Principal Scott Crisp logged countless hours on airplanes last year, flying back and forth from Wyoming to Washington, D.C., for a prestigious fellowship with the U.S. Department of Education.
And when he wasn’t cramming his tall frame into airplane seats, he was working late into the night in Jackson, juggling principalship with his role back East.
The recently minted principal ambassador fellow for the 2017-18 school year said he’s approaching education with renewed energy and perspective this year. Crisp has a long history in the Teton County School District: His first teaching job, teaching U.S. history, was at the high school from 1997 through 2004. After furthering his education in Oregon and teaching elsewhere, he came back as the principal of Summit High School (now Summit Innovations School) in 2008 and then the principal of Jackson Hole High School in 2009.
“Dr. Crisp is a very creative thinker and is willing to explore ideas to help Jackson Hole High School and our entire district improve,” Superintendent Gillian Chapman said. “I saw this as an outstanding opportunity for him to learn, grow and come back to us with fresh perspectives and ideas.”
With a long and varied career in education, hitting the refresh button is important.
“In public education the ability to stay fresh in your work is critical,” Crisp said. “[The district] expects to be the best, we expect to be some of the best schools in the West, so these kinds of experiences push on that.”
The program aims to connect the Department of Education staff with local leaders, allowing the latter to contribute to policies that affect their schools and communities.
The paid fellowship is an exclusive one, accepting only a handful of educators around the country each year. It started in 2007, focusing on teachers, with an effort added in 2013 to loop in principals.
Since then the department has worked with 118 teachers and principals in full- and part-time positions. In 2017 the ambassador program was expanded to include all school staff members, including counselors and librarians. Some fellows reside in D.C. full time (Washington fellows); others, like Crisp, stay in their school roles back home and work for the department part time (campus fellows).
Exchanging ideas to grow
While in D.C., Crisp highlighted his role in the design and implementation of learning sessions called “Principals at ED,” one- or two-day meet-ups focused on topics like rethinking the instructional model, creating a culture of college and a career readiness and connecting local principals to federal policy. Crisp worked on Title 2A federal grants, focusing on funding systems that help develop school leadership, and gave feedback on policies related to school safety, community engagement and career tech education.
Chapman said that kind of work “absolutely” aligned with the district’s goals of success for all, a healthy and caring school environment and an engaged and informed community.
Crisp also worked with representatives from a slew of national groups: the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, New Leaders, the Association of California School Administrators and the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
Although Crisp’s official work with the department ended in August, he still lends a hand, assisting with communications and acting as a “thought partner” as officials brainstorm grants.
“Sometimes they want another perspective from someone who is actually working in a school, and so they’re able to draw on folks that were fellows,” Crisp said.
Crisp also has the teacher perspective to contribute. In addition to Teton County he taught in Oregon and South Carolina.
He’ll also still be participating in monthly Twitter chats that function as “national online discussions” about a variety of educational topics. You can join in by following him at @mscottcrisp.
“Professionals need the opportunity to grow skills and expand their knowledge,” Chapman said. “We are fairly isolated in our community, so this program enabled Dr. Crisp to network with other professionals across the country and learn what successes they are having.”
At Jackson Hole High School the effect of Crisp’s fellowship is a little nebulous, but it’s there. There’s no direct program implementation as a result; rather, Crisp came back to lead with new ideas.
“The federal government is really not about program creation and telling districts to do things,” he said. “They’re really about managing federal grants, oversight of accountability measures and leaving a lot of that work for local school districts and states to decide.”
The biggest influence, he said, is a new way of thinking: “How can I lead others to be more self-reflective, find opportunities to grow even if it’s uncomfortable and hopefully create a culture of dialogue and reflection in our school.”
He’s already led Jackson Hole High School to many accomplishments, like winning a Blue Ribbon Award for High Performing High School in 2013, being ranked the best high school in Wyoming by US News and World Report in 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2018 and having some of the highest graduation rates in the state.
Crisp has never shied away from additional education. Students often call him “Dr. Crisp,” a reference to his Ph.D. in educational leadership and administration from Oregon State University. He’s also sought additional leadership roles within Teton County in the past, making it to top four candidates vying for superintendent of the school district.
Now that Crisp is a graduated fellow he’s part of a network with 100-plus alumni around the country. He likes connecting with fellows from 10 or 12 years back who live in Seattle or San Francisco and getting ideas. Crisp’s connections led to the visit in September of Jose Viana, assistant deputy secretary and director of the Office of English Language Acquisition.
“The networking piece is important, I think, especially given the isolation of Teton County and professional networking here,” Crisp said. “You just don’t have that type of face-to-face professional networking that a lot of other places do. And what we don’t want to happen is for that to be a reason we don’t continue to grow. The ability to grow, network and learn from others is fundamentally important.”
‘What pushes you to learn?’
Crisp hopes other educators can have similar opportunities.
“I’m always asking our educators in our school, ‘What pushes you to learn?’” he said. “‘What pushes you to learn?’ And sometimes learning can be uncomfortable, especially when you are working with others who don’t necessarily see things the way you do.
“That makes you check your ego. It makes you a great listener. It makes you have empathy for others that maybe don’t share your perspective all the time.”
One type of “uncomfortable” learning that pushed Crisp, he said, was being the only principal in the class. Four of his colleagues are teachers, including Elmer Harris, from Colorado, Megan Power, from California, Jennifer Ramsey, from D.C., and Melody Arabo, from Michigan. The other, Patrick O’Connor, also from Michigan, is a counselor.
“Being the only school administrator at the table, sometimes I felt like I had to really stop my position and really listen to others and their perspectives as opposed to being the administrative leader,” he said.
He’d like to continue assisting the federal government while still having an impact here.
“It was an opportunity to bring my ideas to a federal table and learn federal policies and how to navigate that. I would never have that opportunity learning in a traditional way.”