Fawzia Keval
B.A., University of Nairobi, Kenya, 1980, Sacramento, 2001
M.A., California State University, Sacramento, 1995
Submitted in partial fulfillment of
the requirements for the degree of
Copyright © 2012
Fawzia Keval
All Rights Reserved
A Dissertation
Fawzia Keval
Approved by Dissertation Committee:
Lisa William-White, PhD, Chair
Susan M. Heredia, PhD, Reader
Hazel W. Mahone, EdD, Reader
Student: Fawzia Keval
I certify that this student has met the requirements for formatting contained in the
university format manual, and that this dissertation is suitable for shelving in the library
and credit is to be awarded for the dissertation.
___________________________, Director ___________________
Carlos Nevarez, PhD
To my parents Alarakhia and Fatima Aloo for being the change agents in my life.
Thank you for allowing me to pursue higher education when the norm in our community
was for girls to be married before the age of 20. Thank you for teaching me the value of
serving and giving back to the community.
To my wonderful husband Ashraf who has supported me in pursuing my dreams.
I could not have accomplished this task while handling a demanding job without your
care, love, and warmth.
To my sweet mother-in-law Kulsum who made sure she had meals ready for me
so I could have time to study. Thank you for your nurturing and love.
To my amazing and talented sons, Saqib and Assad, of whom I am very proud. I
am a better person because of you. Thank you for your encouragement and for helping
me to confront my biases which allow me to be more effective with my work in the
To my sister Shazia for being my cheerleader all the way.
To my extended family and community for supporting and celebrating my
Finally, I dedicate this study to the amazing staff and students that I had the honor
to work with for nine years and all teachers who have been change agents for their
I sought to analyze high-poverty schools that were successful and able to sustain
growth over an extended period of time. I am thankful to my wonderful committee
members who encouraged and guided me to write an autoethnography of my experiences
at the elementary school I had worked at for the past nine years.
Dr. William-White, thank you for guiding me through this qualitative research
method which was so new to me and for your patience with all the revisions you had to
read through. Dr. Hazel Mahone, thank you for your continuous encouragement and for
helping me pick this awesome committee. Dr. Sue Heredia, thank you for reading and rereading my chapters and helping me to be critical and analytical with my research.
Professor Olivia Castellano, you helped me gain my confidence in writing academic
papers after a 20 year hiatus during the first two years of the program. I am forever
grateful for the guidance each of you have provided me.
Doctor of Education-CSU, Sacramento
Professional Clear Administrative Services Credential-University of La Verne
Masters of Arts in Education (Educational Administration)-CSU, Sacramento
Preliminary Administrative Services Credential-CSU, Sacramento
Cross Cultural, Language and Academic Development Certificate-CLAD
Multiple Subject Teaching Credential-CSU, Sacramento
Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and French-University of Nairobi, Kenya
Fluent in: French, Kutchi, Urdu, Swahili, Gujerati, English, Punjabi.
Knowledge of Spanish, and Amharic.
Director, Elementary Education, EGUSD
Principal, Multi-track, 1200 students, PreK-6, EGUSD
Vice-Principal, EGUSD
Administrator, EL Specialist, EGUSD
Teacher, Elementary School, EGUSD
Preschool and After-School Program business owner
High School French teacher, Kenya
French language teacher, Alliance Francaise, Kenya
Interpreter and hostess, United Nations conferences
2011 Certificated Administrator of the Year, EGUSD
2011 Educational Administration Scholarship Award, AASA
2010 Women in School Leadership Award nominee, AASA
Presenter/panel member at local and statewide conferences
Moderator for panel discussions
Leadership coach at California School Leadership Academy
Experience with American, British, French, Kenyan, and Ethiopian systems of
American Association for School Administrators
National Association of Elementary School Principals
Association of California School Administrators
ASCD (formerly Association for Supervision and Development
Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims – Education Consultant
Fawzia Keval
This analytic autoethnographic study highlights leadership practices of a principal
in a high poverty school that has undergone transformation in the school culture over the
course of nine years (2003-2012). The problem addressed by this study is that few low
achieving schools have effectively undergone sustainable transformations; in addition,
there is very little research on long-term sustainability practices in high poverty schools
that have undergone transformations. The critical question here is: How does a principal
transform an underperforming school in the era of accountability while keeping staff
morale high? This longitudinal study consisted of test scores, attendance data,
suspension data, a reflexive journal, meeting agendas, memos and a reflective analysis ---- all used to code the data on key leadership attributes. The significant and continuous
improvement in student achievement over the course of nine years correspond with the
change in leadership at the school site, thus leadership practices by the school principal
warrants further analysis. Additionally, it highlights the concept of moral purpose as a
key leadership position to build capacity and increase student achievement.
Dedication ........................................................................................................................... v
Acknowledgements ........................................................................................................... vi
Curriculum Vitae ............................................................................................................. vii
List of Tables .................................................................................................................. xiii
List of Figures ................................................................................................................. xiv
1. INTRODUCTION ........................................................................................................ 1
Background ............................................................................................................. 1
Nature of the Study ................................................................................................. 5
Theoretical Framework ........................................................................................... 6
Operational Definitions ........................................................................................... 9
Assumptions, Limitations, Scope, and Delimitations ........................................... 10
Significance of the Study ...................................................................................... 11
Conclusion ............................................................................................................ 12
2. REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE .................................................................. 13
Chapter Overview ................................................................................................. 13
A Need for School Reform ................................................................................... 13
The Achievement Gap: Causes and Limitations ................................................... 20
Moral Purpose ....................................................................................................... 26
Strategies to Enact Moral Imperative ................................................................... 29
Role of Principal in Reform: A Move from Transactional to Transformational
Leadership ............................................................................................................. 34
Leadership in Turnaround Schools: A Review ..................................................... 43
Impact of Transformational Leadership on School Culture, Student
Achievement, and Teachers .................................................................................. 48
Transformative Leadership ................................................................................... 51
Sustainability......................................................................................................... 53
Professional Learning Communities ..................................................................... 60
Supportive Leadership and Structural Support ..................................................... 61
3. METHODOLOGY ..................................................................................................... 64
Brief Overview...................................................................................................... 64
History of Autoethnography ................................................................................. 66
Autoethnographic Research Focus ....................................................................... 68
Research Method and Design ............................................................................... 72
Participants and Data Collection ........................................................................... 74
Data Analysis ........................................................................................................ 77
Summary ............................................................................................................... 79
Background of the School ..................................................................................... 80
4. ANALYSIS OF THE DATA: AN AUTOETHNOGRAPHY .................................... 88
Introduction ........................................................................................................... 88
Where I Come From: A Journal Entry for a Doctoral Class (4-12-10) ................ 88
My Accidental Path to Education ......................................................................... 96
Persistence and Hard Work: Dealing with the Physical Environment ............... 112
Commitment, Positive Social Relations and Treating People with Respect ...... 117
Finding Humor and Empathy to Build Collaboration......................................... 147
Parent Involvement and Empowerment .............................................................. 150
Empowering Teachers with Rigor and Relevance through RelationshipsMotivation for Moral Purpose ............................................................................ 157
Regional Work-Connecting with Outside by Sharing Resources and Learning
From Each Other ................................................................................................. 160
Developing the Collaborative Through Systemic Changes ................................ 169
Igniting our Moral Imperative ............................................................................ 170
5. SUMMARY, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATIONS ........................... 179
Purpose and Methodology .................................................................................. 180
