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School Leader Cohort: What Is Leader Coaching Like?

School leadership can be isolating work. TLI’s Director of Leadership Programs Nina Fitzerman-Blue is working to change that. Each week, she offers focused, personalized coaching for school leaders in TLI’s School Leader Cohort. Under Nina’s direction, our fellows receive year-long support to develop instructional leadership skills, ranging from teacher coaching to adult culture to managing performance. 

While each leader coaching session is customized, coaching often includes instructional walkthroughs, observation and feedback practice, data analysis and planning, personal organization, professional development, and crucial conversations. 

Here’s a peek into what some of this year’s cohort members think about their coaching:

Even the sharpest leader benefits from a thought partner, pointed feedback, and another pair of eyes. Here’s how one leader describes our weekly coaching meetings: “Having weekly meetings with Nina has allowed me to take a more proactive approach to leadership. As part of the School Leader Cohort, I’ve sharpened my instructional eye, learned to give effective feedback, and ultimately raised the instructional rigor in my school.”

Are you ready to push your leadership to the next level? Applications for the 2020-2021 School Leader Cohort are open now! Grab a quick information sheet here and start your application here.  

“Leadership coaching is like partnering with my biggest cheerleader for one hour a week. I always have an action plan and the support I need to make change.”

Still have questions or want more information? Leave a comment, send us a message, or follow us on social media.

What We’re Listening To: Staff Edition

In preparation for the long road trips and airport delays as we return home from holiday travels, we’ve rounded up a few of our favorite things to listen to and learn. Cue up the podcasts, friends. We’ve got some recommendations from TLI staff and friends.

Education Updates

Listen to the researchers and leaders behind major education innovation and discoveries on the Harvard EdCast. Each short, informative podcast episode features a world-class guest. 

If you’re ready to delve into reading research, check out The Science of Reading, a podcast by Amplify Education. For a more general list of education topics, TLI summer intern and PhD student Jennifer Burris likes Cult of Pedagogy. Episodes range from technology integration to graphic novel use. If you want a taste, check out Burris’ favorite episode Think Twice Before Doing Another Historical Simulation

Go local, OK! 

Fortunately, Oklahoma has plenty of homegrown talent on the podcast scene. Executive Director Jo Lein recommends listening in on the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center’s new podcast, School Zoned. Each Friday, host Brent Bushey interviews influential #oklaEd educators from the 2019 Teacher of the Year to State Superintendent of Instruction, Joy Hofmeister

OU doctoral student and reading research fanatic Tiffany Peltier turned us on to Education Trust’s ExtraOrdinary Districts podcast. Check out this episode featuring two rural Oklahoma districts: Lane Public Schools and Cottonwood Public Schools. 

The OklaEd Podcast Network offers a plethora of other local podcast talent. We’re partial to Passing Notes including this interview with TLI’s own Dr. Jo Lein,  and the ReThink ELA podcast with Michelle Waters. 

School leaders should also check out the Principal Matters podcast with Cooperative Council of School Administrator’s Will Parker for a wide range of interviews on school issues. 

Audio Documentaries and Books

Audio means more than just podcasts, of course. Improved public library audio book lending and paid subscriptions to streaming services like Audible mean you have thousands of listening options at your fingertips. You can listen to everything from Fostering Resilient Learners to Paul Tough’s latest book, The Years that Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us. Look for books read by the author!  

Tiffany Peltier recommends listening to audio documentaries too. Her top choice? At a Loss for Words: What’s Wrong with How Schools Teach Reading

What’s queued up on your phone or podcast app? Drop us a comment below or send us a message. We’d love to hear from you! 

Staff Bookshelf: Winter Edition

Winter break is the perfect time to cozy up on the couch with a warm quilt and a new book. To kick off our own winter reading, we peeked into our staff bookshelf to reminisce on inspiring education reads and general lit picks. 

Jo Lein, Executive Director

Jo can’t stop talking about Hollowing Out the Middle, a great pick for those interested in the future of rural education. Written by sociologists, the book follows the young people in small Iowa towns as they struggle with what the beauty and limitations of small town life might mean for their futures. If you’re ready for a break from school reading, Jo recommends David and Goliath by heady perennial favorite Malcolm Gladwell.

