For Principal Aubrey Flowers, student needs come first. During the COVID-19 school closures in 2020, teachers at Council Oak Elementary in Tulsa, Oklahoma, found it hard to keep their young students focused during whole-class Zoom lessons. Over the summer, knowing online instruction might still be necessary for the 2020-21 school year, Flowers created re-entry teams that met virtually to plan, troubleshoot, and create a playbook of best practices. Knowing the challenges their working families might face, balancing at-home learners as well as their own employment, Flowers considered a more innovative approach to live online instruction. She floated the idea of small-group pods of three to five children, giving each child one Zoom per day with a grade-level teacher. Then, to accommodate the smaller groups, Flowers suggested realigning teachers from grade level teams into K-1, 2-3 and 4-5, where each teacher would handle one subject across two grades. She secured buy-in from educators and school stakeholders by explaining that the new framework would be best for children and families, providing learners with consistent, regular connections with more individual attention. Leveraging consistent, online townhalls, recorded videos and print messages regarding this new online learning format, the school community connected with the proposed shifts and remained engaged with their children’s learning. Flowers holds weekly collaboration meetings with each teacher team to work on lesson planning, curriculum alignment and pacing.
Charismatic, engaging and inspiring to both students and faculty, Flowers is known as an effective leader who cares deeply about students’ academic success. The school is inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach to learning philosophy, which is grounded in every child’s ability to construct knowledge through their hands-on experiences in their communities. Council Oak was among the district’s top-performing elementary schools when Flowers arrived in 2017, but she was still determined to show growth, especially in math. In 2019, 66% of students showed overall proficiency in reading and math based on the district’s performance framework, with 56% growth in math and 65% growth in reading. Flowers also focuses on students’ overall well-being: Council Oak is one of five Tulsa elementary schools working to incorporate social-emotional learning (SEL) through a grant from the Wallace Foundation, and Flowers is deeply involved in these efforts. She is also a past president of Tulsa Public Schools’ elementary principals association.
During her tenure, Flowers has led the Council Oak community through a number of disruptions, including major storms and the pandemic, but it was the challenge of changing the school’s name that cemented community respect for her leadership skills. The school was originally named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and emotions ran high as community members debated the name change. Flowers never gave up, facing the hard conversations head-on and making sure everyone had a voice and felt like they were part of the process. She made sure teachers were equipped to navigate comments, whether in the classroom or at the grocery store, by sending them to the National Equity Foundation for equity training and encouraging them to focus on students. In the end, the community came together around Council Oak, which commemorates an historic tree near the school where the Creek Nation Council first met in 1836 after being forcibly resettled in Oklahoma.
Flowers earned a bachelor’s in social sciences with a minor in elementary education in 2003 from Portland State University and a master’s of education in administration in 2017 from the University of Oklahoma. She is currently in the doctorate of education administration program at the University of Oklahoma.
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