Summary ............................................................................................................. 181
Interpretation of Findings ................................................................................... 190
Recommendations for Action ............................................................................. 210
Recommendations for Further Study .................................................................. 213
Conclusion .......................................................................................................... 215
6. APPENDICES .......................................................................................................... 217
Appendix A. Pangani Elementary Walk Through-Observation Feedback ........ 218
Appendix B. Decision-Making Framework....................................................... 220
Appendix C. Region Writing Graph .................................................................. 221
Appendix D. Vision Mission ............................................................................. 222
Appendix E. Pangani Teachers Expectations for 2011-2012 ............................ 224
Appendix F. The Pangani Way ......................................................................... 225
Appendix G. History Chart ................................................................................ 226
Appendix H. Similar Schools Rank ................................................................... 227
Appendix I. Regional Writing .......................................................................... 228
REFERENCES ............................................................................................................... 230
1. Moral Purpose from Five Perspectives ....................................................................... 29
2. Transactional vs. Transformational Leadership .......................................................... 39
3. Dimensions of Transformational Leadership from 1978-2011 .................................. 42
4. Leadership Actions and Attributes of Turnaround Principles .................................... 47
5. Two Approaches to Building Sustainability ............................................................... 57
6. Proficiency Rates by Subgroups from 2002-2003 School Year to 2011-2012 in
English Language Arts and Math ............................................................................... 85
7. Suspension Data .......................................................................................................... 86
8. Attendance Data 2004-2010 ....................................................................................... 87
1. Average Eighth-Grade NAEP Reading and Mathematics Scores by
Racial/Ethnic Group and Income Level, 2007 ............................................................ 22
2. Percentage of Students Proficient and Advanced on the English Language Arts
California Standards Test (CDE, 2011) ...................................................................... 23
3. Percentage of Students Proficient and Advanced on the Mathematics California
Standards Test (CDE, 2011) ....................................................................................... 23
4. The Changing Role of the Principal............................................................................ 35
5. Student Population by Ethnicity ................................................................................. 81
6. Performance Data from 2003-2011 by Academic Performance Index (API)............. 83
7. Proficiency Rates in English Language Arts and Math from 2003-2011 ................... 84
8. School Pledge............................................................................................................ 124
9. Club Description ....................................................................................................... 128
10. E-Mail Excerpt .......................................................................................................... 136
11. Welcome Speech Excerpt ......................................................................................... 175
12. Framework Design for Deep-Rooted Sustainable Change at a High
Poverty School .......................................................................................................... 189
Chapter 1
Improving the quality of education has become a national priority and thus reform
efforts have been in the forefront of leaders’ agendas. On almost every international
assessment, American high school students’ performance is rated from mediocre to poor
in academic proficiency (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development,
[OECD], 2007). Education plays a critical role because it cultivates future generation of
thinkers, innovators and citizens for a better society for all. American schools have been
unable to provide quality education for all students. Consequently, the United Sates has
not been able to keep up with the demands of global modernization in the workplace.
Improving the quality of education and closing the achievement gap can help
America regain its status as a world leader in education. For a country that once boasted
the best education system, the ranking has signaled the need for urgent reform measures
in scholastic achievement. In 1983, The National Commission on Excellence described
the need to reform the system of education to be one of moral, social, and economic
imperative (as cited in Fullan, 2003). According to The National Center for Education
Statistics [NCES] (2011), the United Sates has the third largest achievement gap between
the poorest and wealthiest students. Schools that educate underserved populations need
urgent reform. The achievement gap is most pronounced in large urban school districts
where 70% of students are from minority backgrounds and more than 60% of them live
in poverty (Perie, Grigg & Donahue, 2005).
America’s students lack the skills and knowledge needed to succeed globally. For
instance, 70% of eighth graders are not proficient in reading and about 1.1 million
American high school students drop out every year. America’s high school graduation
rates have dropped to number 21 out of 30 industrialized nations which make up of 90%
of the world’s economy. In the United States, 65% of convicts are dropouts and lack of
education increases the likelihood of criminal activity (NCES, 2011). Only 70% of
students in the United States graduate from high school. For African Americans males,
rates are as low as 43% and for Hispanic males, 48% (Levin, Belfield, Muennig & Rouse,
High school dropouts are linked with increased unemployment, involvement with
welfare, poor health, births outside of marriage (67% for dropouts versus 10% for women
with a master’s degree) and the legal system, thus producing many negative effects on
society (Bloom & Haskins, 2010). High school students living in low-income families
drop out six times the rate of their peers in higher income bracket (NCES, 2010). They
are also three times more likely to be on welfare as compared to students who finished
high school. Additionally, the likelihood of high school dropouts to be convicted is
higher. Consequently, dropping out can create many problems for the nation, including
public costs and social problems. In addition, poor education can lead to larger social
and public costs. Thus, children from economically disadvantaged families have fewer
chances of success because of the differences in educational access and equity based on
income, race, and region in the United States. Educational reform thus becomes a social
justice cause. Education is one of the most important determinants for our students in
regards to income, health, housing, employment, etc. Educational reform efforts
particularly in high minority, high poverty schools to raise the bar and close the academic
achievement gap are one way to address this dilemma.
During the last decade, accountability and standards-based reforms have increased
pressure on school leaders to close the achievement gap. School leaders, in particular
principals, are critical in bringing about the changes and transformations needed to
provide high quality education for all children, especially minority and poor children who
are at risk of dropping out of school. It is the school principal who influences student
achievement, recruitment and motivation of quality teachers, effective allocation of
resources, articulating vision and development of organizational structures (Loeb,
Kalogrides & Horng, 2010). Longitudinal studies by Center for Analysis of Longitudinal
Data in Education Research (CALDER) revealed that such highly skilled principals are
less likely to be working in high-poverty and low-achieving schools, where their skills
are most needed, therefore raising equity concerns (Rice, 2010). The role of the school
principal in school reform has become very important because it is critically important to
student performance (Branch, Hanushek & Rivkin, 2012; Marzano, Waters & McNulty,
The need to address school improvement, equity, and access is a moral obligation
(Fullan, 2003; Sergiovanni, 1992; Sirotnik, 2002). Michael Fullan (2001, 2003; 2005,
2010, 2011), a leading scholar, researcher, and education reform expert argues that
bringing about change and making a difference in the lives of children, should be driven
by a sense of moral purpose. This sense of moral purpose brings about an urgency of
what is and is not important in making a positive difference in the lives of students. The
urgency is in a need for a strong commitment of moral purpose by educational leaders to
transform schools toward educational excellence for all students regardless of race or
income levels (Fullan, 2011; Sergiovanni, 1992; Sirotnik, 2002). For Fullan (2011),
moral purpose translates to raising the bar by holding everyone to high standards, and
closing the achievement gap. School leaders have the responsibility to lead the way.
School leaders, especially principals must understand and employ effective
strategies to keep the focus on what matters most, deep learning and citizenship (Fullan,
2010; Reeves, 2011; Sparks, 2003). Reeves (2011) and Fullan (2010) call for school
leaders to focus on strategic actions that mobilize educators toward much needed school
transformation. These strategic actions bring about positive change in school culture and
teacher attitude toward teaching and learning which affects student achievement. Leaders
who initiate a culture of success for students and teachers, and who can transform
underperforming schools to one of high achievement and collaboration are
transformational leaders (Bass & Avolio, 1994; Fullan, 2011; Leithwood & Jantzi, 2006;
Sagor, 1992; Sergiovanni, 2006).
Transformational leaders lead the way by bringing systems changes in the
organization through people and teams, thereby building sustainability. Although there
are many schools that have increased student achievement, sustaining continual
achievement cannot be done without building capacity in the organization. Fullan (2011)
draws attention to making long-term sustainable changes. Leaders need to have the
conceptual thinking of transforming the organization through people and teams, thereby
building sustainability.
