Educator Spotlight: Missy Hamilton, Making Learning Fun & Equitable

Headshot of Missy Hamilton.

The K-12 education space has gone through a lot in the past few years. In light of the pandemic, teachers were forced to educate their students online and had to worry about their families health, safety, and wellbeing. Because of this, many educators may have forgotten their why. 

And so we ask, why are you an educator? 

We talked with Missy Hamilton, the Director of Teaching, Learning, and Technology at Murray City School District in Utah, and it was clear to us that Missy’s why is this: 

To reignite teachers’ and students' passion for education, and make it equitable for all. 

“It’s an incredible feeling to be able to give teachers the tools and resources they need and want to be able to teach the subjects they are passionate about,” Missy said. “And, as an educator, there really is nothing better than seeing a student light up when something clicks and their learning is fun for them.” 

A history of improving Title 1 and non-Title 1 district performance  

Missy has worked within a number of districts within the state of Utah. She first started as a Jr. High School teacher in the Ogden City School District, then moved into more administrative-type positions in the Carbon School District in Price, a rural school district.

As the principal within Carbon School District, where all elementary schools were classified as Title 1, Missy helped Bruin Point Elementary go from the lowest performing school in the district into the highest performing school in the district.. 

Missy then took on another Utah school, at Spring Creek Elementary in the Provo City School District, another Title 1 school, as the principal. She again helped the school go from the second lowest performing school into one of the highest performing Title I schools in the district. 

Both Bruin Point Elementary and Spring Creek Elementary won the National Title 1 Distinguished School Award. 

After experiencing these accomplishments, Missy wanted to see if she could have the same effect on a non-Title 1 district. She then became the Director of Teaching, Learning, and Technology at Murray City School District and has played an integral role in helping the district turn from a C-graded school into receiving top notches with an A grade. 

Wherever Missy goes, you can see the impact she has had on the different districts she’s worked in. She shared with us some of the initiatives that her districts have done that have made such an impact. 

Missy’s secret sauce to improving district performance

These are the common themes in Missy’s approach to improving overall student performance that we see: understanding the lowest performing student needs, involving the community, and increasing access. These are the steps to making education equitable and engaging. 

1) Understanding the lowest performing student needs

Missy has made a practice of taking note of the students who are struggling the most with their learning, figuring out what they need help with academically, and then working to get the resources they need to succeed. For example, Missy and her team noticed that her students that came from  lower-income families didn’t have access to devices that helped them continue their learning at home. They then worked with their community to give every student in their district a Chromebook. *More examples are outlined in the “Increasing access” section. 

She’s noticed that this practice during her time at Carbon, Provo City, and Murray has helped students perform better overall. 

2) Involving the community 

Missy has seen student performance skyrocket as soon as parents are invited into their kids’ learning experience. There are several ways you can help parents get involved. Things like home visits, community code events, family projects, etc. 

A community code event is an opportunity for parents and students to gather around a computer and create something together using code. Skill Struck offers these code events for communities all over the US. Reach out to us if you’d like to learn more. 

“It takes concentrated efforts in the community to make education equitable,” Missy said. “You know, a lot of parents within Title 1 communities don’t have time to be able to come into school and see what their kids are learning. Because of that, we like to take the approach of bringing the classroom to them. A child’s learning begins and ends in the home, so the more involved their parents are, the better learning outcomes you will see for the student.”

3) Increasing access 

“In order to make education equitable, you have to first think about access,” Missy said.

After understanding the needs of their students and the community with which they live in, Missy and her team have been able to identify the resources that are needed. A few examples of these resources that she has been able to help provide within Murray School District include: 

Chromebooks. Every student in their district has their own Chromebook, provided to them by their district, that they can take home with them and use in the classroom. 

“We are always looking to update our devices that we use in the classroom,” Missy said. “You have to have up-to-date technology in order to really prepare these kids for the future.” 

5g Internet Access. Murray School District installed an LTE network that expands to every corner of their school district borders. This means that every student, no matter their living situation, has access to good internet. This allows them to continue their learning, whether they are at home or at school. Murray School District is the first district in the nation to pull this off and hopes to help other districts do the same. Read more about this here.   

IT Internship Program. Murray School District has 6,000+ Chromebooks that have been distributed to their students. Sometimes, things break. Murray started an internship program where students can get paid to work before and after school to help fix these Chromebooks. These students learn how to replace screens, and other parts, and can use these skills to get paid career jobs right out of high school. This program has been so successful - or rather, the students love it  - that Murray intends to expand their internship program moving forward. 

Getting access to funding for these resources 

Missy said that she spends a lot of time in her community to find the funds she needs to pull off these programs and resources mentioned above. She has worked with organizations like the Utah STEM Action Center to receive computer science grants, and has worked with the Utah State Office to receive other education grants. 

“The money is there,” Missy said. “You have to advocate for the students within your community to get these funds.” 

Everybody gets a robot at Murray School District 

Missy has noticed the joy-in-education effect that computer science and technical education has brought back to her teachers and students at Murray City School District. 

Weeks ago, Missy heard about a maker space that the librarian at Murray High School put together. It’s a space where students can come together and code robots and Ozobots. After connecting with the librarian, Missy noticed that there were only a few robots that this librarian and her students had access to. 

“I talked with this librarian and said, ‘I have money and I want to help,’” Missy said. “I said, ‘Let’s go big or go home. That’s how I roll. Let’s triple what you already have. That way, instead of having eight kids here in your maker space, let’s have 40. Let’s make this a space where kids want to come.’”

After they talked, the librarian had tears in her eyes. This maker space was this librarian's why, and Missy was able to help her triple the effect she was having on these kids. 

Missy frequently walks down the halls of schools in Murray School Districts and sees how technology and integrating computer science with regular standards has made kids beam and thrive in the classroom. She recently passed by a classroom of kids that had coded a robot to spin each time the person they were learning about in their history class reached a significant moment in their timeline. The kids were loving it!

“If robots are what is getting these kids to school and loving it, I’ll buy a million of them,” Missy said. 

The Skill Struck team is thrilled to have Missy Hamilton as a partner in this career and technical education space. We aspire to be like her and are on the hunt to find more educators with as much passion in education as her!

Keep reading