Alabama’s Best Barkley Bridge Elementary-Preparing Teachers and Students in STEM Learning

This is the final post in a six-part series recognizing the winners of the Tennessee’s Best and Alabama’s Best Contests.  Our previous post featured Tennessee’s Best Grand Prize winner Kingsport City Schools (TN), and the following runners up: Indian Valley Elementary (AL), Maury County (TN), Crestline Elementary (AL), and Lauderdale County (TN). Stay tuned for details about an exciting Best K-12 Contest expansion.


“In the 21st century, scientific and technological innovations have become increasingly important as we face the benefits and challenges of both globalization and a knowledge-based economy. To succeed in this new information-based and highly technological society, students need to develop their capabilities in STEM to levels much beyond what was considered acceptable in the past.”  National Science Foundation


Students learn with and from one another during Virtual STEM day at Barkley Bridge.

Students learn with and from one another during Virtual STEM day at Barkley Bridge.

Ensuring that all students have access to high-quality learning opportunities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) subjects is a concern for many in education. Barkley Bridge Elementary School in Hartselle, Alabama recognizes that supporting both teachers and students in STEM is a game changer.  Barkley Bridge and their comprehensive K-4 STEM program  were recognized by Lean Frog and the Alabama Association of School Boards (AASB) as the Grand Prize Winner of the 3rd Annual Alabama’s Best Contest. Their entry showcases a sustainable approach to “STEM schooling” that is “preparing the little faces of today for a little of what they will face tomorrow.”

Barkley Bridge’s STEM Journey

In August of 2014, Susan Hayes (Barkley Bridge Elementary School’s principal at the time) met with several teacher leaders to discuss a perennial concern: “How do we reach the students we are missing when using traditional educational approaches”? 

The conversations that ensued left them seeking more information about STEM (Science; Technology; Engineering; Mathematics) schooling and the power of problem solving. As a result, the faculty identified five “goals” that they wanted to address in an interdisciplinary manner:

1.       Every Child will engage in STEM/Problem-Based Learning to increase capacity for thinking “outside the box”, to increase persistence and stamina in learning, and to boost resiliency after failure – since failure is a part of learning and life.

2.       Every child will find academic success.  Some find their success through traditional schooling; STEM school will open the doors to more Students.

3.       Every child will be introduced to STEM careers and leadership opportunities.

4.       Every child will develop character and soft skills as well as academic skills.

5.       Fourth grade “graduates” will be on the path to college and career readiness.

Barkley Bridge rightfully recognized that to prepare their students for STEM learning, they needed to prepare their teachers as well.  Teachers engaged STEM experts and prepared themselves by learning more about problem-based learning, higher order questioning, facilitating learning through a design model, and how to seamlessly integrate technology into day-to-day instruction.  Project Lead the Way’s (PLTW) products and approach were identified as the program that would best meet the needs of their students.  Lead teachers at the school piggy-backed on PLTW training at another school district and conducted turnaround training sessions at their school home. This turnaround training helped them achieve the buy-in of teachers throughout the school so everyone was on board by roll-out.  Each grade level offers PLTW models, AMSTI (Alabama, Math, Science, and Technology Initiative) modules, Mystery Science , Kodable coding, and more.

Barkley Bridge solicited and received corporate donations from several Morgan County businesses, including their Partner in Education, Sonoco.  Their Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) also raised community funds for the STEM initiative and as a by-product raised community awareness of the need for a strong STEM program.      

STEM in Action at Barkley Bridge

Barkley Bridge has seen both qualitative and quantitative benefits with the implementation of their comprehensive STEM program. 

1.       Involved parents: Parent volunteers created a “Putting Parents into the Equation” team.  The PPE volunteers work with students to build number sense and problem-solving skills. 

2.       Engaged community: Parents and community helped the school deliver STEM learning beyond the classroom through activities like Family STEM Night, Virtual STEM Day, and a Library Maker Space.