Angie Cline, Teacher Development Manager

Tera Westover’s Educated is captivating enough that you’ll want to read it in one, long irresponsible session. For a quirky, relatable, and road-trip ready read, grab The Overdue Life of Amy Byler. It’ll have you snickering to yourself in no time. 

If you’re already amping up for a New Year’s Resolution or just need to get organized, check out The Together Teacher or the Together Leader. Both offer practical advice you’ll want to implement right away.   

Nina Fitzerman-Blue, Director of Leadership Programs 

Need to have some hard conversations or just want to improve your relationships? Nina recommends Radical Candor by Kim Scotts. For a reference text on child development and social-emotional stages, Nina loves Yardsticks. Although you might not charge through the text in one setting, it may turn into a bookshelf favorite in your life as an educator, parent, or keen observer of children. 

Marissa King, Chief of Staff

Run to your local bookstore to grab Richard Powers’ The Overstory. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, this intricately-connected plot will have you noticing all of nature’s little glories and ready to plant a few trees of your own. For another nature-inspired read, check out Braiding Sweetgrass by botanist and Potawatomi Nation citizen Robin Wall Kimmerer. The book offers an inspiring glimpse into hands-on science education and a window into a world connected deeply to nature. 

Jennifer Burris, Professional Development Specialist

Ibram X. Kendi’s newest book How to Be an Antiracist, is a current favorite on Jennifer’s bookshelf. The book is thought-provoking and challenging- exactly the kind of read to end the year and shape your newest resolutions. 

What’s on your bookshelf or winter reading list? Drop us a comment below or send us a message. We’d love to hear from you! 

Top 6 Teacher Gifts for the Holiday Season

The Teaching & Leading Initiative (TLI) staff have compiled our favorite educator-centered gifts to make your holiday gift buying a little easier this year. Whether you need a gift for the teacher next door, the school principal, or your educator bestie, this list has you covered.

  1. If you’re looking for a practical gift to use in the classroom, we love this high-quality, magnetic red timer for student practice activities or transitions. It’s big enough for students to see the countdown from anywhere in the room, and the robust magnet will keep the timer in place without sliding. Or, if you’re looking for a budget-friendly option, Executive Director Jo Lein swears by these quirky little cube timers.
  2. During the chilly winter season, a self-warming coffee mug can add a touch of comfort (and caffeine) to long days in the classroom. Chief of Staff Marissa King also suggests an electric water kettle for teachers who need to brew a quick cup of tea between classes.
  3. If you want to inject a bit of flair into your otherwise practical educator gifts, Director of Leader Programs Nina Fitzerman-Blue has a couple suggestions: Nab a pack of Gelly Roll pens for the teacher with a case of middle school nostalgia, or enliven classroom charts with multicolor bullet-tip Sharpies. The teacher on your holiday shopping list would probably get a kick out of these personalized pencils, too.
  4. Summer Professional Development Intern and PhD student Jennifer Burris loves public schools and local businesses. This easy-to-gift sweatshirt supports both! It also comes in multiple sizes so the whole family can display their school pride together.
  5. Manager of Teacher Development, Angie Cline, recommends Bath & Body Works Stress Relief Eucalyptus lotion because it’s so calming, even during the grueling months of indoor recess. This German-made lotion is another winter luxury that easily slips into a tote or desk drawer.
  6. The TLI office thrives on Google Calendar, but pen and paper are still so satisfying. We’re fans of the Moleskine notebook (easily customizable) or more intricate planner options from Minted. A good notebook demands a good writing tool. Le Pens offers a sleek fine-tip pen that won’t break the bank, but if you like to edit and erase on the fly, don’t discount these cult-favorite pencils from Blackwings.

Whatever you decide to give, remember the most important element: a heartfelt message to remind educators how important their work is to you and your communities. 

Did we miss one of your go-to educator gifts? Drop us a comment below or send us a message. We’d love to hear from you!

Planning for the Seven Elements of Change Management

Change is inevitable. Schools are constantly changing in response to student needs, new data, leader vision, district initiatives, and state mandates. While change itself may not be a choice, we choose how to manage it.

Successfully managing change isn’t about putting on a smile and adjusting your attitude– although that may not hurt either. Effective change management requires a thoughtful plan.

