Tri Point High School (Cullom, IL)

Interview with Principal Kellee Hill

Tri Point Community Unified School District (CSUD #6J) is a preK-12 school district located in a small, rural community of Kempton, IL with three campuses: Tri Point High School, Tri Point Upper Elementary/Junior High and Tri Point Elementary School. Tri Point High School is located approximately 8 miles, south of the school district in Cullom, Illinois and is made up of five feeder communities. The population is a little more than 500 people and has continuously declined over the years. Cullom and surrounding agricultural communities have suffered from great economic decline over the years, while agriculture still continues to remain the anchor and tax base of their districts, towns, and counties. 

Tri Point High School

After 9 years as the only administrator and principal at Tri Point High School, Kellee Hill has established a schoolwide vision of commitment to high standards, success for all, and closing the achievement gap between economically advantaged and less advantaged students. Everyone knows that with every effective principal, there is always a strong team of committed teachers working alongside them. Tri Point High School has veteran teachers who have devoted their entire careers to their students in this small, rural community along with incoming young, new, and energetic teachers new to the district. With Kellee Hill wearing many hats in her solo administrative role and her strong team of teachers at her side, Tri Point’s mission has been to find a positive pathway forward for every student with the pillars of rigor, commitment, and growth.

Every school year brings new challenges and areas which need to be improved and when a pandemic hits, every challenge and area of improvement in a school is magnified tenfold. Tri Point High School met this challenge in 2020 with their positive school culture and fortitude to adapt during an educational crisis. With the high school suddenly shut down, their teacher leadership utilized the strengths of their staff, professional learning opportunities were provided, and the entire staff had a commitment to being flexible and meeting students where they were at the time. Although the pandemic and a remote learning platform made it difficult to stay true to their mission, if not impossible, Tri Point High School still made it a top priority to concentrate on the social-emotional needs of their students to meet these new challenges head on.

Interview with Principal Kellee Hill:

Describe Tri-Point High School, the student population, and the culture that has been developed since you became principal.

Kellee Hill:  I am the longest serving principal so far at Tri Point High School and this will be my 9th year. While the rule of thumb is 5 years to affect change, I feel like every year seems new. There are always new challenges, and areas for improvement. At times it is lonely to be the only administrator at the school, but I have a great staff and so many leaders among my staff who go above and beyond what needs to be done for our students. During my time here, I have worked hard to increase staffing, bring flexibility to our teacher and student schedules, provide significant professional development in engagement and trauma, and have always tried to focus on what is best for our students while still expecting them to succeed academically. So much of our work now is social-emotional support for our students and nothing happens in education without being in the relationship business. This has dramatically enhanced students’ level of motivation and has promoted learning.

I have been blessed with a great team of teachers who have devoted their careers to Tri Point High School. Our mission is to always find a positive pathway forward for every one of our students regardless of their readiness to learn, learning interests or academic skills. We stay true to the three pillars of our mission which are rigor, commitment and growth. Sharing that with our students, being flexible with them, meeting them where they are has led to higher graduation rates, better attendance, and a general sense of pride in who we are. Our biggest team challenge has been keeping our students on the path even when they do not yet possess a vision of a future for themselves. 

To increase the rigor, commitment, and growth of all our students, we have made significant changes. Our AP offerings and dual-credit courses have increased, and we made credit recovery an on-going process replacing the previous practice of letting credits build until their 4th year and then scrambling to finish extra courses or possibly losing the students. As a district, we have developed a framework for our Postsecondary and Career Expectations that begin working with students toward that path starting in kindergarten. At the high school level, seniors have capstone expectations, an accredited course when needed, and job shadowing and internships to help them find their career path.

How did Tri Point High School respond to the instructional challenges of the pandemic beginning in 2020?

Kellee Hill:  Every once in a while the stars align. And as odd as it sounds, the stars aligned for us when the pandemic hit. Three years prior to the pandemic, we started a Google Classroom push. First, teachers volunteered to pilot the program; next year the teachers were all required to create a presence; and in the 3rd year, everyone had to use their classroom, create a flex-learning plan and practice it with their students. During that year we used eLearning for snow days for the first time ever—including the first use of eLearning resulting in 4-days in a row. We vowed we would never do it again. 

The universe had other ideas when the pandemic hit and we were forced to adjust our school’s operation and teach remotely.  We remarked over and again that we were so much better prepared than other schools our size because we had used, sometimes reluctantly, Google Classroom and virtual learning. We struggled, due to not being able to reach every student, however, some of our students did great.  To reach every student, our teachers held virtual tutoring sessions, made phone calls, sat in student driveways, and had students come sit in the school parking lot.  So while we did lose content, we continued to strive towards maintaining student relationships during this time. 

Most data being collected indicates there was a significant learning gap that emerged for many students during the Covid-19 pandemic. What data will your school site be collecting to determine your students’ needs this coming school year?

Kellee Hill:  The data we collect reflects both our local mission and the state metrics. The state of Illinois collects data for the state report card on graduation rates, ninth graders on track for graduation, achievement on state testing (IL is an SAT state), and growth on this test year-to-year.  We did test our Juniors in the spring and used the Horizon Education practice PSAT tests for our 9th and 10th graders. Locally we will use the practice PSAT and SAT test to collect growth data on our students. In addition, we collect data on the following:

  • Engagement in school activities 
  • Credit recovery status
  • Failures, incomplete work, attendance, and behavior data—this informs our intervention programming to support students as needed.

How often in a school year will this data be collected?