Too few low achieving schools have effectively undergone school reform and
achieved sustainable continuous improvement. This autoethnographic study will seek to
examine leadership practices used to create systems for continued growth in a high
poverty school and what role if any, moral purpose played in the transformation of the
school. Pangani Elementary School is the site under study, a very large urban school
serving more than 1200 students on a four-track-year-round schedule. Because there is a
lack of literature from the principal’s perspective on school transformation (Center for
Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement, 2005), the findings of this study will
be useful to other principals and superintendents who desire to reform underachieving
schools and put systems in place to create higher levels of achievement and sustainable
Nature of the Study
In this study, I examine my own experiences as a leader at an elementary school
that has undergone major transformations. The study will employ qualitative methods,
particularly an autoethnographic account of my experiences with school reform.
Authoethnographic accounts are reflective narratives about one’s own experiences and
used for self study (Ellis & Bochner, 2000; Berg, 2009; Ellis, 2004). The narratives will
describe the efforts undertaken in transforming my school’s culture over time and the
leadership practices used to accomplish this task. This study will also describe how the
concept of a moral imperative plays a role in the strategies utilized to create positive
change. My own autoethnographic experiences will be used as a lens to understand and
analyze the existing literature on school leaders and reform.
This qualitative analysis of leadership and the change process in high needs
schools will examine the following questions:
1. What strategies did I use to mobilize staff to bring about changes in the school
2. What strategies did I use to bring about changes in the organizational system
to increase accountability?
Theoretical Framework
This study references two theoretical frameworks. The first framework falls
under the broader umbrella of transformational leadership. Transformational leadership
is a process in which leaders and followers mutually engage in a process of raising each
other to higher levels of achievement, or morality and motivation (Burns, 1978).
Transformational leaders model the values themselves, which are appealing and
inspirational to the followers. According to Burns, transformational leadership is more
effective than transactional leadership where there is a clear chain of command and
people are punished or rewarded. Burns’ view of transformational leadership
encourages collaboration. The clear mission, vision, and passion of the leader inspire
the followers. They are also involved in the decision-making process.
This transformational leadership framework applies to school reform because it
expects educators to hold not only each other, but also students to high standards while
providing the best education to all students regardless of their backgrounds.
(Leithwood, 1992, 1994; Leithwood & Jantzi, 2000, 2006; Leithwood & Strauss, 2009),
a leading researcher in the area of transformational leadership, explains that
transformational leadership brings about positive changes among teachers’ attitudes
toward school improvement as well as instructional behavior. Sergiovanni (2006)
suggests that transformational leadership brings about remarkable improvement in
student achievement as a result of higher expectations for all in a collaborative
environment. Finally, Sagor (1992) found that it was a transformational leader who
initiated a culture of success for students and teachers and empowered the community to
become focused. Transformational leadership, therefore, is less about aggressive top
down management and more about building collaboration and teamwork toward the
school’s mission.
The second framework under transformational leadership is Fullan’s (2011)
conceptual framework on using moral imperative. In his book, The Moral Imperative
Realized, Fullan (2011) declares that today, there is an intense pressure on realizing the
moral purpose of educators. He describes the moral imperative for educators as raising
the bar and closing the achievement gap for all students. Fullan believes that moral
purpose is at the center of our wellbeing as individuals, society, and the global world.
Moral purpose is also about how we treat each other. Fullan clarifies that the moral
purpose is not about religion or spirituality. Finally, Fullan believes in the symbiotic
nature of education success and societal success. Fullan (1994) explains this belief in
his book Change Forces. Probing the Depths of Educational Reform, where he declares
that at the heart of productive educational change is moral purpose and change agentry.
Fullan (2011) offers six strategies to bring about change, or transformations that
make school leadership a serious business:
1) Make a personal commitment.
2) Build relationships.
3) Focus on implementation.
4) Develop the collaborative.
5) Connect to the outside.
6) Be relentless (and divert distractions).
The six strategies give clarity of purpose. Clear values, personal commitment,
and trust- building, lay the groundwork for transformational leadership. Fullan’s (2011)
framework for transformational leadership helps build capacity and ownership among
the constituents. Focus on implementation, investing in teacher leadership and diverting
distraction prepare for long lasting sustainable reform needed to raise the bar and close
the achievement gap. He states that it is a “combination of clear personal values,
persistence against a lot of odds, emotional intelligence, thick skin and resilience” (p. 3).
Fullan also writes that it is the leaders who can mobilize the moral commitment that
most teachers have to change the face of their schools.
Operational Definitions
For the purpose of the study, the following definitions apply:
Achievement Gap: Disparity in achievement between the performance of groups
of students defined by race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, gender, etc.
Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP): The measurement tool calculated by each state
to determine how each school or school district performs in the standardized test. AYP
targets increase annually until 2014 when all schools must have 100% of their students
perform at or above grade level standards.
Annual Measurable Objective (AMO): The measurement tool to determine that a
school is making progress toward the proficiency goal of having all students proficient by
2014 under NCLB.
Autoethnography: A highly personalized genre of writing and research where the
author uses his or her experience to extend understanding of a particular subculture.
Education Reform: A process of improving public education in which all children
have equity and access to high quality education that will result in greater societal
benefits in terms of general health, wealth, and well-being for all.
First Order Change: In a school first order change can be reversible. It is doing
something that is already being done. It does not have a big impact.
Program Improvement Schools: Program Improvement schools are schools that
do not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for two years in a row. These schools face
sanctions and receive mandated interventions from the state.
Raising the Bar: Having high expectations of all students regardless of their race
or socio-economic status.
Second Order Change: In a school or institution, second order change has a
dramatic impact as the action is fundamentally different from what was done before.
Once second order change begins, it is impossible to return to the way it was before.
Title 1 Schools: Schools with more than 40% students who meet low income
criteria receive federal funds known as Title 1 funds.
Turnaround Schools: Turnaround schools are schools that previously have been
lowest achieving schools. The school leaders and in some cases, teaching staff are
replaced to turn schools around toward school improvement.
Assumptions, Limitations, Scope, and Delimitations
In this study, I use an analytic autoethnographic account of a new principal’s
experiences and her struggles to win over a resistant staff and transform the culture of a
very large underperforming school to one of sustainable growth over nine years. My
hope is that the autoethnographic study of my struggles and successes with transforming
a school culture provides future leaders with an authentic account of the complex role of
the principal. The personal experience will broaden the understanding of the strategies
used to transforming the school culture to one of continuous improvement, respect, and
accountability, which is the center of the research. This study is limited in its scope to
the viewpoints and experiences related to my personal experience at Pangani which is a
very diverse high poverty school. In this autoethnography, I am both the researcher and
the subject of study. Personal bias in the narrative and data collection is inherent. My
lived experiences as a principal of a school undergoing a cultural shift are important and
are the center of this study. As the leader of the school, I have my own judgments about
the culture of the school and the path I took toward transforming the school. The use of
autoethnographic study is explained in greater detail in Chapter 3.
Significance of the Study
The significance of this study is to provide new and veteran principals with an
account of specific strategies used to reform schools through the work of transformational
leaders while examining what role, if any, a moral imperative plays in one’s leadership
agenda. Currently, there is little knowledge about how principals bring about
transformational changes to schools that result in long term sustainable student
achievement. This issue needs to be researched so that educators will have a better
understanding of how successful schools reached and sustained transformation that has a
direct relationship to student achievement.
My personal goal is that the reflective and analytic nature of the study will help
me strengthen my leadership style and also help other principals examine authentic
examples of principals engaged in reform efforts. First year principals are more likely to
be present in low achieving schools with high number of low-income students (Branch et
al., 2012). Although my account of the challenges I faced will be highly personalized, I
hope that this study will galvanize other principals to take charge and transform not just
low performing schools, but all schools.
