Principal of the Year excels at largest school in the districtAug 11, 2023 10:08AM ● By Jet Burnham
Members of the Jordan Education Foundation and family members celebrate Meredith Doleac being named the 2023 Outstanding Principal of the Year. (Photo courtesy of Meredith Doleac)
What kind of principal is needed to coordinate 43 teachers and 42 support staff members for more than 1,125 K-6, special education and preschool students? The best.
Meredith Doleac, principal of Ridge View Elementary School, the largest school in Jordan School District, was named the district’s 2023 Outstanding Principal of the Year because of her flexibility, creativity and commitment.
“There's a lot of logistical issues that you have to overcome, but I feel like we've done a really good job of putting in really good structures and systems to manage all of that,” Doleac said. “The school wasn't built to have that many students in the gym area or cafeteria area at one time, so we've had to get creative there. We've still been able to carry on with our assemblies and our monthly activities, we've just had to do it a little bit differently.”
Jordan District Administrator of Schools April Gaydosh said at such a big school, it would be easy for a teacher or student to fall through the cracks, but not with a leader like Doleac.
“I think it's her focus and energy and authenticity that really makes her a great leader,” Gaydosh said. “She's just such a present person. When you're meeting with her, she is present in the moment and you feel like you are the most important person in that space. She's committing that time and energy just to you. And I think that's what we heard over and over when we talked to teachers and parents, was how present and authentic she was in those interactions. She takes time with people and works with them and really listens.”
Brittney Romney, who has a child attending Ridge View Elementary said, “Ms. Doleac has always made time to speak with me about any concerns I have for my child and has been empathetic and helpful as we come up with solutions. Ridge View Elementary is an extremely large school, and Ms. Doleac has created structure and consistency for the students and teachers.”
Doleac turns what could be a problem into a positive experience by realizing that working in such a large school has pushed the staff to work more creatively and collaboratively.
“It makes us, as a staff, have to be creative and it gives us all the more purpose and reason to be collaborative and work together,” she said. “Because you can't really be selfish in those situations, you have to think about what's going to be best—obviously, always what's best for the students, but just what's going to be best for the school as a whole to make it run smoothly and efficiently so that we can do our jobs.”
Music teacher Kristen Helton said Doleac is an effective leader. “She is a visionary,” Helton said. “She encourages our staff to be pioneers and lead as a model school. Everything we invest in at Ridge View is centered around her expectation that we provide our students with the best educational experience. I believe the school culture is impacted greatly by her leadership. When people enter our school, they are welcomed. I watch as she works hard to remember each child's name. She is kind in all of her interactions with students, even when the talk might be about improving behavior.”
Romney has worked with Doleac as a parent and as a professional and has been impressed by how involved she is with the students.
“It’s not uncommon to see her out and about in the school and popping into classrooms or out on the playground,” Romney said. “She is such an example of professionalism in the way she interacts with students and parents. She stays calm with students, even when chaotic situations erupt.”
Gaydosh said Doleac’s responses to situations are characteristic of a great leader.
“I've seen her in stressful or high stakes situations where she's been very steady and consistent and able to calm situations because of just her presence,” Gaydosh said.
Alicia Rasmussen, an instructional coach at the school, was one of the teachers who followed Doleac from another elementary school when she was appointed principal at Ridge View Elementary when it opened in 2019.
She said Doleac, as a person, is a good friend and leader because of her kindness, patience, compassion and ability to have fun, and that she is a good principal because of her focus on the students.
“Everything she does at school is about what's best for the students,” Rasmussen said. “She sets high but attainable expectations for the students because she sees greatness in them. She enjoys visiting classrooms and celebrating the good things the teachers and kids are doing. When students have done something great, they'll get a high-five and a huge smile from her. She makes many good news phone calls home when she has seen students doing positive things around the school. Conversely, when students are having a hard day, she will sit on the floor with them and listen. She is an advocate for the kids and takes quick action when necessary to ensure they feel safe and welcome. Meredith makes being a principal look easy—and she does it all in heels!”
Doleac exemplifies a calm, happy and positive mindset, said Rasmussen. “She is slow to react and make judgments,” she said. “She is fair and incredibly intentional in every decision she makes.”
Doleac created a BEST team to establish interventions for students, school-wide positive behavior systems, a wellness center and calming kits in every classroom.
“By focusing on positive behaviors and habits, negative ones are not being fueled to grow larger,” Rasmussen said. “The positive behaviors, attitudes and adjustments are being praised, therefore, the students put more energy into improving themselves and contributing positively to the classroom and school culture.”
Doleac has also implemented SIOP protocols and instructional priorities to help teachers meet the language and academic needs of about 200 students whose first spoken language is not English.
Gaydosh said all schools have access to the same strategies, but Doleac stands out because of her implementation of the strategies that has led to measured academic growth.
“She's very hands-on and involved, working with teachers and prioritizing that in her building because she sees that as a big need,” she said. “She saw a need and then prioritized some resources to help address the need in a very systematic way. That's another hallmark of a great leader, being able to see a need and then address the need. And it’s a good way to see some results.”
Doleac is also invested in her staff’s personal growth, so she prioritizes professional development opportunities. She has ensured that teachers have teaching resources, books, games, activities, training and translating devices to improve their multilingual students’ access to instruction.
“Teachers are dedicated and motivated to help all of their students learn, whether they speak English or another language,” Rasmussen said. “They feel more confident in this area because of the resources and support that Meredith has made accessible to them. The biggest celebrations, obviously, are the achievements our multilingual students are making in their English reading, speaking, writing and listening abilities and scores. As these improve, their access to core content is growing, and their confidence in being a member of our community is increasing.”
Doleac loves being a principal, especially the day-to-day interaction with the students.
“Honestly, there are really, really hard days—our jobs are very difficult—but you can be having the toughest day ever and a student will come up to you and say just the right thing or they'll come and give you a hug or a high-five,” she said.
Her focus on relationships is at the center of Ridge View Elementary’s school culture.
“I'm very much a relationship/people type of person, that's how I operate,” she said. “And so I am just very proud of the culture that we've built among teachers, among students and with parents and families, because I feel like that really sets the foundation for everything. And if you have a positive culture, that's what has enabled us to effectively deal with the growth and the large enrollment that we have.”
Because of its location in Herriman, Ridge View Elementary’s student body will continue to grow. Last year, the school used 13 portable classrooms. Three more will be added this year to deal with the increased number of students. There is a more permanent solution in the works.
Jordan District is building a flex school right next to the current school building. When it opens for the 2024-25 school year, the student body will be split, with younger grades housed in one building and older grades in the other.
No decisions have been made about administrators for the two schools, but some teachers have already expressed a preference to remain with Doleac.
“I would follow her to the ends of the earth to be a part of her team,” Helton said. “She makes me, as a teacher, feel valued, important and sets me up to be successful.” λ