3.       Inspired students: Students, parents, and teachers have commented on the impact of this approach to learning:

a.       “I like sharing ideas and collaborating.  I understand it better and understand the steps better when I am doing and not just watching.”  –Sawyer Tapscott, Fourth Grader

b.       “I have seen my own kids think creatively in ways they have not before.  They no longer just build things, they transform them.”   –Janadah Sartin, PTO President

c.       “My husband works in the STEM industry.  I was showing him what we are doing with coding.  He just kept saying ‘Third graders are doing that?’  He was amazed.”                   –Teacher Wendy Goss

4.       Marked improvement in student Math and Science ACT Aspire scores:



Why we Like this Entry 

Barkley Bridge’s STEM program emphasizes the importance of planning and execution and achieving buy-in.  They identified goals for their STEM program at the onset, planned their work and worked their plan.  Their wide-ranging program involves the support of all stakeholders and helps ensure the sustainability of these best practices in STEM learning.

Susan Hayes (former principal at Barkley Bridge) and Vic Wilson (Supt, Hartselle City Schools) accept the $3000 cash grand prize for Barkley Bridge Elementary School.

Susan Hayes (former principal at Barkley Bridge) and Vic Wilson (Supt, Hartselle City Schools) accept the $3000 cash grand prize for Barkley Bridge Elementary School.


Congratulations Barkly Bridge Elementary School for your Grand-Prize winning entry.  We applaud your students for their growth in learning and in their achievements, the faculty for its commitment and innovation, and the community for its engagement and support.


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Alabama’s Best Award Winner Crestline Academy – Helping Parents Help Their Children

This is the second post in a six-part series recognizing the winners of the Tennessee’s Best and Alabama’s Best winners.  Our first post featured Tennessee Best runner-up Lauderdale County.



Crestline Academy - mothers homework prayerIt’s every parent or guardian’s nightmare.

You’ve been stumped by your child’s homework assignment.  Or, better yet, you know the answer, but you are not familiar with the way the teacher has taught your child how to get the answer.  We’ve all been there.  If you haven’t yet, chances are you’ll get the glazed over look one day in the future.

Crestline Elementary in Hartselle, Alabama is providing a way to help parents and guardians help their children and avoid the homework nightmare.    Crestline Elementary and their Crestline Academy were recognized by LEAN Frog and the Alabama Association of School Boards (AASB) as a Runner-up Winner in the 3rd Annual Alabama’s Best Contest. Crestline Academy is a website containing.

Crestline Academy Background:

Crestline Elementary faculty recognized that both students and parents often needed support with reading and math instructional strategies that were presented in

A Kindergarten student demonstrates addition and subtraction with objects

A Kindergarten student demonstrates addition and subtraction with objects

class. Faculty members started creating instructional videos in October 2015.  The videos were patterned after Kahn Academy with its “Learn Anytime, Anywhere” mission.  As the videos were created throughout the school year, they were uploaded to YouTube.  By November 2015, Crestline had created a collection of embedded videos and launched Crestline Academy.   [Check out their cool “What are you wearing Jake from Crestline Academy” commercial on YouTube!].  By the end of the school year, teachers and students from each grade (K-4) had created several videos to present math standards and strategies.  Several had created videos explaining reading standards and strategies.  Some videos explain complicated concepts, some explain instructional games, while others model instructional strategies.  As Instructional Partner Elisa Harris remarks, “Our goal is to equip parents and guardians with tools to help their child outside the classroom while providing explanations for strategies used to prepare College and Career Ready students.”

Crestline Academy Benefits

The benefits of a resource like Crestline Academy are numerous.

  • The videos provide parents with skills to work collaboratively with teachers to improve student performance and increase student success.
  • The videos are an innovative way to promote the mastery of math and reading standards.
  • The teacher-directed, student-led videos have the “for us, by us” effect. Students love seeing themselves on camera.  They also like taking an active part in their own learning and others’ learning as well.
  • Organizing the videos as Crestline Academy provides a useful one-stop resource for all stakeholders. Videos are organized by grade level and even have “Multisensory” drills that parents/guardians can use with their students.

Why We Like this Entry:

Crestline Academy features "multisensory" drills

Crestline Academy features “multisensory” drills

We love practices that strengthen the school-family relationship.  Crestline Academy is an example of an innovative approach to connect students, teachers, and parents/guardians.   “In designing ways to increase parent engagement in their children’s learning, our teachers suggested using classroom videos to let parents see how our standards are being taught,” said Principal Robin Varwig. “This allows the parents to see how students are learning and to use the same strategies at home with homework.”  Crestline emphasizes an old lean adage of “we see together, we learn together, we do together.”

