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Anchor Partner Nellie Stone Johnson Featured in the Star Tribune

An adult and a child share thumbs up
Photo: Scholar De’sean Davis played catch with educational support professional Erin Crosby inside the sensory room. Photo by Shari L. Gross, Star Tribune

Earlier this month, the Star Tribune ran a story on the front page about NAZ anchor partner Nellie Stone Johnson Elementary School (NSJ). The article detailed how NSJ cut disruptive behavior by 75% by using data to find solutions.

Principal Kelly Wright is a seasoned and focused leader committed to great teaching, academic excellence, and creating a healthy school culture. When she discovered there were kids who needed breaks throughout the day, she decided to create a sensory room, giving scholars a space to move their bodies and work through big feelings.

“I can't tell you how many calls we would get last year about students just needing breaks,” Wright said. “A lot of the time, it was for the same kids, and most of them just needed to tap out for a bit so they could refocus.”

Wright hired Erin Crosby, an educational support professional, to provide classroom breaks to the students who needed them. They looked at the data from last year, scanning for patterns, and together with school staff, determined which students were struggling to stay on task and what time of day they often acted out.

“We have a lot of kids with severe trauma,” she said. “There was an uptick in that after COVID, and many of our students are in ongoing crisis situations.” About 45 of the school's 310 students are homeless and highly mobile. The on-site counselor's caseload is full, and the waiting list is long.

“It's a dance trying to get them everything they need,” Wright said. “But we do our best trying to provide the social and emotional and mental health support they need and give them the strategies to be successful in class.”

As a longtime partner, NAZ has supported NSJ in their current outcomes in the following ways:

  • NAZ has funded NSJ’s Social Emotional Learning Specialist role for the past five years.
  • We supported the creation of the sensory room. 
  • We have built a strong and effective partnership with NSJ’s principal in aligned efforts to accelerate learning. Wright actively participates on our Executive Leadership Team and is currently implementing Success Planning for scholars (creating individual education plans for every student) after attending a training at Harvard with the NAZ Education Team. 
  • The school also recently benefited from funding for a much-needed computer lab, supported largely by a NAZ board member, his family and his employer. 

The outcomes NSJ is achieving are just a hint at what can be done when we unrelentingly work together to remove the obstacles to learning for our children and create real opportunities for growth. Congratulations to Kelly Wright and the team at NSJ for this amazing progress.