Dr. Jason Surian just completed his first year as principal of Thomas Metcalf Laboratory School, and—despite the challenges and constant changes from the pandemic—he is loving his new role.

With over 20 years of experience in education including 10 as an administrator, Surian has taught at the elementary level, in a bilingual program, and as an adjunct faculty member at Illinois State. These many experiences prepared him well to lead and thrive in challenging times.

“I just love learning, and I think that’s so important as a teacher. It’s part of who I am and what I do,” said Surian. “The classroom is a place where kids work and explore, and my job is to guide, mentor, and facilitate that learning for my students. This is at the heart of who I am as an educator and how I lead the teachers and staff, too.”

As Surian reflects on his first year at Metcalf, he emphasizes how the community of students, staff, and alumni have thrived together. He is proud of how his entire staff came together to support their students and their families.

“It really takes a village to run a school, and everyone is so vested in our success. I’m so fortunate here at Metcalf, because we’ve really united and have been resilient as we work through the pandemic,” said Surian.

One of the biggest accomplishments from this past school year is the redesign and creation of an MTSS (multi-tiered system of support) plan that is based in equity. Over the past year, a multi-department team created and implemented the plan based on specific student needs and research. The team knew that students would benefit from additional supports after disruptions in learning the prior year.

“We were really able to provide our students specific intervention and instruction based on their need in either language arts, mathematics, or social emotional learning,” said Surian.

Delaney Johnson, ISU teacher education student, works with a kindergartner at Metcalf.

As part of this support approach, they created WIN (What Individuals Need) time for every classroom where each student received customized support to advance their learning. Teacher education students worked individually and in small groups with Metcalf students. The teacher education students received professional development from Metcalf teachers and developed lesson plans for each session. The program was successful in helping Metcalf students progress in their learning and helping the teacher education students gain experience in the classroom.

Surian reflected on the importance of the connection between the laboratory schools and the University. There are multiple collaborative research projects happening between Metcalf teachers and University faculty. During the past year, more than 1,600 teacher education students completed observations, clinical hours, and student teaching in the laboratory schools. Moving forward, Surian is working with the University to increase that number. In addition, many Metcalf teachers, as well as Surian, teach college level courses.

As Surian looks ahead to next year, he said he is excited about building a brick maker space, which will be the first of its kind in the Midwest. This hands-on learning lab will be filled with building bricks, boards, and tables where students in grades pre-k through fourth can use their creativity to explore engineering and architecture in new ways. The school already has a maker space for fifth through eighth grades and is excited to expand for all students.

“This first year at Metcalf has been wonderful. I have loved working with our entire team to create a supportive learning community for our students and families,” said Surian. “I can’t wait for school to start back up and to see how we all continue to grow and learn together.”