We also like how Crestline’s entry recognizes the realities of students’ lives by having a resource that is available anytime, anywhere.  Math and reading instructional support is available when school is not in session or when the student is absent.

Finally, Crestline Elementary includes and monitors this practice as part of their Continuous Improvement Plan to help ensure its sustainability.

Elisa Harris accepts the $1000 cash prize for Crestline Elem. From L-R Brandon Payne (LEAN Frog), Elisa Harris, Sherri Headrick (LEAN Frog), Vic Wilson (Supt, Hartselle City Schools), Sally Smith (AASB Exec Dir)

Elisa Harris accepts the $1000 cash prize for Crestline Elem. From L-R Brandon Payne (LEAN Frog), Elisa Harris, Sherri Headrick (LEAN Frog), Vic Wilson (Supt, Hartselle City Schools), Sally Smith (AASB Exec Dir)


Congratulations Crestline Elementary for your award-winning entry.  We applaud the work your school is doing to ensure students and parents are equipped with resources outside the classroom and to strengthen the school-family relationship.

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3rd Annual Alabama’s Best Contest Receives Inspiring Entries

As Alabama students begin their first full week of school in 2017, we would like to recognize the excellent work of those school systems who participated in the 3rd annual Alabama’s Best Contest.  We congratulate all those who entered the contest, our two runner-up winners, and our grand prize winner.  We hope that learning about these impressive examples of best practices will inspire others in 2017.



The Alabama Association of School Boards (AASB) and LEAN Frog were delighted to continue our tradition of recognizing the great work of Alabama public education with our 3rd Annual “Alabama’s Best” K-12 Practices Contest.  We received inspiring entries that covered the instructional and non-instructional spectrum. Departments such as Special Education, Career Tech, Student Services, Maintenance, Technology entered practices exhibiting strong pedagogical thought and exceptional creativity.  More importantly they showed the intense dedication of our Alabama teachers, educational administrators, and communities to both support and enhance the learning opportunities for our students.

Talladega City Schools students in the Precision Machine/Industrial Maintenance/Robotics Program created a prosthetic hand for a patient in Nepal

Talladega City Schools students in the Precision Machine/Industrial Maintenance/Robotics Program created a prosthetic hand for a patient in Nepal

Some examples of best practice entries included:

  • A robotics program that provides opportunities for students to learn precision machining and participate in community service projects
  • Data collection and analysis of counseling services to better target high needs areas, improve direct student intervention, and educate parents and community members on important issues such as anxiety and drug use
  • Replacement of inefficient metal halide lamps with LED lighting to save money and improve students’ ability to learn and perform
  • A “Garden to table” catering program that enables adolescents and young adults with significant cognitive disabilities to acquire functional, academic, and vocational skills.
Gadsden City Schools students in the "Beautiful Rainbow Catering Company and Garden" program lean about organic gardening.

Gadsden City Schools students in the “Beautiful Rainbow Catering Company and Garden” program lean about organic gardening.

With all the great entries, competition was tight.  We had several rounds of judging to identify the top three entries.

And the 3rd Annual Alabama’s Best winners are . . .

LEAN Frog recognized the winners of the contest at the AASB annual meeting in Birmingham.  The collaborative efforts of each winning best practice tied nicely with AASB’s theme “Together We Can Soar.”  The winning entries included:

  • an online academy featuring teacher-directed, student-led instructional videos
  • an Early Literacy Groups program highlighting teacher-paraprofessional collaboration
  • a comprehensive elementary school STEM program that spans all grade levels


Crestline Elementary School (Hartselle City Schools) and Indian Valley Elementary School (Sylacauga City Schools) were the two-runner up entries. They each received $1000.  Crestline Elementary’s entry, submitted by Instruction Partner Elisha Harris, features instructional videos as part of their Crestline Academy.  The videos allow parents to help their children academically with concepts that have been presented in the classroom.  Students and teachers created the videos to reinforce College and Career Ready standards/strategies for math and reading.  Crestline Academy ensures students have access to instructional support when school is not in session or when students are absent. Indian Valley Elementary’s entry, submitted by Principal Monte Abner, focuses on collaboration between certified teachers and paraprofessionals.  Their Early Literacy Groups (ELGs) deliver explicit reading instruction to students on their level.  The ELGs’ emphasis on phonemic and phonological awareness, comprehensions, writing, and vocabulary have led to 68% of students meeting or exceeding grade level expectations.   Additionally, 93% of kindergarten students are proficient in phonological awareness.

