Peter Drucker, a management guru, said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” I firmly believe that Veronica’s superb work in energizing our culture through the development of social emotional skills in every person in our building is a key component to the phenomenal increases we experienced this past school year.
School Climate and Student Survey
We have experienced increases in all areas since Ms. Veronica began working her magic on our campus; however, I would like to note a few of the indicators that speak directly to her work.
Student Surveys – Students surveys increased as well. Most notably, one 5th grade science teacher committed at the beginning of the year to hold twice-daily community circles and restorative circles when conflicts arose. Veronica provided professional development, modeling, resources, and support to this teacher. Her student survey scores increased from 70% positive to 90% positive. A remarkable gain!
From Dr. Jennifer K. Jackson, Former Principal (August, 2015- September 2019)
Ms. Veronica Valles is a mindfulness teacher and peace educator. In the last four years, Ms. Veronica Valles has been instrumental in transforming V. H. Hexter Elementary into a thriving, high achieving, happy learning community where everyone who walks through the door is valued, nurtured, and supported to self-actualize into their greatest potential. Dan Micchiche, a member of the Dallas ISD School Board, called Hexter “a pioneer in mindfulness” due to the tireless work of Ms. Valles.
Ms. V. volunteers on our campus five days a week. She is NEVER absent. In fact, she arrives early to greet and mentor students and teachers as they walk in the school setting a positive tone for the day. She teaches 27 classes a week resulting in 520 students in PreK to 5th grade learning the tools of self-awareness, self-regulation, and non-violent communication. That amount of time has made a true difference.
Veronica has made a significant positive impact by qualitative measures as well. Here are just a few of the highlights from Veronica’s very important work during this past school year:
1. Ms. V is an expert in her craft. With her uncanny ability to shift problems into opportunities, she is viewed by everyone on our campus as a combination of Peace Educator, counselor, chaplain, administrator, thought partner, and friend.
2. The Dallas ISD Director of Communication visited our campus to see Veronica in action. She was so impressed that she immediately called Channel 5 News who filmed a story about the work she is doing on our campus in the wake of the epidemic of school violence. Here is a link.
3. Although our school is over 50% low income, we do not receive enough Title 1 funds from the district to support students who have experienced severely traumatic events that disrupt the learning environment. Veronica is critical in this area. I have never worked with any other individual in my over 20 years of experience who can calm a severely dysregulated child swiftly and positively. Sadly, without Veronica many of these events would result in calling the police.
4. Veronica provides wrap-around support to the school which I believe has been key in the transformation. She not only provides whole-group lessons to 520 students, she meets one-on-one with students who need extra support. These children have experienced the death of a parent, extreme violence in the home, autism, and many other events that no one should have to endure much less a child. 100% of the 4th and 5th graders who worked directly with Ms. Veronica last year passed the STAAR in all subject areas.
5. She provides on-going and differentiated professional development in the form of whole group and one-on-one coaching sessions to teachers at regular intervals throughout the year. She provides tons of resources and models how to use these resources while providing feedback to improve teacher practice. Because of this depth of support, 100% of teachers at Hexter are utilizing community circles to build classroom community and rapport, about 40% are using restorative circles to mend classroom grievances, and even some are implementing kindness journals where students practice their writing skills while reflecting on the importance of positive social interactions. These practices are continuing to grow school-wide.
6. Included in the wrap-around service is education for our parents and community. She begins our monthly PTA meetings (which are well attended) with education about mindfulness for parents and tools/strategies for parents to use to improve their own quality of life.
7. We have a school-wide 2-minute mindfulness practice at the beginning of the day to set the tone for learning. Anecdotal evidence from teachers and students affirms that this extended practice is being transferred to other potentially stressful events during the school day.
8. We also have a school-wide 5 minute mindful eating practice at the beginning of each lunch period. Ms. Veronica has taught our students what mindful eating is and why it is important. During this time, we dim the lights and play relaxing music. Students know it is there time to eat mindfully and enjoy their lunches.
9. She has positively contributed to our school culture by introducing Sassi (the mindfulness Sasquatch) and his twin brother and sister. We held a naming contest for the twins that resulted in highlighting the importance of the tools that students were learning and added a bit of fun and excitement to the school year – an important component of a successful school.
10. We recognize a student in the form of an end-of-year Mindfulness Award for students in 2nd-5th grade. As students received this high honor, they beamed with pride.
11. Far from lastly, but importantly, Ms. V. provides executive coaching support to me as I endeavor to lead a dynamic, innovative school that meets the needs of every learner, today and tomorrow. Her insights and global view of the school and community are invaluable to me as a leader.