Brownsburg High School Teaming System Helps Connect Staff to Students
Photographer / Amy Payne
When Dr. Jim Snapp first took over as superintendent of the Brownsburg Community School Corporation (BCSC) in 2010, he noticed the Brownsburg High School (BHS) student numbers were getting rather large. As a BHS alum himself, he wanted to find a way to make the high school feel like the same small school he had grown up in.
“When I graduated from here in 1980, there were 1,200 students,” Snapp says. “Now there are 2,800.”
Snapp wanted to not only find a way to bring back a small-town feel, but also make sure no student got lost in the shuffle. In 2011 he collaborated with Principal Bret Daghe, and a team concept was implemented.
The teaming approach involves four groups – one for each grade level – consisting of an assistant principal, two guidance counselors, an academic coach and an administrative assistant. The teams make sure their students stay on track for graduation, and also help to place students in college, vocational work or the military. Most importantly, the members of these teams act as the students’ biggest cheerleaders.
During the 2019-2020 school year, the four assistant principals were Dale Sharpe, who headed up Team 2023 (freshmen), Demetrius Dowler for Team 2022 (sophomores), Corey Ebert for Team 2021 (juniors), and Stacey Lingelbaugh for Team 2020 (seniors).
Prior to creating these teams, BHS employed three assistant principals, two deans and six counselors assigned to manage students alphabetically. Daghe recalls that almost every week he got a call from a parent requesting that their child be switched to a different counselor. Since implementing the team system, however, only one parent has made such a request.
“I asked that they trust me to keep their daughter on the team where she was, and a few years later the parent sought me out at her graduation to thank me for that decision,” says Daghe, noting that when it comes to the success of the school, he knows just where to point.
“The teams really are the secret sauce,” he says.
It was the team concept that initially drew Sharpe to the job, as he loved the idea of having the opportunity to build lasting relationships with his 700 students and their families throughout a four-year period. Though 700 may sound like a daunting number, the staff considers getting to know each of their students an honor and a privilege.
Each student in the building wears a lanyard with a color representing his or her team. Assistant principals often stop their students in the halls or mingle with them in the cafeteria to ask their names and strike up a conversation.
“The relationship piece is invaluable because this is a big school,” Dowler says. “We knock it down into a smaller school by dividing the grades. That helps kids feel valued.”
It’s a system that ensures no student falls through the cracks.
“We don’t let kids disappear off our grids,” Dowler says. “We know who is struggling academically or emotionally.”
School leaders from across the state are eager to learn more about the BHS team concept, and often visit the school to learn more. Several years ago, Daghe was giving a tour of the BHS building and explaining how assistant principals know each of their students by name. To demonstrate, he began randomly pointing out kids wearing green lanyards and asked one of his assistant principals to give each student’s first and last name.
“He hit 21 out of 21,” Daghe says. “And I’m sure he could have provided a short bio on all of them too.”
Academics is, of course, a primary focus, and any time an assistant principal sees a student struggling, they intervene.
“We take accountability and ownership,” says Sharpe, noting that during a student’s freshman year, quarterly meetings are scheduled to keep parents in the loop and make clear who to contact during their child’s high school career should issues arise.
Every nine weeks the entire team meets with Dr. Snapp, BCSC Assistant Superintendent Dr. Kat Jessup, and Daghe to present their team data.
Years ago the school employed a handful of social workers, and students would bounce around to see a different one each time they had a problem. As a result, no relationships would typically develop. Now the school has two guidance counselors on each team, because social, emotional and mental health components are extremely time consuming yet very important. The school has also developed partnerships between Cummins and other mental health organizations.
Lingelbaugh maintains that the teaching staff is great about alerting the administration if a student seems to be having a bad day.
“We are always responsive to that and appreciative of that heads up,” Lingelbaugh says. “Usually what would happen is that they would go to the favorite counselor, but what that amounted to is an overburdened counselor who was stretched too thin.”
As the school’s four assistant principals have concentrated on student relationships, Daghe has focused his efforts on the massive construction project that has taken place throughout the past several years. The extensive project involved adding to the outside of the building, as well as widening hallways and building an upgraded auditorium, cafeteria and science labs.
“For a while we had a temporary hallway where everyone went north and south,” Daghe says.
This summer the final phase of the project will be completed and fences will come down. In late August the school plans to showcase the building to the public by hosting a community open house.
“The first thing you notice when you walk through is the abundance of natural light, and we were intentional about that in the design with glass on the back and skylights in the top,” Daghe says. “It changes students’ days, and changes their outlook. The mood has dramatically shifted.”
Though school ends at 2:50 p.m., many kids linger to enjoy the atmosphere.
“They don’t want to leave,” Daghe says. “When the system is in place, and we do what we say we’re going to do and have a plan that makes sense, kids completely buy in. They say, ‘[BHS] is everything I wanted and more.’ The completed construction is just the cherry on top.”