Kellee Hill:  Our state data is collected yearly, but we track it quarterly and intervene as needed to reach on-track and graduation status.  We use Horizon Education Bootcamp to support and prepare our junior SAT students. We will be using the Horizon Education practice PSAT/SAT tests to track our students two to three times during the 2021-2022 school year at the beginning of the year, late fall/winter, and the official spring testing required by the state for PSAT and SAT assessment with all 9th, 10th and 11th graders. We meet monthly and track our students’ grades, incomplete work, attendance and behaviors and place students who fall below the metrics on monitor or intervention status. Once a student is placed in intervention status, their progress is tracked weekly.

How will your school site analyze the data?

Kellee Hill:  We are looking to establish baselines this school year. While we have our spring data, we recognize this is not typical data due to the pandemic and remote learning. We are not as concerned with learning loss as we are with our students’ current skills. This is what matters at this point. So determining the current skill sets of our students, and tracking the growth of those over time will inform our curricular decisions and our intervention programs.  

How will this data be used to inform decision making and goal setting?

Kellee Hill:  We have already determined five areas of growth to work on based on analysis of our spring data and the help of James Fleming, the chief learning officer, at Horizon Education.  We selected transferable skills we believe will allow for not only growth of our students’ skills and assessment scores, but also align our teaching practices and inform our conversations on what skills our students need to focus on.  

Our goal is to improve our SAT/PSAT performance, but we are not as concerned with the overall school average (or mean). Our focus is to move more students to the middle (or median) of college and career ready. If we never achieve a 1600, it is okay.  We want to get a majority of our students in the college readiness level in ERW and Math, including on the reading subscore. These scores reinforce for our students that they are college ready at whatever institution they choose, and that their score will place them in a college level, not remedial, course which allows them to complete their program in a timely manner. Higher ed research shows that students who take remedial courses are less likely to complete their degrees and we want to help our students complete those degrees and certifications. 

Are the teachers involved in the planning and assessment of your school’s goals?

Kellee Hill:  Our staff met before the end of the school year of 2021 to review the five transferable skills we determined from our spring assessment data. Our teachers discussed the skills and determined they wanted to write interim assessments around them as a cross-curricular assessment and to establish universal Student Learning Outcome Goals as required by Illinois State Board of Education/School Code as a component of Teacher Evaluations. Horizon Education will allow us to measure our local assessments against the normed tests to determine the efficacy of our work.

How will this data be used to contribute to high level academic skills development of students, and how will it be relevant and valuable for students?

Kellee Hill:  Most of our students who do attend college, start at a community college. Some students enter the skilled trades, some to tech schools and an equal number to the workforce. We want to support all our students, no matter the path they choose. Our mission is to always help every student find their positive pathway. The SAT is a required Illinois assessment, and as educational professionals we understand that our students' high achievement on this assessment is not a reflection of their skills. The value of using the SAT is to determine the levels of transferable skills, and then embed those skills into all courses: core, elective, basics, and CTE. Our students will then take these skills to the workforce, to tech school, to college or to their school-based clubs and organizations.

No test, no matter how valued by the most elite universities or touted by the State or Federal Education Agency, is of value if it does not reflect the needs and goals of our students. Our goal is to use this test data to make our students more confident in reaching their goals and being prepared for the path they choose. By extracting the SAT/PSAT for the transferable skills, we look to give our students confidence that they can tackle new information, solve tough problems, and attack rigorous reading.     

What are Tri Point High School’s plans for the school’s data management and to encourage focused teaching?

Kellee Hill: Our staff will focus on five transferable skills this 2021-2022 school year. Our staff will focus on one skill at a time, and share the application of this skill to their content area. They will then compare the PSAT/SAT application of this skill and determine the rigor of their local application. The key questions to ask of ourselves:  Are we asking enough of our students? Are we teaching this skill with enough depth?  Are we aligned in our understanding? We anticipate a two year cycle of focusing on these skills and adding five additional skills.  



What professional developments will you continue to do to inform and reinforce the importance of alignment of curricula, instruction, and assessments to ensure that a high level academic skills has been met?

Kellee Hill:  Our professional development focuses on these transferable skills and effective teaching strategies. This coming school year, we will focus on reading with rigor and understanding deep engagement with texts and embedding skills. This will include diving into brain research and the key strategy of interleaving and retrieval practice as well a hard look at critical vocabulary and reading strategies. All of this may require us to sacrifice some content to develop skills. This will be difficult for our teachers to let go of, but our curriculum work will be focused on critical content, essential questions and embedding the transferable skills. Once we are all “pulling the wagon in the same direction” we will see growth that will allow additional content to be reached.

The struggle for Tri Point High School, as a small school, is not how to gather the data but what data is important and what to do with it. Now that we have a focus on transferable skills that align to our clearly articulated mission, we can continue to move forward. Oftentimes, we may feel like we are working so hard and getting nowhere, thanks to the pandemic for magnifying this for everyone, but truth be told we are moving forward.  

Our twin efforts of focused instruction to students and focused professional development will embed those mental models—What is the transferable skill? How does it apply to my content? How do I embed this skill in my students?  Returning again to our mission and goals will keep our focus on doing what is best for our students and lead to growth. We are excited for our journey to continue.

Regardless of the form learning and teaching takes place in 2021-2022 - whether on-site, remote, or hybrid - rural educators at Tri Point High School will remain committed to finding an approach that serves all their students. Their mission of always finding a positive pathway forward will continue to be a steadfast goal regardless of the challenges ahead this coming school year. Kellee Hill and her teaching staff will continue to adapt to changes, and share Tri Point’s three pillars of rigor, commitment and growth with their students all while focusing on their social-emotional needs. With their positive school culture, committed teaching staff, and focus on transferable skills from the data they collect, this can only lead to success for all students with whatever path they choose to take.

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