School reform is a mechanism to accelerate student achievement and close the
achievement gap (Fullan, 2011). Schools that need urgent reform are the schools that
educate students in neighborhoods with high minority, high poverty students. Districts
are seeking transformational leaders who can transform the culture of their school from
one of underperforming to one of high achievement and collaboration, thus principals
need to realize their moral purpose by breaking patterns and barriers to create needed
changes in schools. This study examines my experiences and strategies used to turn
around a low performing school. This study also examines strategies for sustainable
growth once the transformations have occurred.
This dissertation is divided into five chapters. Chapter 1 contains an introduction,
problem statement, nature of the study, conceptual framework, operational definitions,
limitations, and significance of the study. Chapter 2 contains the review of literature.
The methodology, research design, and procedures are discussed in Chapter 3. Chapter 4
will document the transformation of the school’s climate and culture through the use of
personal narrative, which is used to examine my role of principal and strategies used to
bring sustained growth. Finally, Chapter 5 will review the findings of the research that
guided this study.
Chapter 2
Chapter Overview
The literature review addresses many topics under the umbrella of the
achievement gap and the need for school reform. The achievement gap, the causes, and
implications are discussed, as well as the discussion on the failure of the mandated
reform efforts of the Bush administration.
Because leaders must believe that children of all races and income levels can meet
high academic standards, moral purpose in education is also examined. Under this
discourse, the role of school principals and strategies to transform school cultures into
those of high expectations, collaboration and high student achievement is also examined.
Finally, this chapter will examine sustainability in schools, professional learning
communities, and the systems that must be in place so that schools maintain a continuous
cycle of improvement even when transformational leaders leave.
A Need for School Reform
Reform efforts in education in the United States have been at the forefront of
leaders’ agendas. President Johnson passed The Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA)
in 1965 to fund primary and secondary education to ensure all children receive an equal
and fair access to education. ESEA was originally authorized until 1970 but has since
been reauthorized every five years by Congress. President Reagan reauthorized ESEA
and brought attention to the need for school reform in a report entitled A Nation at Risk,
which revealed poor academic performance at almost every level of education: Only onefifth of 17-year olds could write a decent persuasive essay and only a third could solve a
multi-step math problem (as cited in National Commission on Excellence in Education,
1983). The report inspired a need to address a mediocre educational system in the US.
Without dramatic changes to the education system, the United States economy would
suffer, and consequently, affect the national security and global power (The Broad
Foundation, 2010).
Continuing with President Reagan’s focus on placing urgency on school reform,
President Bush reauthorized ESEA and instituted the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act
of 2001. This Act required all states to increase accountability based on standardized
testing, Annual Measurable Objectives (AMO), and Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).
All states are mandated to set measurable goals using standardized tests for all public
schools receiving federal funding. Schools must meet the proficiency targets known as
Adequate Yearly Progress in basic skills as proficiency benchmarks increase each year.
For example, in California, AYP targets for proficiency in English Language Arts (ELA)
for 2010 was 56.8%, which increased to 67.6% in 2011. In 2012, the ELA proficiency
target increased to 78.4% and so on, until all students reach 100% proficiency by 2014.
Similar targets are also set for Mathematics.
While reauthorizing ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act), President
Obama echoed the same urgency for school reform as a national priority in The Blueprint
for Reform (as cited in US Department of Education, 2010). President Obama, like
President Regan, stressed that a world class education is a moral imperative and key to a
more just, equal, and fair society. President Obama called for strong principal and
teacher leadership and collaboration to help American students be successful. Currently,
re-writing NCLB is under consideration; however, critics are afraid that not much will
change in terms of efforts toward school reform.
School reform under NCLB means all students must be proficient in their grade
level standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics by 2014. NCLB hopes that
by monitoring assessment results closely and applying sanctions to schools that do not
meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and AMO targets, school leaders will seek
reforms to close the achievement gap. As a result, schools and school districts that do not
meet AYP become a Program Improvement (PI) school, and have sanctions imposed
against them such as spending 10% of Title 1 finding on professional development for
teachers, and spending 20% of funding on supplemental services like tutoring by private
agencies, school restructuring, and operating under alternative governance by the fifth
year of being in PI.
Schools that continue to have low student performance and do not meet AYP for
five consecutive years face strong fiscal and governance sanctions for each subsequent
year that the target is not met. Districts are mandated to restructure and reform their
schools by adopting one of the following plans as demanded by existing law:
1) Replace the principal, strengthen staffing, focus on research-based curriculum.
2) Replace the principal and rehire no more than 50% of the school staff, focus
on research based curriculum.
3) Re-open as a charter school.
4) Close the school and enroll students in another higher performing school. (US
Department for Education, 2010).
Critics claimed that NCLB creates social reproduction and has hidden agendas
because of some fundamental technical flaws such as focusing on high stakes testing,
narrowing of curriculum, underfunding, and arbitrary requirements for subgroup
performances (Meier, Kohn, Darling-Hammond, Sizer & Wood, 2004). For example, many
of the lowest performing schools were forced to narrow their curriculum mandated by
their states as NCLB regulates curriculum, choice of text books, methodology and
staffing for schools in Program Improvement. It mandates Limited English Proficient
students and students with learning disabilities to test without special provisions and
makes test score results the basis of all major decision making in schools (Goodman,
Shannon, Goodman & Rapoport, 2004). Darling-Hammond (2010) added that NCLB
uses test scores as a way to fix schools. This has forced many states to lower their
standards and some schools to drop low performing students from their roll. She claims
that this encourages students to drop out of school instead of increasing graduation rates
because NCLB relied on one test to measure school success and seeks to improve poor
school through sanctions.
In the book Many Children Left Behind, Meier et al. (2004) argued that NCLB
does not address the true cause of school failure such as weakness of social capital in
high poverty regions, lack of systems in place at schools for more equitable learning.
One test a year in spring cannot truly measure the students, teacher, and school
effectiveness. School cultures determine school success. There is no evidence that high
test scores equate to the quality of school. When art, music, social studies and other nontested subjects are removed, learning becomes limited as does school experience.
Schools that serve the poor rely more on core subjects that are tested, thereby limiting
instruction to reading and math only if schools under NCLB sanction.
These high poverty schools also have to pay to shuttle students in buses across
town if they choose to transfer to another school, pay for after school tutoring by outside
agencies, thus using limited funding during tough budget times to pay for mandates that
have not proven to be successful.
Districts must comply with NCLB mandates even if mandates are misaligned with
school needs. For example, schools are labeled in need of program improvement even
when they have made steady growth but have failed to meet AYP. Standardized test
scores do not take into account school characteristics and student population. Fullan
(2005) and Elmore (2004) argued that such “on the surface” accountability measures
which rely so heavily on standardized test scores do not produce long term sustainable
growth. For example, for more than a decade, California has funded millions of dollars
in unproductive “reform” efforts such as closing schools, opening up charter schools and
using turn-around models. Despite billions of dollars in state and federal funding, and
large bodies of research on effective schools and effective teaching strategies, the
achievement gap widens (Kirsch, Brauen, Yamamoto & Sum, 2007).
This year, 4,600 California schools, or nearly 80% of schools receiving Title 1
funds are in Program Improvement status (Torlakson, 2011). In a letter to the Secretary
of Education, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Torlakson called
NCLB a flawed policy that needs urgent flexibility and relief from sanctions. The “onesize-fits-all” approach to labeling schools that do not meet AYP, regardless of the reasons
for the failure, is placing undue stress on districts already facing budget crisis.
According to (Torlakson, 2011), NCLB’s mandatory identification places
restrictions on how districts can use funding to meet the unique needs of its schools. As a
result, many schools have inappropriate interventions imposed by outside agencies that
may not meet the needs of the schools. The punitive reform efforts of NCLB put forth
thus far have been unsuccessful. For example, only two percent of schools have
improved to exit Program Improvement during the 2009-2010 school year.