The grand prize winning entry from Barkley Bride Elementary School (Hartselle City Schools) received $3000. Barkley Bridge’s Best Practices in STEM, submitted by Principal Susan Hayes, documents their process for developing and maintaining a comprehensive STEM program for all grades at the school.  From developing goals at the outset that aligned with the district’s strategic plan to involving parents and community partners, Barkley Bridge developed a sustainable approach to “STEM schooling” that has achieved teacher buy-in and significant increases in student ACT Aspire Math scores.

We thank and congratulate all those schools and school systems who submitted entries to the 3rd Annual Alabama’s Best Contest.  You are all winners for the work you put in each day to improve the lives of students in Alabama’s public education system.

COMING THIS WEEK:  The start of a six-part series profiling each of the winners of the Alabama and Tennessee’s Best Contests!

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Reflecting on 2014 Opportunities and Looking Ahead to 2015

As 2014 comes to a close, we take this time to reflect on the many wonderful opportunities the year provided.  Through collaborations with our esteemed partners and with the hard work of our amazing team members, LEAN Frog has been privileged to serve and support students, educators, and communities.  I’d like to take a moment to thank a few of those organizations that have helped make LEAN Frog’s 2014 a rewarding year.


  • We would like to thank the Alabama Association of School Boards for being a co-sponsor of the inaugural Alabama’s Best Award that recognized the Best Practices and Innovations in the non-instructional departments of K-12 public schools in Alabama.  We congratulate award winners Tarrant City Schools, Huntsville City Schools and Sylacauga City Schools as well as all of those school systems across Alabama who work hard every day.

$3,000 Grand Prize Winner – Tarrant City Schools (Top); $1.000 Runner Up – Sylacauga City Schools (Bottom Left); $1,000 Runner Up – Huntsville City Schools (Bottom Right)

  • Thank you Reach Out & Read Alabama which prepares Alabama’s children to succeed in school by working with pediatric health care providers to incorporate pre-literacy counseling with families into their well-child visits and to provide new books at each of those visits.  LEAN Frog was honored to provide a Kindle e-reader and ten books to this worthy organization and we thank Reach Out & Read for its commitment to literacy promotion.
  • Thank you Rotary Club of Greater Huntsville through whom we supported the “End Polio Now” campaign sponsored by Rotary International

    LEAN Frog team members Byron Headrick and Dave Knowles receive Rotary Club's prestigious Paul Harris Fellow award in June.

    LEAN Frog team members Byron Headrick and Dave Knowles receive Rotary Club’s prestigious Paul Harris Fellow award in June.

  • Thank you Hartselle City Schools for your IMPACT Wellness Initiative that addresses the problem of childhood obesity.  LEAN Frog is proud to be a sponsor of your program and we commend you the initiative you have taken to promote healthy lifestyles for your employees and your students.
  • We sincerely appreciate the honor and recognition that the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce bestowed on us as recipient of the 2014 Small Business of the Year Award for the Business and Professional Services category.  We thank Alabama A&M University for the prestigious 2014 “Excellence is Not Optional” award and for their support of small businesses.


    Thank you Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce and Alabama A&M University for recognizing our company.


LEAN Frog helps public schools improve efficiency and effectiveness in their non-instructional departments through the practical application of Lean Six Sigma (LSS) tools.  We are grateful to those organizations that have allowed us to provide training for their members and introduce LSS thinking, systems and tools:

  • Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents (TOSS) as our partner with the half-day executive leader training on Lean Six Sigma process improvement and performance management and the opportunity to award Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt certification to attendees.
  • Alabama Association of School Business Officials (AASBO) as our partner with the engaging “Lean Office” workshop featuring a panel of Alabama Lean Frog School System clients speaking about the benefits of implementing lean six sigma within their business office operations.

