Shasta County, California. Remote Freelance Writer

Interview with Principal of Sycamore School

The following is an interview by Redding Breakfast Lions Club with Principal Susanna Winstead of Sycamore Elementary School.


Redding Breakfast Lions Club: When did you become principal at Sycamore School?

Susanna Winstead: August 2012


RBLC: Why did you choose this school?

SW: At the time, I had been a principal in Red Bluff for three years and was commuting from Redding.  This opening was advertised and I applied. I had 4 years of experience being an administrator at the Elementary level and it was a good fit.


RBLC: What were the challenges you faced?

SW: The school was in program improvement; had some significant demographic changes which affected both academic and behavior success; and some poor publicity in social media.


RBLC: Were you aware of these challenges before taking on the job?

SW: Yes


RBLC: What was your plan to change things in Sycamore?

SW: With any teaching and administrator position I have had, I always make it a priority to build positive relationships with students, staff, and families, as well as with community members. There is a period of time where observation, listening, and exploring what works and what needs attention that must go into building a plan.


RBLC: When was Olivia brought into Sycamore?

SW: August 2014


RBLC: How did you find out about Olivia?

SW: I knew of Olivia through my husband, who first started teaching with Olivia 20 some years ago at Sequoia, and then had heard of her once I began working in the district. I knew a little bit about her positive action class and was aware that she had retired in June of 2014.


RBLC: Did you have a plan that included Olivia or did it just happen?

SW:  It just happened. We ran into each other at Joann Fabrics and began talking about her retirement and how she hoped to continue working with teachers and students to help them with Social Emotional Learning. I shared what we had been doing at Sycamore and we wondered together about the possibility of early intervention with trauma students. She was excited and we talked about her volunteering at Sycamore. We then met at a later time in the summer and discussed connecting her with one class, Mr. Grooms to share her vision and “pilot” what it might look like for our entire school.


RBLC: When the idea of the PALZ room was born, how did you envision what could be accomplished?

SW: Through our site professional development book studies (Help for Billy, by Heather Forbes and Fostering Resilient Learners, Strategies for Creating Trauma Sensitive Classrooms by Kristin Souers), we believed that if we could create a place that was warm, loving, safe, and welcoming that also incorporated sensory materials for self-regulation that we could teach many of our students who have multiple ACE’s (Adverse Childhood Experiences) how to self-regulate and get from the “downstairs” part (flight, fight, freeze) of their brain to the “upstairs” part (cognitive learning) more quickly and on their own so that they can be academically and emotionally healthy and successful.


RBLC: The kids are finding this is a calming room and do you see results when they return to class?

SW: Yes, through the data that we have collected so far, we have seen positive results, with students returning calmly and ready to learn.


RBLC: Have you found the PALZ room to be an asset for the school?

SW: Yes, we have seen it be an asset to our school, as well as the increased awareness in our classrooms and among staff members.


RBLC: Are problems solved with kids being in the room to work out differences and behavior issues?

SW: Yes, through explicit teaching in self-regulation strategies and talking the issues through, students are finding appropriate and healthy ways to address problems.


RBLC: How are you planning on dealing with kids that don’t want to leave the room?

SW: We have developed a “sensory diet” routine/schedule that has a time limit (7-10 minutes at a time) and we practice this with the student.


RBLC: Although the room was initially for trauma kids are you considering it to also be rewarding experiences within the walls?

SW: Yes, it is also used as a reward for students, as well as a location for Social Emotional Learning story time.


RBLC: Children that can achieve managing the “Skills of Independence” will eventually not need the room. Is there something in place that could continually challenge them?

SW: Yes, students who eventually master the Skills of Independence have developed particular freedoms with their teachers (going to lunch first, delivering messages, lunch with teacher, etc.)


RBLC: Olivia talked about the next step of becoming a “Valued Employee”. Will there be a continuing monitoring of children’s achievements?

SW: Yes, I do not know the particulars, but I know that it begins with recognition of the child with the class, parents, and school.


RBLC: As in work situations we achieve more skills and for that we are rewarded by higher pay. If children are taking on challenges above and beyond the mandatory curriculum, what could we provide that would give them an incentive?

SW: We have incentives in place from the special lanyard that students who have mastered the skills of independence wear, the unique classroom freedoms that they benefit from, the monthly Little Red Hen parties for working hard, recognition through assemblies, etc. We are trying to build intrinsic motivation, rather than token economies, but we also give them cake at the red hen parties, and they receive the lanyard.


RBLC: Is there a friendly environment program such as a recycling? Maybe involving the kids in something they could all participate in and be rewarded for with proceeds from recycling.

SW: We do not currently have a recycling program.


RBLC: How do you deal with bullying? Do you involve children to spot bullying and help others on the receiving end of this behavior?

SW: We have proactive ways of preventing bullying through specific curriculum created by our district and through Capturing Kids’ Hearts. Teachers also utilize activities from our No Excuses University resource, as well as follow up material from Hello Mister Brown (he did an assembly specific to bullying at the end of last year for all of our schools). We also are beginning a “bully box” in various locations on our site for students to report suspected acts of bullying. Our school counselor and administrator then look into these reports to investigate the issue. Bullying is reported in many different ways from students, parents, staff. I have a process of investigation that I am required to use in order to ascertain if it is valid and how to proceed in an educational manner for both the bully and the victim. We have a school counselor 2 days a week that assists with helping students on both sides.


Redding Breakfast Lions Club has been involved with Sycamore Elementary School since March 2016. This is a school that is changing young lives. With a daily input of positive teaching and interactions with teachers and staff these children are acquiring skills to achieve both academically and emotionally. To read more on this subject click this link.

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