Spotlight: Megan Brown (AZ '22)April 4, 2023
Principal Megan Brown (AZ ’22) has led her school to new heights by focusing on targeted interventions, literacy skills and collaboration: “We have leaned into one another, knowing that together we could accomplish anything.” She received Arizona’s Milken Award at Buckeye Elementary on March 31, 2023.
Milken Family Foundation: Buckeye Elementary has made remarkable strides in student outcomes over the past few years. Can you tell us about some of your strategies and programs to support this growth?
Megan Brown (AZ ’22): Teacher collaboration and constant conversations around student data have been the largest contributors to our success at Buckeye Elementary. We committed as a school family to our school vision and mission, anchored to our core beliefs: Every child WILL learn. Learning is required by all. Family first. Do what has to be done. We adopted the motto “Ride for the Brand” and held each other accountable for adhering to our collective commitments — using data to guide and drive instructional practices, being solution-focused, building positive relationships, functioning as a collaborative team, and celebrating all growth.
We focused on Tier 1 instruction and ensured that all teachers were delivering rigorous, grade-level content to all students. We dug into early literacy skills and spent time fine-tuning our literacy block in the K-4 grade levels to ensure all the critical components were present. We also recognized that we needed more intentional work with phonics. We adopted a phonics intervention program and provided small groups targeted at student need. Each grade level had a devoted intervention block specifically focused on phonics. This intense work within the master schedule led to over 100 small groups pulled in one week across the K-4 grade levels.
Weekly collaborative team meetings are non-negotiable. Teams get together to discuss student data and performance as it is currently happening. We make decisions on what we will do the following week based on the current week’s data. We committed that every meeting must be driven by student data, and conversations need to be focused on students and student outcomes.
As a school family we believe that we learn best from each other, and that we are all responsible for all students. Teachers engaged in peer observations, peer-led professional development, and our school guiding coalition, where grade-level leaders drive all decision-making regarding school improvement. We have trusted the process and leaned into one another, knowing that together we could accomplish anything.
MFF: Your staff retention rate is 90% at a time when schools are experiencing teacher shortages. What’s your secret?
Megan: Relationships make the world go around. Effective teachers are the highest yielding strategy for student achievement. I know I need to pour myself into developing and supporting them. I believe in leading through example as well as modeling humility and transparency. My staff are my biggest investment and I believe that the better I know them and the stronger our relationships are, the better working climate we will have as a school.
I’m not perfect. I’m constantly learning and growing myself. I want my staff to know that learning happens through discomfort. I am not scared to show them how I navigate my own learning in hopes that they see that it’s okay to fall down, make mistakes, or be uncomfortable. That’s learning.
MFF: How did you end up in education?
Megan: This is what I was born to do. I come from a family of educators, including my mother and grandmother. I grew up in the classroom. I was setting up classrooms at the beginning of every school year from infancy! Education is in my blood. There is absolutely nothing else in the world I could see myself doing.
MFF: Who are your role models?
Megan: My mom is by far my biggest role model as an educator. She brought learning to life both in her classroom and at home. She also modeled how to be career-driven and a mother. She pursued her master’s in educational leadership while raising three elementary-aged children, which gave me the confidence to take on my own master’s when I had a one-year-old and was pregnant with my second. My mother’s passion for learning and children was truly inspiring. She was constantly looking for ways to connect with all students and create unforgettable learning experiences. She looked for ways to have a positive impact within any role she served in the educational community. That’s what I strive for as well — positive impact.
MFF: How was your first year of teaching?
Megan: I had an amazing first year. My pre-service work at the University of Wyoming prepared me well. I had a supportive team, an amazing administration, and a great group of students. On the first day of school, as everyone settled into their classrooms, I remember looking at my students and thinking, “Holy cow — their parents are trusting me with these kids all day long for 180 school days!”
I approached every day thinking about keeping my sense of humor. Kids are fun, they want to have fun, and learning should be fun! I laughed a lot and fumbled through many lessons that now, looking back, I realize weren’t the best. But we had fun and we learned as a classroom family.
MFF: What do you like about working with elementary students?
Megan: Kids are hilarious! I taught first and second grades, and early literacy is truly my passion. I love nothing more than the magic of learning to read. Third graders are amazing because they are shifting from learning to read to reading to learn. I love reading and talking about what we are reading with kiddos who have just realized, “I can read this, and I can understand it, and I LOVE READING!” The elementary years are critical in setting this foundation. Reading is the gateway to success.
MFF: How did you feel at your Milken Educator Award notification?
Megan: When my name was announced I was just flooded with emotion. I felt an overwhelming amount of gratitude and pride. I give my heart and soul to my school daily. All I want is for my school to succeed. To be recognized for the work my school has done is absolutely amazing.
MFF: How did students respond to your Milken Award?
Megan: I hope that my students see my Award as an example of what hard work and dedication can lead to. They were all so excited and supportive, and they were so proud that their principal received an award. I loved that this shined a light on Buckeye Elementary. My students deserve the attention because they are critical components of the school’s success. I hope this shows them that our school is amazing, and that hard work pays off.
MFF: Any plans for your $25,000 Award?
Megan: I want to celebrate by taking my husband and three kids on a vacation. They have hung strong and supported me through the past few years as I worked to support Buckeye Elementary. Family time is much needed.
MFF: How do you define “success” for yourself, and for your students?
Megan: Success for me is having a positive impact on the people and community I serve. When my time is done in education, I hope people say, “Megan had a positive impact on us.” If I were to define success for my students it would be to achieve their goals, whatever they may be, and to be able to look back on those goals and say they worked hard and learned a lot in order to get there.
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