Kimberly Tymkowych, Principal, Winona Elementary School
Kim Tymkowych isn’t sure when she realized it was her destiny to be an educator, but she thinks growing up across the street from an elementary school may have had something to do with it. As a child, she would stay after school and help all of the teachers, but it wasn’t until she went to college at the University of Northern Colorado years later that she figured out what she wanted to do.
“My path just kind of went that way,” she says. Now, after spending six years in classrooms teaching third and fourth grades, being an instructional coach for three years, working with eight different principals and being a principal herself for eight years, first at Centennial and then at Winona Elementary, Kim is more passionate than ever about what she does, and especially the school and staff she leads.
When Kim became the principal at Winona, the school had been placed on a Turnaround Plan through the state, meaning that the school as a whole was not making adequate progress on achievement and growth. As a result, the Colorado Department of Education did a diagnostic review to find the strengths and areas of growth for the school and give the staff some goals to work toward.
“I knew it was a struggling school and I took the job hoping it would push me as a professional and allow me to utilize some of my background,” Kim said. “The diagnostic was like a road map to guide us in the direction that we needed to go.”
Kim said the first step was making sure all of the staff were working together toward some common goals, which eventually led to their mission statement. “Every kid, every day,” Kim said. “That’s what we created as a staff. It reminds us that our work is making sure that we’re providing a safe and predictable environment for every kid, every day.”
At a school like Winona, where over 65 percent of the families qualify for free and reduced meals, and with a mobility rate (percentage of families moving in or out of the school each year) of 25 percent, this means not only providing an education, but often helping with other needs as well.
“Emotional support, clothing, food,” Kim explains. “We meet our students where they’re at when they come through the door.”
With a student population of around 300 and a staff of 43 adults, there is a lot of collaboration and teamwork involved in helping students succeed, including staff members getting to know families well so everyone can work together.
“We can look at so many individual success stories within our population. Our goal is to help them to know there are many ways to grow, and it’s not just about the academics,” Kim says. “We want to help them feel loved at school and increase their self-esteem and awareness of how to advocate for themselves. There are definitely some challenges and barriers along the way, but we work together to overcome them. This process takes time, but we have made tremendous progress already, especially in our school culture.”
Even with all of the big strides Winona has made as a school, Kim says there is still a lot of work to do. “I want to see our staff turnover decrease, as well as the academic growth and achievement meet and eventually exceed our state scores,” she says.
Kim said it typically takes three to five years to see growth in the areas identified in a Turnaround Plan, but the Winona community has been working hard to create change. “A big piece of our work is making sure everyone is a part of that work,” Kim says. This means building relationships amongst students and their teachers, something staff at Winona has worked very hard at. In a recent survey, Kim said that 98 percent of the students at Winona report feeling respected by their teachers.
“Our kids will show us respect and work alongside us more if they feel respected,” she says. “We’re trying to teach the kids to expect respect as well.” Kim believes this starts with building community at the school. “We want to focus on what our school is like on the inside, but also what it looks like from the outside,” Kim says. Recently, students at Winona raised money to have a heart for the City of Loveland’s City with HeART project installed in front of the school. Students also created the design on the heart and the school’s Art Club helped the professional artist to paint it.