Education historian and scholar Ravitch (2010), described NCLB as ineffective
because it came packaged with expensive, unrealistic, and heavy-handed federal
mandates. Ravitch claimed that NCLB places too much emphasis on testing and heavy
sanctions for schools and districts that do not meet yearly targets. Ravitch claimed that
NCLB’s focus on AYP goals and onerous sanctions if goals are not met, has educators
finding ways to meet unrealistic goals, even if it means going against the organization’s
vision. Consequently, some educators teach to the test and in some cases have resorted to
cheating (Ravitch, 2011).
Administrators and teachers in some New York, Washington DC, California,
Florida, and Atlanta school districts are among those under investigation for cheating
during standardized testing required under NCLB. According to the Washington Times,
(2011), investigators conducted more than 2,100 interviews and reviewed more than
800,000 documents to find that 200 administrators and teachers among the 44 of the 56
schools investigated in Atlanta had resorted to cheating. This cheating commenced with
the implementation of NCLB (Washington Times, 2011). For years, critics have claimed
that emphasis on test scores and tying school funding to standardized test scores
undervalues educating the whole child. It is difficult to teach character education and
moral values to students when teachers themselves resort to cheating. NCLB has scared
some teachers into taking the low road because not making Adequate Yearly Progress
(AYP) can result in closing schools down and firing teachers and administrators (Ravitch,
2010). Ravitch claimed that the achievement gains since NCLB was adopted are smaller
prior to the adoption of NCLB, and that the achievement gap has not narrowed (Kirsch et
al., 2007).
Similarly, Darling-Hammond (2010) criticized NCLB by saying that NCLB goals
have not been achieved and that the United States is further behind today than it was ten
years ago. The multiple-choice testing required by NCLB lacks higher-order thinking
skills which require students to analyze and problem solve, qualities tested on the
Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Darling-Hammond is not
surprised that student scores have continued to slip on international performances since
NCLB was introduced. More children live in poverty and lack health care while high
school graduation rates decline. Inequalities in education continue to exist because the
United States spends more educating affluent students in wealthy neighborhoods than
poor children, thereby increasing the achievement gap between White and minority
The Achievement Gap: Causes and Implications
Research by McKinsey and Company (2009) reported that the United States lags
significantly behind other advanced nations such as Finland and Korea in education and
continues to slip. Forty years ago the United States had one of the best levels of high
school attainment but in 2006 the ranking has slipped to 18th out of 24 industrialized
nations. The study reported the lagging achievement in poor schools and how this gap
affects all schools because the United States does not utilize its human potential, as well
as other nations that are outperforming the United States. For example, Finland and
Korea invest heavily on a high-quality education system by having highly trained and
well-supported teaching staff and designing curriculum to teach higher-order thinking
skills (Darling-Hammond, 2010).
The McKinsey (2009) research examined four distinct gaps in education: The first
gap was between the United States and other nations, the second between Black and
Latino students and White students, the third between students of different income levels,
and the fourth between similar students schooled in different systems or regions. The
study found that the failure to be effective and efficient with the education system as
reflected in the achievement gap is extremely costly. If students who are performing
below average were to increase their performance to average, the McKinsey Report
(2009) stated that the United States would have a $425 billion to $710 billion gain in
gross domestic product in 2008.
The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) highlighted several
student performance deficits in the United States when compared to other industrialized
countries belonging to the OECD. PISA, established in 2000, is an evaluation tool for
OECD member countries that evaluates 15-year old students in the area of math, reading,
and sciences with the goal to improve educational policies and outcomes. In 2009, the
United States ranked 15th in reading with Korea ranking first, and Finland second. Since
2000, no measurable change was found in the United States reading scores. In math,
Korea ranked first, and Finland second, while the United States scored 24th. The United
States average score showed an improvement (with no measurable difference) from 2006
but still had a lower average than other OECD member countries. In science, Finland
scored first, and Japan second, while the United States scored 21st. The average United
States score was higher than in 2006 but lower than OECD average (NCES, 2010).
The Finnish Education system underwent school efforts reform in the 1970s and
1980s. The Finnish National Board of Education concluded that the education system in
conjunction with the whole support system improved educational outcomes. For
example, Finland overhauled schools of education by creating curriculum and
assessments focused on problem-solving, creativity, and independent learning. It also
eliminated the state-mandated tests and invested in training their teachers instead.
Finnish schools stress play, social development, small classes, and give teachers the same
respect given to doctors and lawyers. The results closed Finland’s achievement gap
between the rich and poor and propelled its achievement to the top of the international
rankings (Darling-Hammond, 2010). Finnish students have high achievement scores and
the government spends less per student than the United States. Finland has one of the
narrowest gaps in achievement between the highest and lowest performing. However, it
does not have the diversity in ethnic groups, race and languages as the United States.
In the United States, achievement gaps continue to exist between students based
on racial, ethnic, and socio-economic classification (Figure 1). African American and
Hispanic students are over-represented among students scoring at the lowest levels.
Figure 1
Average Eighth-Grade NAEP Reading and Mathematics Scores by
Racial/Ethnic Group and Income Level, 2007
Note: Higher income students are defined as those not eligible for free lunch; Lower
income students are defined as those eligible for free lunch.
On the NAEP tests and California’s Standards-based Tests, (CSTs), it is the poor
students, Latino students, African American students and English language learners who
continue to perform poorly. California’s public school system consists of over six
million students, many of them from ethnic minority background. The system has a
majority of minorities, with Latinos making up the largest student group. One in five
children lives in poverty, while nearly half of all students under the age of 18 participate
in programs that qualify for low-income families. California also has a very large student
population consisting of second language learners (EdSource, 2011).
Figure 2
Percentage of Students Proficient and Advanced on the English Language
Arts California Standards Test (CDE, 2011).
Figure 3
Percentage of Students Proficient and Advanced on the Mathematics
California Standards Test (CDE, 2011).
The achievement gap in both English Language Arts and Math remains despite
attempts to close the gap under the inception of NCLB in 2002. The achievement gap
between racial and economic groups is important because it predicts later success in life,
such as high school completion, college degree, and ability to hold jobs that pay a living
wage (Education Trust-West, 2010).
Perspectives about the Cause of the Achievement Gap
Darling-Hammond (1996) stated that America’s capacity to survive as a
democracy relies on the fact that public education will prepare its workforce as
independent thinkers, capable of building common grounds and working in diverse
settings. Providing all children an equal opportunity to succeed has been a struggle. A
study by Stanford University’s American Institutes for Research (AIR) examined the
relationship among student performance and school environment in 76 elementary, 32
middle, and five high schools. The study showed that staff expectations among low
performing schools, typically situated in high poverty neighborhoods were found to be
lower than that of higher performing schools (Parrish et al., 2007).
The basis for the achievement gap is complex and includes home, school,
community, and health issues. The gap exists even before certain children enter school,
and this can thwart success at school (EdSource, 2011). Students living in poverty tend
to be less successful in school. According to NCES (2011), a longitudinal study on
children entering kindergarten reported that low-performing students had one of the
following Factors of Influence: their families were on welfare; they had a single parent;
their mothers did not complete high school; or they were English Language Learners.
These elements of influence are common in Title 1 schools or in high poverty
neighborhoods. Although those factors do not cause poverty, they can influence
conditions that affect academic performance, such as lack of proper health care, poor
nutrition, adequate housing, and exposure to violence and substance abuse (EdSource
2011). Other social factors that lead to poor performance are poor family literacy
practices, little interaction with children, and high stress levels in the home (EdSource,
2011). All these factors affect a child’s school career. African American and Hispanics
populate the majority of high poverty neighborhoods where more than one of these risk
factors exists. Students from these neighborhoods are at greater risk of becoming victims
of the achievement gap (Barton & Coley, 2009).
