Silver Summit Elementary principal recognized as Utah’s Innovator of the Year
After working in education for several years, Louise Willoughby wanted to discover a better way to teach students. She and other leaders in the South Summit School District researched teaching methods and schools, then piloted the methods in Silver Summit Elementary.
A year and a half since the launch of the school, which is part of Silver Summit Academy, Willoughby’s efforts seem to be paying off.
Willoughby, principal of Silver Summit Elementary, was recently named Innovator of the Year by the Utah Association of Elementary School Principals. The association recognized Willoughby because of her determination to adopt creative methods to meet students’ needs with a blended learning structure, flexible schedules and classes divided by ability, not by age. Blended learning combines online education and traditional, in-class lessons.
A principal from Wasatch School District nominated Willoughby for the award. She was recognized at the association’s conference in St. George last week. She received a plaque and $100 with the honor.
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She said she was surprised to be named Innovator of the Year because she thought her school’s methods might be too unusual for education leaders in the state.
Students at Silver Summit Elementary, which is a public school in the district, have the option of attending school five days a week or missing some days and going over the materials with their parents at home. All lessons taught in the classroom are put online for parents and students to review.
In the classroom, students are grouped based on their abilities rather than their ages. That means one math class might include students from three different grades.
Willoughby came up with the idea for Silver Summit Elementary after South Summit School District asked her to create a research-based and technology-driven program a couple years ago. She researched programs around the country before coming up with a method that worked in South Summit.
She said being selected for the award shows her that Utah public schools might be open to change. Several Utah principals approached Willoughby after she received the award to talk about ways they could implement some of the methods she has in place at the school.
Principals were especially interested to learn how students who miss school for long amounts of time — whether for health or other personal reasons — can keep up with their school work, Willoughby said.
She said she received ideas for Silver Summit Elementary by visiting schools around California and Colorado. She is glad she can pay it forward by sharing what she has learned with Utah principals.
It was the first time Willoughby was nominated for the award, she said. She had to fill out a lengthy application as well, and she said she was driven to complete the application because she wanted to spread the word about the school.
The school started in the 2017-18 school year, and based on students’ high scores on standardized exams and positive feedback from parents, the school appears to be doing well. She hopes other districts around the state can adopt similar models.
Innovation has always been an important part of Willoughby’s career in education. She helped roll out the dual-language immersion program at South Summit Elementary School when she was principal and said she was always searching for unique ways to promote learning.
“The rest of society has come up with innovative ideas, and they absolutely insist that we look at things differently, too,” she said.
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