Roper Elementary (Fuller) and Kooser (Joy; starting 2021)
From Primarily Math to principals
When Lynn Fuller and Kellie Joy began Primarily Math in 2009, they never dreamed they would someday become principals. For members of the NebraskaMATH grant’s first cohort, Fuller and Joy, former kindergarten and third-grade teachers in Lincoln Public Schools, Primarily Math functioned as their springboard to their current leadership roles within the district.
“When I started Primarily Math, I was interested in the idea of improving math instruction and learning for my third-grade students and dabbling with the idea of instructional coaching,” Joy said. “When you surround yourself with people who are continuing to learn and grow and have the desire to constantly learn new things, you find yourself wanting to lead others in achieving their goals. My decision to move toward principalship was grounded in wanting to be part of a larger community and impacting others on a greater scale.”
After Primarily Math, Joy first became an instructional math coach at Clinton Elementary and earned her master’s degree at UNL in Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education. After five years at Clinton, Joy decided to get her Administration Certification. She then transitioned to Lakeview Elementary to be the coordinator for three years, and in 2018 began her first year as a principal, also at Lakeview, in her 25th year as an educator. (Editor's note: Joy moved to Kooser Elementary in the 2021-22 school year.)
“The greatest part of my job is being able to interact with all of the students, from greeting them in the morning as they enter school to putting them in their cars at the end of the day; I am overwhelmingly given smiles and hugs,” Joy said. “One of the greatest feelings I have had was when my new role was announced to the students over the intercom system by our former principal, Scott Nelson, and he played ‘Joy to the World’ by Three Dog Night. I stood in the hallway and heard the cheering, clapping, and roars throughout the building by kids. Knowing my role is to serve students first, it filled my heart to know that students supported me in moving to principal.”
Fuller followed a similar trajectory. She also had no intention of becoming a principal during Primarily Math. Fuller, who already had a master’s degree, used the Primarily Math courses as her electives in her doctoral program in educational leadership at UNL and went on to graduate with her Ph.D. in 2016.
“Every step along the way, I’ve said, ‘Well, I’ve gone so far now, I might as well keep going,’” Fuller said. “Primarily Math got me to this next level so that I had all of the electives done, and if I were to continue on into an ed leadership program, I could.”
During Primarily Math, Fuller served as a district-level instructional technology coach. She then became the instructional coach and school improvement project manager at Elliott Elementary. In 2013, Fuller became the assistant principal at West Lincoln Elementary. She joined Joy as a first-year principal this year at Roper Elementary.
Fuller likened the experience of being a principal to the popularity among students that she encountered during her initial teaching job as a kindergarten teacher. The difference now is that she’s, ultimately, the one person in charge of the school.
“You’re the face of the building and are there for parents, for teachers, for everyone,” Fuller said. “You’re the one who’s responsible for the communication with the community and the communication with the teachers and students, just to make sure they have everything they need. And you take on a lot of responsibility for the weight other people are bearing. When people are going through things, I end up going through them, too.”
With 876 students at Roper, it is the largest elementary school in the state, and it is larger than all of the middle schools in Lincoln except for Scott. Fuller has found that even though she rarely gets her daily agendas done, the more that she visits classrooms and is out on lunch or recess duty, the fewer problems she faces.
Even at a much smaller school like Lakeview, with 429 students, Joy still faces a daily juggling act as a principal.
“One of the hardest aspects of being a principal is the demand placed on you at any given moment,” Joy said. “It really is all about balance and knowing your priorities and mission for the school you lead. Being a principal can be a lonely role, so building a support network has been critical for me in balancing my new role. It’s being able to share the good, bad, and the ugly with others who experience similar situations.”
Many other members of the first cohort of Primarily Math, such as Megan Fleischman, Kelli Anderson Joe, Susie Katt, Molly Orton, and Tara Zuspan, have gone onto leadership roles in LPS. For Fuller and Joy, having each other as colleagues and friends throughout this journey has been invaluable.
“It’s amazing how immersing a group of people in a learning journey such as Primarily Math can unite them,” Joy said. “I am fortunate to work in a district where educators are encouraged to collaborate with one another and build on one another’s strengths.”
Fuller added that she appreciated the professional feel of Primarily Math and the chance to also work with other teachers from the state and hear their perspectives.
The discussion of learning trajectories in Primarily Math comes into play in Fuller’s work as a principal, as the concept applies to not just math, but also literacy. Fuller said the biggest key she took from that was the knowledge of prerequisite skills and how using them can build a solid program that benefits all learners.
Joy agreed, saying that Primarily Math enabled her to build her repertoire of skills in teaching and learning in math by expanding her math background knowledge. She uses her understanding of the balance between the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of mathematics to orchestrate lessons that optimize student learning, which she said is pivotal in her work with adults and students.
“My math background knowledge has allowed me to lead professional development sessions and support teachers in planning, delivering and reflecting on their teaching and student learning,” Joy said. “I’m able to interact with students during math by asking questions and encouraging them to reason and explain their thinking beyond just explaining the steps, and I’m able to articulate the change in mathematics over time with parents and how various methods support student understanding at deeper levels than when we were children.”
- Lindsay Augustyn