The Turnaround Specialist

Topics: Principal Leadership, School Management

In his first six years as principal, Tyler Salyer has earned a reputation for leading turnaround. The two schools he has led achieved their first-ever Tennessee Reward School recognitions under his watch, and West Collierville Middle School rocketed from Tennessee’s lowest growth level to its highest in a single year.

At both schools, Salyer engaged in an ongoing dialogue with staff and stakeholders to create a shared mission and vision, take better advantage of tech resources, and expand student learning opportunities. He also introduced a range of engaging electives at the middle school, including an aviation career exploration course featuring a flight simulation lab sponsored by FedEx.

Principal magazine recently asked the 2023 NAESP National Distinguished Principal about turnaround leadership, tech use, and more. Here’s what he said.

What are the goals you have for the school that drive your approach to the job? 

I want our school to be a place where teachers and students want to be each day. We strive to provide a safe and fun place for kids to learn. In order to accomplish that, we also have to make sure our school is a place where teachers enjoy working. We strive to provide opportunities where everyone—adults and students—can learn and grow. 

How did you expand the use of tech tools at West Collierville Middle School?

Previously, the school was app-rich but instruction-poor. Now, we focus on how we use the tools at our disposal instead of which looks the flashiest. Teachers have the freedom to do what they know will work best for their students; sometimes that involves a device, and sometimes it involves posterboard and markers. Recently, West Collierville Middle School was recognized as an Apple Distinguished School for its creative
 and innovative use of technology.

What’s the best “leadership moment” you’ve had since becoming a principal? 

Coming to West Collierville Middle School and working with the faculty, staff, students, parents, and the community to move the school from TVAAS Level 1 growth to TVAAS Level 5 in one school year. Watching so many people be motivated by a shared mission and work so hard to get things moving in the right direction was incredible!

What are some of the electives your school offers, and why are they important?

We provide a variety of electives that pique students’ interests while also challenging them to try something new. The school offers art, physical education, band, orchestra, chorus, theater, career exploration, STEM, and agri-STEM. Our electives are also a great opportunity for us to build real-world connections with the material students learn in a classroom.

What do you feel are the most important aspects of leading school turnaround? 

You have to listen to people and lead them. People want to feel heard and be part of the process. When the process is shared, everyone shares in the success, growth, and achievements.

What do you like to do in the off hours?

I love to cook and grill. I had a competition barbecue team before I became a principal, and I still love to spend time in front of a grill or smoker. I also love obstacle-course races like Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, and Savage Race. They relieve stress and keep me motivated to stay physically fit.