#MNPSVoices: Dr. Natalyn Gibbs, Principal

MNPSVoices_041118_NatalynGibbs Bright colors and warmly decorated halls greet guests as they enter Shwab Elementary. Even brighter are the faces of Shwab’s diverse students and cheerful office staff lead by Principal, Dr. Natalyn Gibbs. From the moment you meet Gibbs, it is clear how much she cares for her school and has built an intentional focus on the experience of her teachers, parents and students.

“There is no ‘I’ in team but [there] is one in win,” Gibbs said. “We all have a contribution that leads to a bigger picture – grade connects to school, school to district and district to state – and the larger picture of success requires taking ownership of our individual pieces.”

Under Gibbs’ leadership, Shwab has been recognized by the district for the largest achievement gap closure for limited English proficiency and has received an honorable mention in having the largest value-added gains in reading and language arts. The school’s population is 50 percent Hispanic with 40 percent of students as English Learners (EL). Because of those substantial numbers, Gibbs added more supports through an EL-trained staff that includes a part-time translator at Shwab three days a week and full-time English Language Development (ELD) teachers who provide daily support to English Learners. At least one teacher on each grade level is also EL certified. Gibbs’ goal is to provide all learners access to a rigorous and interactive education regardless of what language they speak.

“When you serve such a diverse population, it is crucial to give students not only extra support but also have an open-door policy to give parents access to their student’s academic experience,” Gibbs said. “There needs to be trust.”

While she focuses on the students first, calling them the “royalty for which we serve,” Gibbs does not discount the importance of focusing on staff, their personal well-being and professional development.

“Teaching is the profession that creates all professions,” she said. “I want my staff to know I have the highest respect for their leadership and expertise.”

Gibbs provides teacher-leader positions and has implemented incentive programs to acknowledge her educators’ willingness to go above and beyond in service for their students. The program encourages teachers to take advantage of available roles and collaboration opportunities.

“I never ask more of my faculty and staff than I am willing to give,” Gibbs said. “This is an environment of shared leadership.”

She has always had a knack for leading; she spent the beginning of her career in the business world before following a passion for teaching and learning. Gibbs taught in the classroom and spent time as an assistant principal in Metro Nashville Public Schools. When she earned her first lead principal role six years ago, Gibbs worked hard to rebuild the team and create the focus and direction she felt the staff required. The rebuilding has paid off with significant gains in testing and other achievement data.

Reflecting on the year, the Gibbs is proud of her team for taking full ownership of the district’s vision and strategic framework. Next year, she wants to build on the momentum in her school.

“Our team is at a great place with synthesis––I am proud of our staff and pedagogy that they bring,” she said.

“I have parents who say Shwab needed me-- but not as much as I needed Shwab, being here has by far been my best and most challenging experience.”