School-based factors that affect the achievement gap are not as visible but clearly
exist: cultural backgrounds of both the teachers and the students play a significant role in
achievement; some educators do not have high expectations of poor students or students
of color (Gay, 2000; Ladson-Billings, 1992; Ogbu, 1987; Sleeter, 1991); some students
have self-defeating behaviors because they do not believe they can achieve (Ogbu, 1987);
lack of curriculum rigor; teacher experience –minority and low income students are more
likely to be taught by inexperienced teachers; teacher turnover-high poverty schools have
high teacher turnover rates because students are challenging to teach (Barton & Coley,
2009); and finally, professional development and teacher preparation programs (Banks &
Banks 2001; Gay, 2000; Ladson-Billing 1992; Sleeter, 1991). The professional
development practices should consider multicultural education and equity pedagogy to
help teachers respond to how race, social class, ethnicity, and language interact to
influence student behavior. Banks and Banks (2001) described this as instruction that
provides all students with an equal opportunity to attain academic and social success in
school. Similarly, professional development in Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT)
helps teachers develop intellectual, social, emotional, and political learning by using
cultural references to gain knowledge (Ladson-Billings, 1992). Geneva Gay (2000)
described CRT as teaching to the whole child. All of these strategies should be
accompanied by moral purpose. It is the responsibility of the leaders who have to realize
the moral purpose to bring about the changes needed toward equity, access, and systemic
justice (Goodlad, Soder & Sirotnik, 1990).
Moral Purpose
In his book Change Forces the Sequel, Fullan (1999) wrote that the key to social,
political, and economic restitution in society is a strong public school system. Now more
than ever, there is the need for strong commitment towards moral purpose in education
reform. Fullan defined moral purpose in education as making a difference in the future of
all children, especially the disadvantaged as they are the most under-resourced learners
and have the greatest to gain towards scholastic achievement. Simply put, moral purpose
is the drive to raising the bar toward higher academic expectations and closing the
achievement gap for all students. It is difficult to achieve moral purpose if one does not
increase understanding, compassion, and build meaningful relationships across diverse
groups. Building quality public schools will relate directly to the quality of life for
students (Fullan, 2011).
Similarly, Sirotnik (2002) stated that it was the educators’ moral responsibility to
be stewards of learning institutions and to provide a nurturing learning environment for
the students. He called for more justifiable and caring practices for all students,
especially students of poverty and color. He called for a political infrastructure that
provides necessary resources for supporting educators to build responsible practices.
Sergiovanni (1992), like Sirotnik (2002), and Fullan (2011), believed that schools
need a special kind of leadership that stems from moral purpose. Sergiovanni stated that
moral leadership is a higher form of leadership than other conceptualizations of
leadership. For example, Bureaucratic leadership relies on rules, mandates, regulations,
expectations and outcomes. He called this style transactional and at the lowest stage of
moral development.
Schools are moral communities grounded in cultural norms where parents,
teachers, and students have obligations toward each other (Sergiovanni, 1992). These
obligations stem from shared values and beliefs of educating students. Moral obligations
create communities in schools; therefore, schools need a special kind of leadership
because moral purpose establishes school character. Leadership built around values,
purpose, and beliefs can transform schools to collaborative communities instead of
organizations. Shared work and common goals can lead to interdependence and true
collegiality (Sergiovanni). Such collaboration inspires devotion, mutual respect, and
positive expectations and commitment that make schools great.
Goodlad (2004) wrote that educating the young may be leadership’s highest
calling. Leaders have a public purpose of serving the public good in a democracy to
ensure liberty and justice for all. He stated that educational leaders have powerful roles
to play by ensuring that schools produce responsible citizens. He criticized the current
system of accountability for higher test scores. Goodlad said that teaching to the test and
high test scores by themselves do not produce the dispositions and behaviors of working
independently, working in teams, using good judgment, becoming a problem solver and
being honest. Goodlad spoke of a moral mission for all school leaders of developing
democratic in the young. This democratic character consists of civility, civic
mindedness, compassion, good work habits, honesty, and finally, happiness in work, and
In a multi-perspective study of 10 successful urban and suburban schools in
England, Day (2000) wrote that the key characteristics among the school leaders were
passion for education, passion for their students and passion for the communities they
served. He described passion as,
…a driver, a motivational force emanating from strength of emotion. People are
passionate about things, issues, causes, and people. Being passionate generates
energy, determination, conviction, commitment, and even obsession in people.
Passion is not a luxury, a frill or a quality possessed by just a few headteachers. It
is essential to all successful leadership. (Day, 2000, p. 427)
The passion Day (2000) described in his paper was what Fullan, Sergiovanni,
Sirotnik and Goodlad described as the moral purpose. The principals, or head teachers,
as they are called in England, were selected for the study by their attention to moral,
social, and ethical issues in educating their communities. These headteachers who were
in high needs and challenging schools were aware of their need to nurture staff, students
and parents to build successful learning communities. From the data gathered, six areas
of passion were identified; 1) a passion for achievement; 2) a passion for care; 3) a
passion for collaboration; 4) a passion for commitment; 5) a passion for trust; and 6) a
passion for inclusivity. These practices are similar to Fullan’s (2011) strategies to enact
the moral imperative which will be discussed in greater detail below.
Table 1
Moral Purpose from Five Perspectives
1992, 2011
Commitment to
educational reform
Making a
difference in the
lives of children
Provide a nurturing
Raising the bar
Build more
infrastructure to
provide resources
Closing the
achievement gap
1992, 2000
Devotion and
commitmentleadership with
moral purpose
Shared values and
expectations and
mutual respect
Caring for the
whole child is key
to academic
Educating the
young is
highest calling
character of
compassion, good
work habits, and
Passion to
commit creates
energy that
motivates change
Passion for
collaboration and
Passion for trust
Passion for
Ensure liberty and
justice for all
Strategies to Enact Moral Imperative
According to Fullan (2011), to bring about needed changes to our school system,
moral imperative is not enough. It has to be accompanied with strategies. School leaders
must; (1) make a personal commitment; (2) build relationships; (3) focus on
implementation; (4) develop the collaborative; (5) connect to the outside and (6) be
relentless (and divert distracters).
Personal Commitment
Fullan (2011) declared that school leadership is a serious business, and “It takes a
combination of clear personal values, persistence against a lot of odds, emotional
intelligence, thick skin, and resiliency” (p. 3). Principals and leaders must have a strong
commitment to raising the bar and closing the achievement gap for all students regardless
of their race or their socio-economic status. It is also imperative to motivate and
empower teachers and help them make a difference in the lowest achieving schools.
Principals must be clear in their purpose as it is the foundation of their work. However,
this personal commitment must be coupled with optimism and the ability to work
collaboratively in effective relationships. Leithwood and Riehl (2003) referred to
personal commitment as setting direction in which leaders develop goals and inspire
teachers with a vision for the future. Sagor (1992) identified personal commitment as
having a clear unified purpose while Bass and Bass (2008) considered it as inspirational
motivation in which the leader has the vision, and challenges teachers to high standards.
Shared vision developed by the school leader and teachers creates personal commitment
and potential for growth.
Build Relationships
Perhaps more than any other community leader, an effective principal must build
relationships with everyone, including the skeptics and naysayers. The ability to relate to
both the toughest of critics or to the most compliant is key to building relationships.
Individuals who are toxic to the organizational goals should be asked to leave by the
principal or work with them to adopt the school’s mission and goals. Principals have to
help teachers embody success and feel good about themselves and motivate them toward
increasing student achievement. Fullan (2011) stressed the need to build relationships
with staff (and students) whom principals wish to challenge toward higher achievement.
