring School Community allows for focus outside of academics, creating a safe and caring environment for students where they are heard and respected for their opinions and thoughts. 

Here is what some of my colleagues have to say:

  • Second Grade Teacher: “It has really changed the conversations about reading and writing. I feel like my students are making more connections than ever before.”
  • Fifth Grade Teacher: “It has made it easier to engage with student discussions, allowing my students to lead the way with debate and discussion rather than me always being the facilitator.
  • Intervention Teacher: “The implementation of Collaborative Literacy has enhanced my instruction.”  

Speak a little bit about the alignment of instruction across tiers using Collaborative Literacy (a READ Act-approved Core Program) and SIPPS (a READ Act-approved Intervention Program).

(Principal Kavalec referred us to responses by fellow Falcon educators to answer this question.)

Intervention Teacher: “SIPPS follows the recommendations for students learning to read. It provides explicit, direct instruction. This program requires mastery before moving forward. Each level of SIPPS gives recommendations based on the data collected from the mastery tests. SIPPS and Being a Reader complement each other.  Students in my SIPPS group can feel successful in their classroom lessons because of some of the similarities.” 

Second Grade Teacher: “It really boosts the confidence of my students in their reading skills. An example of this is that two of the flashcard words in SIPPS are “woman” and “women.” A few weeks later, those words were in the text that we were reading in a Being a Reader group. Two of my students that were also in my SIPPS group already knew these words with automaticity when other students in the group were struggling with “women.” It was a confidence booster for the two kiddos who already knew it.”

What thoughts or insights would you share with a school that is considering Collaborative Literacy, SIPPS, or Caring School Community?

I would recommend that they do the following:

  • Analyze their school’s areas of student need and determine if Collaborative Literacy, SIPPS or Caring School Community will address those needs fully.
  • Engage and provide lots of professional learning.
  • Provide opportunities for in-person coaching and modeling of lessons and if possible, encourage site visits.
  • Provide teachers/interventionists with plenty of appropriate materials. 
  • Train as many people as possible in SIPPS.
  • Utilize the Learning Portal.

***

Collaborative Classroom is honored to have approved curricula on the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) Advisory List of Instructional Programs. To learn more, download sample lessons of our CO READ Act-approved programs