It was picture day Thursday at Wyoming Elementary in the Forest Lake School District, “always a good day,” said Principal Curtis Slater, with staff ensuring kids had their collars straight and hair fixed just right.
This week, it’s Slater’s turn to shine.
He will be in Washington, D.C., on Thursday and Friday representing Minnesota as the state’s 2018 “national distinguished principal” — an honor given by the National Association of Elementary School Principals.
Key to the recognition is Slater’s ability to inspire strong relationships among students, staff and community.
He is a pioneer among state educators in using a preventive approach to student misbehavior known as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). As part of it, students are taught core values like respect and responsibility, and continually reminded of them. If executed consistently and faithfully, a positive school culture is created.
Mascots and mottos are big, too.
“We are Wildcats and we are proud, and that truly stems from the support and foundation that Mr. Slater has brought to us,” Bree DuHamel, a second-grade teacher, wrote in support of Slater’s nomination.
“If you were to ask any student in our school what it means to show the ‘Wyoming Way,’ ” she said, “you would hear a response that would sound something similar to, ‘Try your best, be kind, help others and show respect.’ ”
Fifteen years ago Slater was part of the first cohort in Minnesota to be trained in PBIS techniques, and he since has shared that expertise with educators in more than 400 schools. To him, the work comes naturally. Years ago, as a middle school teacher, he realized, “Boy, I have a way with kids who are struggling,” he recalled last week.
In a news release announcing the National Distinguished Principals, L. Earl Franks, the association’s executive director said, “Today’s principals are tasked with attending to students’ social and emotional needs at greater levels, even while they give their all to drive academic success in their school communities.”
Wyoming Elementary students have outperformed their state peers in standardized tests in science and math, and posted virtually identical results in reading, according to state test data.
But it’s the school’s communal spirit — evidenced by the #WyomingWay postings on Twitter — that stands out for many. When budget pressures kept the school from hiring classroom aides, Slater reached out to a local church and persuaded members to volunteer for the school’s “reading buddy” program, DuHamel said.
A tour of the White House is planned, and if Slater were to see President Donald Trump, students have asked him to document it and to exclaim, “Gooo Wildcats!” It’s his signature phrase.