Principals must treat everyone with respect, create systems, and circumstances that
support success, and deal firmly with the toxicities that do not leave the organization or
Similarly, the Center for Creative Leadership stressed that building relationships
is crucial to effective leadership, based on a comprehensive study involving 438,000
participants (Lesley, 2009). The study found that good leaders build connections not
only with students and staff, but the community in which they work. Building
relationships help build collaboration.
Focus on Implementation
Fullan (2011) referenced Reeves' (2011) work when writing about instructional
focus and not allowing initiatives from local and state agencies to distract the leader. In
Finding Your Leadership Focus, Reeves wrote about “initiative fatigue”, in which wellmeaning principals are part of too many initiatives which result in fragmented programs
and practices in the school. Reeves’ (2011) research of leadership initiatives in 2,000
schools in the United States and Canada implied focus on teaching practices and not
programs made a difference to learning outcomes. Fullan (2011), like Reeves (2011),
suggested that a deep knowledge of instruction and improvement of teaching practice are
important for change to take place. Similarly, Senge (1990) stated that principals must
follow through on the implementation of the professional learning teachers receive. The
transition from learning to practice is crucial for principals to follow. Sometimes, the
focus on implementation could be redesigning the structure of the school.
Develop the Collaborative
Fullan (2011) declared that leaders cannot lead alone, thereby referring to leaders
who build teams to facilitate change. The power of collective capacity can enact change
faster and bring about good results. Fullan referred to this as motion leadership. Fullan
also referred to the collaborative teams as professional learning communities. These
teams have a collective vision, provide mutual support, cooperation as well as emotional
support (DuFour, 2004). Leaders create a sense of community by investing in, and
developing people in the organization. This is done by building trust. Leaders challenge
their staff and encourage them to reflect on their work by examining their assumptions.
Sergiovanni (2006) wrote that leaders create an environment to empower teachers to
evaluate their practices and feel safe about asking for help. A healthy collaborative
culture would be one where teachers are provided with resources to understand current
practices and are provided guidance to achieve desired outcomes (Leithwood & Riehl,
2003). Sergiovanni (2006) referred to building the collaborative as building teacher
capacity by providing teachers with the needed professional development toward higher
Connect to the Outside
Fullan (2011) urged principals to build connections, systems, and networks
outside of the school to build sufficient “infrastructure.” He believed that a leader's
moral imperative is “stunted” if the leader’s influence is connected only to the school,
and therefore suggested that leaders work as partners with other school leaders as well as
district leaders to develop a strong sense of mutual trust and identity. The moral
imperative here is that the school leaders care just as deeply about the success of other
schools as they do about their own school. “Moral imperative is systemic” (Fullan, 2011,
p. 9). There are three forms of system leadership; when leaders connect with other
schools, when leaders help other schools, and when leaders reform schools on a larger
scale, such as in school districts. Collective leadership is more impactful than individual
leadership (Seashore, Leithwood, Wahlstrom & Anderson, 2010). Fullan extended moral
imperative not just to the school, but to the district, and to the larger state and national
context. When educators seek or provide outside help, the moral pie gets larger. He
claims that the most effective leaders are those who connect to the big picture.
Leithwood and Duke (1999) concurred by stating that successful leaders must build
multiple constituencies and social networks.
Be Relentless (and Divert Distracters)
It is easy to get distracted by all the demands of principalship. Additionally, the
overload of information and the frantic pace endemic of modern life can be distracting.
Fullan referenced Jackson’s (2008) book, Distracted, in which the author notes that in the
modern day of digital culture, one becomes fragmented and are not able to stay focused.
He compared this notion to most principals as they are pulled in many different
directions. Leaders must use their judgment and awareness to remain focused on what is
important which can be difficult because of the many educational initiatives. Reeves
(2011) called it the initiative fatigue. Successful leaders are able to divert distractions
and remain on course with their top priorities (Fullan, 2011). To be relentless as leaders
is to commit to motivating adults who will be focused on data to drive instructional
practices and to divert initiatives that do not match the focus. Additionally, staying
committed to one’s moral purpose to the common public good can be frustrating and
disappointing in turbulent economic times.
In conclusion, the six strategies that Fullan (2011) provided above are the
hallmarks of leading in a culture of change. According to Fullan, these strategies are
important in transforming and sustaining system change. The next section explains in
greater depth the role of the principal and the move toward transformational leadership.
Role of Principal in Reform: A Move from Transactional to Transformational Leadership
Reform in education and the development of accountability measures have shaped
the evolution of the role of the school principal. State and national standards-based
reforms have focused more attention on accountability and the achievement gap.
Consequently, school leaders are pressured to meet the demands of school reform efforts
as the function of school principals become more demanding.
From the 1920s until the 1970s, the function of the school principal was to
maintain daily operational functions, supervise, and evaluate staff, maintain discipline,
and to manage the school (Hallinger, 1992; Leithwood & Duke, 1999). An effective
principal was one who managed school efficiently. Bossert, Dwyer, Rowan and Lee
(1982) found that successful school principals were organized and involved in classroom
management by supporting teachers with discipline problems. Principals kept classroom
disruptions to a minimum so teachers could teach. As the call for reform efforts gained
momentum, the role of the principal changed to that of instructional leader. Principals
were now expected to make instructional decisions to improve school-wide achievement.
They coordinated the school’s curriculum, provided staff development, and monitored
implementation of programs (Hallinger & Murphy, 1985). In the 1990s, additional
demands were placed on principals as education reform accountability measures
increased. It became the principal’s responsibility to set the culture, tone, and climate of
the school (Dethloff, 2005).
Figure 4
The Changing Role of the Principal
1990’s-2000’s. Leaders of change (Transformational
leaders), build collaboration, use data to inform instruction,
facilitator to bring community and school together, build
professional learning communities, manage discipline,
supervise and evaluate.
d opr
1980’s-Instructional leader, staff
development, daily operations, manage
discipline, supervise and evaluate
1920’s -1970’s-Daily operations,
manage discipline, supervise and
Change has become the new constant, thus the role of the principal has changed
dramatically over the last century. 1n 2010, increased accountability from the US
Department of Education, positioned principals as the formal leaders of schools, thus
their job became more complex and demanding. Principals are expected to maintain their
sites in relationship to budget uncertainties, staff morale, instructional support, political
bureaucracy of the NCLB Act (meeting adequate yearly progress or ensuring progress if
the school is in program improvement), innovations in technology, and meeting the needs
of English language learners and diverse learners. Principals are asked to restructure and
reform schools to ensure high achievement through a collaborative culture of shared
leadership with teachers and create cultures of inclusivity so that students from all
backgrounds are engaged in schools.
A high quality school is frequently described as having a skilled principal (Branch
et al., 2012). It is the principal’s leadership that leads a school to success by building
collaborative cultures. Principals influence outcomes such as teacher recruitment and
retention, targeting the school’s mission, vision, and core values, appropriate allocation
of resources, developing organizational structures to support teaching and learning, and
ultimately student achievement (Loeb et al., 2010). Studies using longitudinal data have
revealed that teachers are likely to stay in schools where leadership is effective (Branch,
Hanushek & Rivkin, 2009; Loeb et al., 2010). A number of studies done by Center for
Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER), found that
disadvantaged, or Title 1 schools are the least likely to have effective school leadership
(Rice, 2010). The lowest performing schools were more likely to have first-year
principals than other high performing schools. Principals, like teachers, have mobility
patterns that are affected by the racial, achievement, and economic distribution of
students. Students at high poverty, low achieving schools are therefore at a distinct
disadvantage. Districts should therefore select their best and brightest to lead such
schools that face the highest challenges. The study also found that effective principals,
even if they were inexperienced to begin with, stayed at high-poverty low-performing
schools. The study suggested that hiring high quality principals in low performing
schools will help with principal and teacher retention.