This change management graphic adapted from Knoster (2000) and Lippitt (1987) depicts the seven elements of change management for which leaders must plan. Effective change requires vision, buy-in, skills, incentives, resources, an action plan, and assessment.

Change may be possible without each of the seven elements, but it’s a lot harder. Consider a district initiative for new math curriculum. Without teacher buy-in, one element of change management, a school leader can purchase new resources and plan professional development. But missing teacher investment will likely result in a poor implementation, angry staff, and hours of extra time. A lack of teacher buy-in might point to larger issues too: Are teachers frustrated with a lack of planning time required for new curriculum? Do they need time or support to build new skills? Missing one change element may mean the change isn’t successful long-term or it may have high costs for teacher satisfaction and retention. A more successful option is to plan for each of the seven elements of change management so change can be rolled out with strategy and people in mind. 

We like to use the change management to pre-plan for change and to assess an in-progress or past change. 

Planning For Change

We suggest school leaders make a full, detailed plan for managing any major, adaptive change. Think through each element of change with a detailed timeline for getting things done. Watch out for these common errors: 

  • Forgetting Time: Even if few physical or monetary resources are required, some changes demands significant time from teachers or families. Use your plan for stakeholder buy-in to get more information and double-check your ideas to make sure you account for everyone’s time. 
  • Assuming Skill: Change requires more than a quick glance towards skill building. Consider a school that’s implementing a close reading strategy. Even teachers who already know how to guide students through analysis of text structure, word choice, grammar, and sentence-level meaning may not know what to cut or replace in their curriculum. The entire change could stall out if the reading strategy feels like just another thing instead of replacing a less-impactful strategy. 
  • Forgetting Process Assessment: Excellent change management assessments include both outcomes and processes. Process assessments like observation checklists, walkthrough data, and interim student achievement data help you celebrate small wins and evaluate effectiveness before you get to the big end-of-semester outcome data. 
  • Starting Too Big: Often, leaders want to quickly roll out a school-wide change when piloting the change in one grade or subject might be wiser. Narrow pilots allow school leaders to work out the kinks and get essential staff feedback to adapt the plan. 

Assessing Change 

The change management graphic is also a helpful reflection tool for analyzing in-process initiatives or past change. If a change never moved past the pilot stage or stalled out due to sheer frustration, analyze which of the seven elements are missing. 

Complex, school-wide change is hard but careful change management planning can increase effectiveness and reduce friction. We may not always get to choose when to change, but we can plan for managing it.

*This is the last of a 6-part series on school-based change management. Catch the series introduction here. Send us an email or leave a comment with thoughts!

Greasing The Skids

In this 6-week change management series, TLI staff examine the big ideas and often-overlooked strategies for successfully leading school change.  Catch the series introduction or earlier blogs here.

Successful building-level shifts require more than a strong leader. A new curriculum is worthless without the teachers to skillfully integrate it into class. A new technology initiative won’t make it past the storage closet without the people to weave it into courses. 

Too often, the human side of change is treated as an afterthought or given a one-size-fits-all approach. After all, it’s hard to help staff navigate the emotion, time pressures, and skill building that change often brings. It’s hard to thoughtfully engage with skeptical faculty and listen carefully to painful criticism. 

Regardless of difficulty, planning for how you’ll guide faculty and staff through a big change is a crucial component of successful change. In this blog, we offer a concrete, time-tested strategy to keep people at the center of your change process. 

Grease the Skids, a strategy employed by many successful principals with whom we work, is designed to make change run more smoothly. This strategy takes its name from the pallets that easily slide across a factory floor with a little lubrication. We hope it helps eases the burden of change in your school, too.

To Grease the Skids of major change, school leaders start by identifying highly-influential people who aren’t on board with a new initiative. The key is to identify the teachers or school staff members who can quickly influence the people that are on the fence or on the bus (see our earlier post to identify those two groups).  

Pilot the Plan

The most popular version of Greasing the Skids is to pilot a new program or initiative with select teachers. Instead of rolling out one-to-one laptops to an entire school, test the idea of a laptop cart with one teacher or a highly-influential grade-level team. The small scale allows leaders to check in regularly, encourage growth, and adjust the plan as needed. It also builds relationships with influential staff members so leaders can eventually rely on these staff members to influence others.

