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Leslie Hammer

GC Graduate Helps Guide School Through Pandemic

Submitted on April 29, 2021

Leadership in education is always vital, but during a global pandemic, this leadership becomes even more critical. That’s certainly true for Leslie Hammer, Assistant Principal at Justice Elementary in Clark County Schools. Now in her second year in the position, Hammer has been a crucial figure in helping guide the school through what has been an unprecedented and often difficult period.

“I don’t think anybody realized how long-term it was going to be,” said Hammer. “The students left on a Friday, and we had no idea that it would be the last time we saw them in-person for so long. Once that realization, that we were in this for the long haul, really took hold it was completely surreal. It was a difficult time.”

From Challenge to Opportunity

The initial challenges of the pandemic in the spring would eventually give way to analyzing, planning, and strategizing how best to serve students in the summer. “At first, we were in survival mode,” said Hammer. “We were doing our very best to meet the students’ needs on a day-to-day basis. Once the summer rolled around, we were able to take a step back and look at what worked and what didn’t work and really prepare for the fall the best we could.”

While it’s easy to focus on the negative aspects and the difficulties inherent in navigating such an unprecedented time, Hammer instead focuses on some of those positives that have become apparent this past year.

She said, “I think we really raised the bar and met the challenge. I have seen some of the best planning, collaboration, and teaching that I’ve ever seen. I think teachers have had to be so much more intentional about what they needed to teach students. I also think communication with families improved immensely because it had to, and that will continue even after the pandemic.”

Serving Students Through Creative Thinking

For Hammer and Justice Elementary, creativity proved vital to navigating COVID-19 and virtual learning, and Hammer attributes this creative thinking to her principalship program at Georgetown College.

“So much of what I learned was about innovative teaching, and you learn these unique ways to actually teach, and you look at case studies and then see what others are doing and you think ‘I’d love to try this.’” said Hammer. “It was really neat that by necessity a lot of those concepts and ideas were suddenly put in play.”

This past winter, Hammer and Justice Elementary launched a campaign to increase family engagement. It kicked off with a drive-through event in January. “As you can imagine, it’s pretty tough to get people outside in January…” said Hammer.

When early registration for the event was low, Hammer used the skills she learned in her master’s program at Georgetown College to dramatically increase participation. “I kept thinking about some of those skills, using technology and social media, to market the event properly. We were able to get some really great publicity, and our registration went from four families to more than a hundred.”

While completing her principalship program at the College, Hammer noticed the emphasis on “culture and climate” within a school. Now, as Justice Elementary and so many other schools have transitioned back to in-person classes and there is time to reflect on the past year, she understands just how critical that idea is.

“That phrase, ‘culture and climate,’ has just stuck with me this whole time,” she said. “I probably didn’t realize at the time just how important that concept was. Now, it feels more important than ever.”

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