New Trailside Elementary School principal eager to help change lives
Carolyn Synan says she will build a strong staff dedicated to doing what’s best for students
August 15, 2017
Carolyn Synan's educational outlook has been informed by spending her career working at schools filled with underserved students.
At Edison Elementary School in Salt Lake City, for instance, 97 percent of students' families fall below the poverty line, a reality that presented a host of challenges during her three-year tenure as assistant principal, she said. But that didn't stop Synan and the rest of the administration from transforming it into one of the best-performing underserved schools in the state.
"We really turned that around and made a huge difference," she said.
Synan is stepping into an entirely different situation as she readies for her first year as principal of Trailside Elementary School. For starters, the school is located in the state's wealthiest district, which many also consider as Utah's best. The school is flush with resources, community engagement and parent support.
The allure of working in such a district, where educators are given every tool to succeed, is a major reason Synan wanted to lead Trailside. Nonetheless, she intends to use the lessons she learned in her previous position — and in her time as a teacher in Illinois and North Dakota — to improve her new school.
It won't be a full-scale turnaround effort like the one she helped lead at Edison Elementary School, but that experience will prove valuable as she attempts to reverse a trend at Trailside that she said has seen test scores slip for the last three years. Last year, for instance, the school only narrowly nabbed a "B" grade in the report card the state annually issues.
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Synan's aim is to stem that tide and get Trailside back to churning out high test scores and high-achieving students as soon as possible.
"There's no reason, in this community with these amazing parents, that we should be there," she said. "I'm excited to change that and put this mindset in the kids of, 'We want to achieve at high levels.' I think it starts with them setting goals for themselves, then going from there."
Hiring the best possible teachers, then putting them in a position to succeed is a tenet of the philosophy Synan brings from Edison Elementary. There, the administration once interviewed roughly 150 candidates for seven openings, she said, illustrating a strong devotion to ensuring classrooms are led by qualified educators.
She expects to have an easier time finding excellent candidates in Park City, where the school system offers the highest starting salary in the state, but the lesson remains: The quickest way to ensure students receive a top-notch education is to give them great teachers.
At the same time, Synan intends to introduce a number of initiatives aimed at increasing student performance that she said may push teachers out of their comfort zones. Finding the right way to push those efforts during her first year, when teachers may naturally be skeptical of a new principal and may not yet be used to her leadership style, will be among her biggest challenges, she said.
To help, Synan hopes to quickly build strong relationships with her staff and establish an understanding that the forthcoming changes will be made for only one reason: doing what's best for the students.
"I want them to know that I care about them and have their backs," she said. "But we've got to do hard things here."
According to Tim McConnell, associate superintendent of human resources, the district expects Synan to be successful in that effort. The strength of the relationships she had with teachers at Edison Elementary is one reason she stood out for the Trailside position.
"We're very pleased to have Mrs. Synan join the Park City School District administration team," he said in a press release. "Several of her former colleagues contacted me directly to tout Carolyn as a highly effective leader and mentor with a calm, professional, and competent demeanor who established positive relationships with students, staff, and parents."
Synan is eager to get started. Like administrators throughout the district, she's back at work and making preparations for the school year. But she's counting down the days until Trailside's hallways students again buzz with the chatter of students.
Helping change their lives, she said, is why she became an educator. Elementary education, in particular, is where she believes she can make the most difference because students can make great strides in short periods of time and build an educational foundation that sets them up for lifelong success.
And if there's one thing Synan hopes parents know, it's that she will do her best to make sure that holds true for their children.
"It's so rewarding," she said. "… My biggest passion is just to see their growth."
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