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A Strategic Plan for Contagious Engagement
in Coffee County School District

A District-Wide Collaborative Effort Boosts Morale in Staff
from Bus Drivers to Administrators

The decision to reform morale in Coffee County School District was a district-wide collaboration. Past years of budgeting and accreditation concerns had led to a decline in engagement across both students and staff.

This diverse South Georgia district holds approximately 1,200 staff members across 13 schools, serving 7,600 students in Pre-K through 12th grade.

 

In 2011, Coffee County recognized a need for change in its everyday routine. District administrators, along with staff and educators, devised a strategic plan in which everyone from bus drivers to teachers to administrators was empowered to play a role.

 

Two of the key pillars in this strategic plan: Retain highly effective people and foster the social and emotional well-being of staff and students. Essentially, everyone was on a mission to build a thriving district.

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Finding an Easy-to-Implement and
Strategic Tool

In 2022 the district identified Capturing Kids Hearts as an initiative that could create positive change within the district and aligned with the goals of the strategic plan.
 

Upon implementing and experiencing positive results, the district leadership continued to search for something to support even more positive growth.
 

Particularly, they wanted a tool that was easy to implement, had little learning curve, and could realistically integrate into day-to-day activity.
 

That’s when Superintendent Dr. Leis discovered Hilight
at ASU+GSV in 2023 and met CEO, Co-Founder Claire
Smith.

 

“After she explained it to me, I thought wow, that could
really be a useful tool to try to retain teachers and build
morale,” Dr. Leis said.

When he returned to his district, he worked with Claire to conduct a virtual demonstration for the leadership team at Coffee County.

 

“Everybody thought it's simple and it's easy-to-use but very effective. After that it was really a no-brainer,” Dr. Leis said.

Engagement Becomes Contagious with Hilight

Mr. Lee Mobley, Assistant Superintendent, led the initiative in implementing Hilight and conducting training across the district. However, he allowed each principal to oversee how it would be used in their unique culture and alongside Capturing Kids’ Hearts.

 

What he saw was an epidemic of affirmations.
 

“Everybody from our bus drivers to our custodians to our teachers to our principals were making sure that everyone's affirmed in their work so that work continues and becomes contagious and spreads,” Mr. Mobley said. 

 

It’s noticeable in the district data that staff rarely send just one Hilight. Typically, the staff members in Coffee County send two or three Hilights at a time. Many send 10 to 15 or more Hilights throughout the week.
 

This is especially seen in schools where the principal is an active participant. When the principal is involved and modeling Hilight use, there’s a strong correlation in their staff’s usage.
 

Principal Tina Sapp gave over 200 Hilights in the 2023-2024 school year, and her staff typically gave over 100 Hilights each. Her staff even demonstrated the same values as Sapp, with the highest concentrations in kindness, teamwork, empathy, and responsibility.


Vice versa is also true, as seen in one school within Coffee County where the principal wasn’t modeling Hilight use and staff was struggling with engagement. However, with access to this data in Hilight, Mr. Mobley was able to assist in course correcting. 

For administrators at both the school and district level, they’ve found Hilight to be a path toward reconnecting with the classroom.
 

“We see good things in the classroom, but we don’t get to hang around. We pop in and out. I’ll later tell people how great Miss Susie is, how she was rocking it. But it's rare without a tool like this for those positive comments and positive feedback to filter back down to Miss Susie because there's not an opportunity,” Mr. Mobley said.

“Everyone wants to know that they are doing the right thing even when no one is looking and that others notice your greatest efforts to help us all succeed. Hilight brings a moment of joy and lets you know that you are appreciated and many of the teachers will tell others thank you for their highlight.”

- Takita Wilcox (Academic Coach)

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Seeing the Data and Recovering

It’s not just the data making a difference.
 

While the detailed administrator data allows for actionable steps in teacher retention  and staff engagement, this district has found a solution to an ongoing problem: building culture and boosting morale amongst students and staff.


District officials believe implementing and pairing Hilight with Capturing Kids’ Hearts is at the center of the following results:

  • Fewer people retired in the 2023-24 school year than any other year since Dr. Leis joined the district

  • 14% decrease in total discipline and a 13% decrease in bus discipline

  • 11% decrease in student absenteeism

 

And to top it all off, a Coffee County school won the state championship in football.
 

The affirmations piece in building culture is a non-negotiable and it's just a matter of how hard you want to work to accomplish that. And Hilight makes it so much less work,” Mr. Mobley said.

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Coffee County teachers, administrators, and staff
have recognized one another

34,426

times

... since October

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