Marie Bourke Leadership Award
About the Award: This award recognizes an outstanding LPS principal and the impact they have on the lives of students and teachers.
Awarded Amount: $1,000
Nominated By: Bob Reeker, Elliott Visual Art Educator
Nomination: Kathleen Dering is a visionary at Elliott Elementary School. She came to Elliott 5 years ago, adopting a school with much success but also with areas of improvement and need. Her vision focused on supporting staff through professional development and personal connections and relationship-building. Her vision for Elliott has led to a focused effort by all students and staff on the theme of HOPE. From the vision team’s efforts to staff focusing on the theme, and Kathleen’s efforts in sharing the message of hope, students view hope from the immediate to the future. Kathleen has promoted projects in our building about hope including: #elliotthope, hope phrases/vocabulary murals in hall, daily messages to staff in staff notes on promoting and supporting hope with young children, daily messages of support for children and staff during morning announcements, hope messages on bulletin boards and through a hope tree, supporting activities in classrooms including an artist-in-residence through Lincoln Arts Council with the artist working with 4th graders on collaborative works based on hope. When this project was posted on our Facebook page, a patron wrote, “I LOVE everything you are doing with your school!! You are an Amazing LEADER!”
Elliott’s vision is “Outstanding, wise leaders working collaboratively within our community to become life long learners and successful citizens!” Kathleen’s words and actions exemplify the vision of life long learners daily. She has established quality instruction, promoting growth through our focus on math and literacy through our School Improvement Plan. Recently, a Lincoln Public Schools administrator visited Elliott. Following the visit, this was shared, “If I were to use one word to describe my visit to Elliott Elementary School this morning, it would be “focused!” Students were focused on their learning and teachers were focused on their teaching.” In addition, the observer shared that several teaching strategies were seen including pair/share and close reading. With the vision of successful citizens, Kathleen has promoted this part of the Elliott vision through behavior supports as well as the message of HOPE as outlined above. Kathleen and her administrative support team work tirelessly to help students as they experience difficulties throughout the day. Responses to support requests are swift and caring. Response time has increased due to the implementation of a new reporting system using Zoom - an application that LPS has provided schools to better assist with communication. Kathleen believes teachers are the gatekeepers of their classrooms and supports students staying in the classroom to work through difficulties but will also have a student leave the room should that intervention be warranted. Through working with students, the use of both consequences and teaching moments are utilized. Daily, during our morning announcements, Kathleen starts the message with “Good morning Elliott scholars” and ends with our life goals of be safe, be respectful, and be responsible...and learn all you can!
Kathleen Dering is a facilitator who trusts and believes in the professionals she works with daily from teachers to custodians, secretaries to para-educators. She embraces children as leaders in our school and community. She empowers parents/guardians and other community members to positively impact our school culture. All this happens, because Kathleen has an open door policy in communication, whether in person or via other communication means. Kathleen listens to her staff, students, and community when a need or an idea arises. She asks questions and looks for clarification. Kathleen reflects and determines the feasibility of initiatives and projects. She often says yes and works with the person or group to make the idea happen. At times, Kathleen has to say no, but she provides a rationale as to why the initiative or idea is not possible at that time. This is what a great leader has to do at times. Several examples have been shared above about how Kathleen has supported initiatives and ideas including special projects, the HOPE initiative, and behavior supports.
Kathleen works diligently to support teachers in their growth, thus impacting student achievement. She exemplifies quality teaching through her actions and words. At staff and committee meetings, staff experiences Kathleen utilizing the teaching strategies she expects her teachers to use daily. The initiative of Accountabilibuddies continues with Kathleen’s support. Each quarter, teachers visit other teachers during all group instruction (usually in math or literacy). Teachers look for engagement and positive reinforcement, record this information in GoogleForms, and give feedback to the teachers being observed. This supports both academic and behavior goals.
Teachers and administrators are always communicating with families about both academic and behavioral successes and needs. This is done a variety of ways, as Kathleen supports individual styles of communication. These include: conference, special education meetings, phone calls, face-to-face, email, and others. These are often documented in Synergy to allow for a history of communication with families.
Another initiative that Kathleen promotes at Elliott is Zero Heroes. For students who receive no discipline referrals to the office each quarter, students are recognized with a certificate as Zero Heroes. To celebrate further, students are invited to the gym for a DANCE PARTY!! What a great way to recognize Growth mindset, Resiliency, Integrity, and Tenacity!
As a title 1 school, Kathleen’s leadership style and successes are recognized and celebrated. She is a model and mentor for novice leaders in other title 1 schools. Recently, her assistant principal became a principal at a LPS elementary school. They continue to communicate and share, as Kathleen’s wealth of knowledge and skill is benefiting this new principal.
Kathleen recognizes and supports those who have aspirations of leading. Whether leading a district inservice or taking the lead in the community, her staff, students, and community members are highlighted and celebrated...she goes out of her way! Recently, we took a photo of Kathleen in music class playing a recorder. The caption read, “Mrs. Dering doesn’t toot her own horn, she goes out of her way to toot the horns of others!” This received dozens of likes and loves as well as comments supporting the idea.
I’ve been fortunate to lead in my state and national art education association and Kathleen is one of my loudest supporters and cheerleaders. Following a keynote address in Wisconsin, Kathleen wrote me a personal note. It said, “Bob - Thanks for sharing! It is true...one can find great joy in other’s success. You are an inspiration!! #elliottproud :) KD”
I left a small suburban school last year to join the Elliott staff. I needed a change...a challenge. I was excited when the Elliott art position opened, as I wanted to serve a population that is diverse --- academically, behaviorally, racially, etc. But I had also heard that Kathleen Dering is an outstanding leader. She has proven that to be true in the one plus years I have worked with and for her. I hope the committee will give her every consideration, as she is very deserving of the Marie Bourke Leadership Award - an award that recognizes excellence in our LPS principals!