After testing a change with a small group, ask pilot teachers to prepare a testimonial, share data, or offer illustrations on how the change worked. The teachers who used the laptop cart can quickly offer guidance to the full staff on how to build their own tech skills or give examples of how much the laptops helped with the writing process. Not only did you work out the kinks with a small group, but you’ve probably expedited the staff’s buy-in by leveraging influential teachers.   

Test the Message

Greasing the Skids can also be a way to test your message with an influential staff member before speaking to the entire faculty. Instead of announcing a new guided reading effort to everyone at once, seek out a few influential teachers for an advance check-in. Explain the rationale and ask for feedback about your approach. Are you taking on the work in the right way? What’s exciting or concerning for the teacher?

By testing the message, school leaders hear important criticism about the change itself and the messaging. If a teacher offers skepticism about the new guided reading initiative being just another under-resourced, under-funded change, the leader can immediately brainstorm how to make sure teachers are well-supported this time. Suddenly, the new teacher is an ally in solving a problem and helping the leader avoid dangerous potholes. 

One superintendent we work with teaches his principals to test the message with at least two people before each major announcement or meeting. 

Whether you’re launching a change or training faculty on new skills, try to Grease the Skids before you take a change to your whole school.

Assess The Scope: Tools for School-based Change Management

In this 6-week change management series, TLI staff share key leadership moves for managing successful school-based change. Catch the series introduction here or read earlier posts.

For school leaders, changemaking often brings discomfort and anxiety. Fortunately, research offers some clear guidance on successfully managing change: Start by assessing the scope and complexity. 

School leaders should start by determining if a change is technical or adaptive, terms first defined by Harvard University professor Ron Heifetz (1994) and later developed extensively with Marty Linsky.  

Technical Changes

Technical, or 1st order changes, are problems that “can be solved with knowledge and procedures already in hand” (Daloz Parks, 2005). If a school’s current procedures can be tweaked or the existing skills can fix a problem, it’s considered a technical change. 

Consider an issue with the 5th grade hallway clogging up after recess so classes are routinely losing work time. For a school that already has clear hallway procedures and a normed vision on hallway behavior, the change may be as simple as staggering the end of recess time or changing where a class stands for the bathroom. The change is technical; it can be solved with existing procedures. Staff probably don’t need to build new skills or develop new mindsets to solve it. 

In Leadership on the Line, Heifetz and Linksy (2002) categorize technicals changes as the following: 

  • Extends or refines a past practice
  • Maintains the school or department’s way of working
  • Aligns with personal values or beliefs
  • Easily implemented using current knowledge and skills

Adaptive Changes

Adaptive changes, also called second order changes, often require significant changes to current realities, mindsets, or behavior patterns. Because adaptive changes usually mean significant changes to how people think or act, these changes are often surrounded with feelings of  discomfort, threat, or anxiety.

Leading schools through adaptive changes requires a thoughtful approach to the solutions and to the people involved in the change. John Roberto points out that leaders must help people “enter into that zone of risk” that breeds new habits, mindsets, reflection, and knowledge (2011). As people clumsily form new habits or wrestle with threatened beliefs, “organizational disequilibrium” (Heifetz & Linsky, 2002) ensues.   

Consider a school that must increase authentic, complex text use in elementary classrooms in order to meet Oklahoma Academic Standards. If teachers are currently relying on simple worksheets, the switch to authentic texts may be difficult. Teachers may need to build new planning skills, change daily habits, and build mindsets around how students should practice reading comprehension skills. The change is adaptive.

In Leadership on the Line, Heifetz and Linksy (2002) define adaptive changes as ones that

  • End past practices and require new practices
  • Demand new organizational ways of working
  • Challenge previously held values, mindsets, or assumptions
  • Require new knowledge or skills 

Context Matters

It’s not always possible to assess the scope of a change at a glance. Consider the earlier example of clogged 5th grade hallways. For the school with clear hallway procedures and shared behavioral norms, the solution is technical. But if a school has no shared hallway procedure or teachers are struggling to enforce behavior expectations in the hall, what was a technical change in one school may be an adaptive change in another.  

When leaders have determined if an adaptive or technical change is needed, then they can consider how to manage the change and how many changes can be managed at once. Pausing to assess the scope of the change helps school leaders plan the right timing, support, and invest people in the change. 