The success of these workshops have led to upcoming training we will conduct in early 2015.

  • The upcoming “Strategies for Fiscal Sustainability in Harsh Economic Times:  Building School District Efficiency Through Lean Six Sigma” half day workshop for superintendents co-sponsored with the School Superintendents of Alabama (SSA) January 22, January 29 and February 5.
  • The Southeastern Association of School Business Officials (SASBO) Discovery Forum in April 2015 where LEAN Frog will use interactive simulations to introduce Lean Six Sigma tools and concepts to business officials throughout the southeast.


Lean Frog's Dave Knowles (left) chats with Georgia Superintendent of the Year Dr. Philip Lanoue (Clarke County Schools) at the GSBA/GSSA Annual Conference.

Lean Frog’s Dave Knowles (left) chats with Georgia Superintendent of the Year Dr. Philip Lanoue (Clarke County Schools) at the GSBA/GSSA Annual Conference.

As always, we express our gratitude to our clients for their business and for their friendship.

  • 2014 was a productive year as we expanded our service offerings this year to include Stakeholder Driven Strategic Planning. We thank Hartselle City Schools and Cullman County Schools for the trust they have placed in us as we work together to develop a long-range, measurable strategic plan for their respective systems.
  • LEAN Frog had the wonderful opportunity of conducting Lean Opportunity Readiness Assessments (LORA) for several Tennessee school systems and of securing our first Tennessee public school system client.  We thank Hamblen County Schools for the confidence they have placed in us and we excited about working with this great school system.
  • In December, we had the great pleasure of participating in our first event in Georgia at the 2014 GSBA/GSSA Annual Conference.  We look forward to building relationships with school systems in both Tennessee and Georgia as we continue our relationships with school systems in Alabama.  We are most grateful for the opportunity to serve public schools by doing what we love.

On behalf of the LEAN Frog team, I would like to wish you a wonderful 2015 filled with many wonderful opportunities and much success.

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LEAN Frog to Facilitate Strategic Planning at Hartselle City Schools


LEAN Frog President and Co-founder Byron Headrick outlines the Strategic Planning Process at the Hartselle City Schools board meeting. LEAN Frog will assist Hartselle City Schools as they build a strategic plan with the community.

PastedGraphic-1PastedGraphic-1Hartselle City Schools is shaping its path forward and has asked LEAN Frog Business Solutions to assist with strategic planning.   The Hartselle City Schools’ Board of Education approved Superintendent Dr. Vic Wilson’s recommendation of LEAN Frog as an external facilitator.

LEAN Frog will assist the Hartselle school system with developing a measurable strategic plan that incorporates their mission, vision, values and strategic objectives over the next 5 years.

“It takes proactive district leadership –the superintendent working together with the board members– to recognize the need to redefine and refocus priorities,” said Byron Headrick, President and Co-founder of LEAN Frog.  “LEAN Frog is proud to work shoulder to shoulder with Hartselle City Schools as they begin their strategic planning process with all of their stakeholders.”

Hartselle’s superintendent, Dr. Vic Wilson, frequently commended for having the same values of the people of Hartselle and for valuing educational opportunities for Hartselle students, said that the strategic plan ties in with his emphasis on creating learning opportunities for every child.  “The strategic plan helps us better anticipate and prepare not only for challenges and how to minimize them, but also for opportunities so we can plan to take advantage of them,” he said.

Parents and community members are encouraged and invited to become involved in this process. It is the goal of the strategic planning process to involve everyone in the community.  A survey seeking opinions and priorities from everyone in the community will be made available beginning in Mid-October.  Community members are encouraged to watch the Hartselle Enquirer for further details about how they can participate.


Located in Hartselle, Alabama, Hartselle City Schools is one of the top fifteen school districts within the state.  Established I 1975, it quickly became a sought after district of educational excellence. Hartselle City Schools is dedicated to equipping students to meet the 21st century global opportunities and challenges with confidence, skill and passion.

Headquartered in Huntsville, AL, LEAN Frog’s mission is to help public schools succeed through increasing the value they deliver to students, parents and communities while fully engaging employees, reducing costs, and building a spirit of continuous improvement.   

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