School leader spotlight: How to build positive school culture in a pandemic

JPEF supports Principal Marva McKinney through the School Leadership Initiative. Here's how she's building a great school culture during COVID-19.


JPEF is proud to support Principal Marva McKinney of Cedar Hills Elementary as the Brian J. Davis Fellow for School Climate and Culture in JPEF’s School Leadership Initiative. Ms. McKinney has been working with teachers to support students who are struggling and develop great practices in school culture. So far, Cedar Hills has seen a 25 percent reduction in discipline referrals since beginning this work. 

Like schools around Duval County, Cedar Hills has made a quick transition to home learning because of the coronavirus pandemic. Recently, she and the teachers at Cedar Hills organized a parade through her students’ neighborhoods to give them some encouragement and motivation as they finished their first week of home learning through Duval HomeRoom. Watch the video then read on to learn about her inspiring work on her school’s climate and culture.

Click here to watch the video on Facebook.  

How did you come up with the idea to do a parade?

Mr. Taylor, our Math Coach, and I were discussing ideas for how to motivate the staff and students, and he mentioned that he saw a parade in another school district. I thought this would be a great activity for my teachers, so I decided to put the idea into action. Ms. James, our Data Clerk, created a map of our attendance area for us to follow during the parade. During the first week of virtual learning, we drove through the neighborhood waving hello to students and parents. You can see it for yourself in the video.  

What does school climate and culture mean to you?

To cultivate an atmosphere that maintains a healthy climate and culture there must be a collective effort on the part of everyone to see and believe the same vision and mission for a school. Climate is the feeling that you get whenever you walk into a school: there should be a feeling of cohesiveness, support and love. The culture of the school is a place where collaboration is present, and everyone feels valued while governing themselves as team players.

For example, my teachers quickly embraced Duval HomeRoom. It is important to my school and district that we welcome the shift to this new way of work. It is equally important for our students to be able to connect with their teacher as we continue to work through the curriculum. Cedar Hills thrives on being a family atmosphere. In a family, you express care, love and support, and this parade is one of the ways my Cedar Hills Family stays connected to the students and community.

Our continuous goal is to increase student achievement and maintain our healthy climate and culture, and we’re all working together towards that goal.

I was really impressed during our first week with Duval HomeRoom -- the lessons and activities were planned well. Teachers conducted activities, such as virtual field trips and live lessons.

So how do you keep that positive climate and culture going in an online environment?

I’m maintaining my positive climate and culture through continuous communication and collaboration, and one example is my virtual weekly design meeting. This meeting is designed for my staff to come together to discuss any challenges, ask questions, and to address concerns. Through Duval HomeRoom, I’m able to visit a teacher’s virtual classrooms, to see how they are collaborating with their students and to offer feedback. 

How are the students reacting to the climate and culture of this new online space?

Some students are connecting well, and my teachers communicate intensively with the parents to ensure that students are using the platform daily. Duval County has given a device to any student that does not have access to any type of technology. All of these efforts are contributing to students being active in Duval HomeRoom. I anticipate continuous participation because of the efforts that everyone has done collectively between the school district, schools, principals, teachers, students and parents.

Do you want to support educators like Mrs. McKinney and her team? Invest in JPEF to help support educators during and after COVID-19.






of public schools in Duval County earned an "A," "B," or "C" in 2021-2022.