Daloz Parks, S. (2005). Leadership can be taught: A bold approach for a complex world. Cambridge: Harvard Business School. 

Heifetz, R. (1994). Leadership Without Easy Answers. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

Heifetz,R. & Linsky, M. (2002). Leadership on the Line. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Heifetz, R. & Linsky, M. (2002). A survival guide for leaders. Harvard Business Review.

Roberto, J. (2011). Becoming an adaptive leader: Based on the work of Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linksy. Lifelong Faith.

3 Reasons School Leaders Fail At Change Management

This is the first in a 6-week change management series in which TLI staff share key leadership moves for managing successful school-based change. Catch the series introduction here.

When former Hamilton Elementary principal Tera Carr entered her new school, she felt the urge to make huge changes during her first year on the job. With rock-bottom test scores, constant discipline issues, and growing community concern, sometimes it felt like her new school post was more firefighter than school leader. 

Recently, Carr reminisced with the TLI School Leader Cohort about the process of moving from a novice leader to strong instructional leader. Although she wanted to tackle all the problems at once, she knew she couldn’t. Instead, Carr careful outlined yearly priorities and worked relentlessly towards those narrow goals, building staff skill, knowledge, and mindsets along the way. 

Unfortunately, not all school leaders manage change as carefully and successfully as Carr. 

To kick off our change management blog series, we’ve rounded up three of the main stumbling blocks for managing school-based change.

Change Fail 1: Taking on Too Much

We hear from lots of leaders eager to implement a litany of changes to improve student outcomes and address community concerns. Other times, a long list of changes is a result of district-level mandates, initiatives, and “roll out plans” influenced by parent groups, district leadership, and the ever-changing legislative changes. But taking on too much change at once is a recipe for failure. 

Successful change management must include cut-throat prioritization to make time for crucial skill building, protect faculty from initiative overload, and avoid making new changes feel like “just one more thing.”

Change Fail 2: Not Planning for the Change

Tulsa’s hometown hero Will Rogers quipped that “vision, without a plan, is hallucination.” Successful changes require a plan that considers culture, people, fear, pain, resources, and deep analysis of the change itself.  

Consider the Oklahoma district that invested $200,000 in student-facing devices. Two years later, a quick walk through the school revealed unopened boxes of devices stuffed under counters and stacked in closets. Resources alone weren’t enough to float a technology initiative.   To avoid this pitfall, school leaders must establish a clear plan for how to accomplish a proposed change and deeply invest stakeholders at every level.  

Change Fail 3: Forgetting Competence-Building

Effective change management keeps an unrelenting focus on people. After all, the risks are high. Poorly managed change could alienate teachers and contribute to an unhealthy school culture, especially in Oklahoma’s already-precarious teacher context. Oklahoma State Department of Education points out that  a declining work environment is one of the main reasons teachers leave the profession (McFeron, 2018). A full 40% of teachers reported a lack of support by school-based administrators as a major factor for leaving. 

Instead of assuming that staff can adapt to a proposed change without support or parroting phrases about “trusting teachers” or “letting teachers figure it out,”  create a plan to offer teachers the support and feedback mechanisms they need. After all, good intentions and great ideas alone don’t give teachers and staff the support they need to successfully navigate change. 

Remember that change often requires new skills and habits. Forgetting about competence-building during a change leaves staff feeling unsupported and unsuccessful.     

Although we’ve observed plenty of changes gone the way of the unopened device boxes, school leaders like Carr remind us that even the biggest proposed changes can be managed successfully. Fortunately, research and experience offers a plethora of wisdom to manage school-based change at any site. Follow the blog series as we unfold specific leader moves and resources for managing change. 

References: McFeron, P. (2018). A Survey of 5,487 Holders of Oklahoma Teaching Certificates Not Teaching in Ok Public Schools Under the Age of 65 Online surveys conducted September 26 – October 16, 2017. Survey Report – CHS and Associates_0.pdf

School-based Change Management Kick-off

By Dr. Joanna Lein

Schools leaders are constantly thinking about change. Whether it’s new standards, resources, priorities, or curriculum, school changes require thoughtful roll-outs if you want the new change to be successful.

Change management is such a prominent part of the school leader job that Oklahoma’s most prevalent principal evaluation tool, McRel, uses “Managing Change” as one of its three main rubric areas (along with “Purposeful Community” and “Focus of Leadership).

Still, managing change is tricky. During a recent social media conversation, I watched as teachers and administration batted around examples of failed changes in their schools. The results varied from frustrated staff members to initiative overload, burnout, and even all-out mutiny. It wasn’t all disappointment though. Sprinkled throughout the conversation were stories of enduring change. 

One teacher excitedly recalled the year her principal pushed teachers to integrate an ambitious set of differentiation strategies. Step by step, the teachers learned about the idea, researched strategies, practiced implementation, observed their colleagues, and received principal feedback. “At every faculty meeting,” she wrote, “we drew a name of a teacher to observe, fill out a reflection, and turn it in. Eighth grade teachers and kindergarten teachers had to observe each other.” Not even the grumpiest of teachers was exempt. The most amazing part for the teacher writer? How quickly the principal invested an entire faculty to take ownership and be accountable for differentiation strategies in every lesson at every grade level. 

At TLI, we spend a lot of time helping leaders strategically plan for change. Now, we’re excited to bring a taste of that work to you! Over the next six weeks, we’re rolling out a series of blog posts to introduce you to the big pieces of school-base change management.

Whether you’re still a little gun shy from a botched change, eagerly planning for innovation next semester, or barely making it through a difficult change right now, join us for some weekly change management wisdom. 

Looking for a specific post? Check out change management posts on assessing the scope, greasing the skids, and top reasons change management fails.

20 Under 2: Celebrating Oklahoma’s Novice Teachers

A teacher’s first years in the classroom can be long and lonely. Learning to teach is a big, important job and yet the experience is also punctuated with unnecessary hurdles like low pay, large class sizes, and underfunded systems. 

It’s not surprising that so many novice teachers leave before they feel fully competent. In Oklahoma, one out of every five new teachers leaves after their first year. After five years, only about half remain in the classroom. 

Here at the Teaching & Leading Initiative, we’re obsessed with ways to support new teachers. Usually, that means concrete support like weekly coaching, practice-based professional development, or training leaders to work with new teachers. 

This year, we rolled out another way to support teachers: a big, public round of applause for top-achieving teachers. Meet the 20 Under 2 campaign, a list of twenty of the top novice teachers in Oklahoma and an ode to high-achieving novice teachers everywhere. 
Across the state, principals, veteran teachers, and district leaders submitted their top novice teachers for consideration. Each nomination was reviewed and scored by a panel of education professionals. The list below celebrates the top twenty nominees for outstanding classroom culture, academic results, and contributions to Oklahoma’s public schools. Find out more information about each honoree on our website.

  • Jeremy Britt | Tulsa Public Schools | McClure Elementary
  • Katie Burgess | McAlester Public Schools | McAlester High School
  • Christina Cook | Santa Fe South | Pathways Middle College
  • Brooke Copeland | Fort Gibson Public Schools | Fort Gibson Intermediate Elementary
  • Katherin (Kat) Evans | Deer Creek Public Schools | Grove Valley Elementary
  • Hannah Folks | Stilwell Public Schools | Stilwell High School
  • Kyle Foster | Jenks Public Schools | Jenks High School
  • Rachel Henderson | Kiefer Public Schools | Kiefer Upper Elementary
  • Kelsey Hicks | Broken Arrow Public Schools | Timber Ridge Elementary
  • Benjamin Imlay | Tulsa Public Schools | Collegiate Hall
  • BJ Jiles | Edmond Public Schools | Central Middle School
  • Lindsay Judd | Mid-Del Public Schools | Pleasant Hill Elementary
  • Kimberly Morgan | Pryor Public Schools | Lincoln Elementary
  • Sarah Muzny | Muskogee Public Schools | Muskogee High School
  • Sara Mote |Springer Public Schools | Springer Elementary
  • Audra Peterson | Anadarko Public Schools | Mission Elementary School
  • Olivia Wehmuller | Jennings Public Schools | Jennings Elementary
  • Jennifer Winchester | Bridge Creek Public Schools | Bridge Creek Middle School
  • Garrett Weir | Glenpool Public Schools | Glenpool High School
  • Austin Wood | Paoli Public Schools | Paoli Elementary School
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