One of the major findings of the effective schools research was the identification
of instructional leadership as a significant aspect of effective schools. Instructional
leadership means having high expectations of students and teachers, using data to drive
instruction and evaluate student progress. However, the CALDER studies (Rice, 2010)
revealed that organizational leadership is more important than instructional leadership as
a key predictor of principal effectiveness. School outcomes, as measured by test scores
increased when principals spent more time on organizational management activities, thus
creating learning organizations.
The role of principals today is to build learning organizations. In learning
organizations, leaders are expected to be designers, stewards, and teachers (Senge, 1990).
Principals, as designers, need to have problem-solving skills and increase the
organization’s learning outcomes. As stewards, principals must have a collective vision
and direct the organization toward the vision.
Transformational Leadership
Being an instructional leader and manager is no longer sufficient in an era of
accountability; thus the term transformational leader emerged. The conceptual model of
transformational leadership is based on the work of Burns (1978). In his book
Leadership, Burns described transformational leaders as those leaders who can inspire
their followers to higher levels of achievement. Burns emphasized the importance of
building positive relationships with subordinates and treating them in a morally
acceptable way. Burns used a philosophical and business model for this approach. He
asks what the ultimate goal of leadership is, whether leadership is about power or about
relationships and moral good. His theory is appealing to moral purpose of building social
values and individual purpose. His values are based upon life, liberty and the pursuit of
happiness. Burns’ work has influenced other transformational leader theorists such as
Bass and Avolio (1994), and Leithwood (1992).
Bass (1985) expanded Burns’ theory by asserting that transformational leaders
appealed to the emotions of their followers. Transformational leaders evoke loyalty,
respect, and admiration from their followers, vastly improving organizations. Bass and
Avolio (1994) identified four attributes of transformational leaders: (1) idealized
influence, the ability to be a role model; (2) inspirational motivation, the ability to
motivate followers; (3) intellectual stimulation, the ability to encourage creativity; (4)
individualized consideration, the ability to coach individuals based on his or her needs
and talents.
Through a series of studies on leadership, Bass and Avolio (1994) found that
leaders can be both transactional and transformational to create positive effects on their
organization. While transformational leaders and their followers hold each other to high
standards and increase their level of motivation and morality, Burns (1978) described
transactional leaders as those leaders who approach their followers with a reward for self
interest in exchange for their hard work. Kuhnert and Lewis (1987) claimed that
transactional leaders give followers what they want in exchange for services that leaders
need. Transactional leadership is sometimes called bartering because it exchanges
services for rewards that the leader controls. Burns stipulated that transactional leaders
can be trained to become transformational leaders.
Table 2
Transactional vs Transformational Leadership
Burns (1978)
Ordinary leadership
Compliance (effort,
productivity, loyalty) =
Bass (1985)
Contingent reward
Management by
exception active and
Extra-ordinary leadership
Raise consciousness
Motivate followers
Total engagementemotional, intellectual,
Idealized influence in
attributes and behavior
Inspirational motivation
Intellectual stimulation
Burns’ (1978) concept of transactional and transformational leadership contrasts
from that of Bass (1985). Burns (1978) considered both leadership practices at the
opposite end of the continuum while Bass (1985) argued that most leaders display both
leadership practices at different times. Transactional leadership works well when both
the leader and followers are clear and agree upon the tasks. Transactional leadership
practices are often viewed as complementary to transformational leadership practices.
Transactional practices are central to maintaining the organization, contended Bass
(1985) and Sergiovanni (1990), for getting day-to-day routines carried out. However,
Leithwood (1992), another seminal author in transformational leadership says this
approach does not set off improvements. Transactional leadership does little to increase
the commitment needed to galvanize change. Transactional practices are day to day
routines known more as first order events that do not stimulate change. It takes
transformational leadership to motivate staff and stimulate improvements in the
organization toward making second order change (Leithwood, Tomlinson & Genge
Sergiovanni (1990) made significant contributions by transferring Burns approach
to the educational setting. Sergiovanni proposed five measures of transformational
leadership in education. The first was the technical and human dimension, which
involves strong management. The second was human leadership, which focuses on
interpersonal connections. The third was educational leadership, in which the principal is
the expert in education. The fourth is symbolic leadership, which involves modeling
important goals and behaviors. The fifth dimension is cultural leadership, in which the
principal molds the culture, value, and beliefs of the school over time. Sergiovanni
(1990) believed that it is the fourth and fifth dimension of symbolic and cultural
leadership that transforms the school to achieving excellence.
Sergiovanni (1991) stressed that schools are moral communities made up of
educators and families. Educators need to address the needs of students as a moral
responsibility. If schools and teachers are to be actively involved in getting students
excited about deep learning, the adults who teach them have to be just as engaged and
motivated. Sergiovanni (1991) also argued that teacher development must have center
stage in school improvement.
Similarly, Leithwood (1990) used Burn’s theory to guide his work in educational
leadership. Unlike the well-known classical views of Burns (1978) and Bass (1985),
Leithwood and Jantzi (2006) developed their own model of transformational leadership
from qualitative and quantitative data collected from 655 schools and 2,290 teachers in
England. The study reviewed the effects of transformational leadership on teacher
motivation, capacity, and work setting and how it influenced gains in student
achievement. Three broad categories and nine specific practices of leadership practices
emerged. The three categories are:
1. Setting Directions. This includes building school vision, developing specific
goals and priorities, and holding high performance expectations.
2. Developing people. This category includes providing intellectual stimulation,
individualized support, and modeling desirable professional practices and
3. Redesigning the organization. This includes developing a collaborative
school culture, creating structures to foster participation in school decisions,
and creating productive community.
The evidence provided by this empirical study showed that school leadership has
an important influence on the likelihood that teachers change their classroom practices
when they are motivated by leaders using the leadership dimensions mentioned above.
Leithwood (1994a) conducted several studies of principal leaders and reported
that the best way to address reform initiatives is through transformational leadership. He
called for principals to be trained as leaders of change in their organizations and stated,
“For change to result in improvement, it requires expert leadership” (Leithwood, 1994b,
p. 17). Thus, today’s principals are expected to transform their school culture into one of
a collaborative nature, and one that uses data to inform instruction. The school leaders of
the 21st century are facilitators who bring together teachers, neighborhoods, community
resources, institution of higher learning, and businesses to partner to improve learning
Fullan (2002) agreed with Leithwood (1994b) and shares that being an
instructional leader is not enough to bring long-lasting reform needed in schools.
Principals as change agents have to be sophisticated conceptual thinkers and have the
emotional intelligence to transform organizations through people and teams. According
to Leithwood, schools are instruments for social change and school principals are the
artisans. Principals as change agents have to be fueled by moral purpose to lead in a
culture of change.
Table 3
Dimensions of Transformational Leadership from 1978-2011
-Building positive
-Treating people
with respect
-Inspire followers
-Human leadership
(focus on
(modeling goals
and behaviors)
-Strong manager
(principal as expert
in education)
Bass and Avolio
-Build relationships
-Setting direction
-Make a personal
-Be relentless and
divert distractions
-Redesigning the
programs (added
later in 2009)
-Develop the
-Focus on
-Connect to the
Leadership in Turnaround Schools: A Review
A recent study on organizational effectiveness in Ontario, Canada, found that
leaders built capacity when committed to organizational goals (Leithwood & Strauss,
2009). The study was limited to leadership practices at schools that made quick,
significant academic gains. These schools were labeled as turnaround schools. They
conducted interviews in schools where literacy test scores in grades three, six, and 10,
improved over a three-year period in Ontario, Canada. In phase-one of the study, they
conducted 76 interviews, eight parent focus groups and eight student focus groups at four
elementary and four secondary schools. In phase-two, 473 teachers and 36 administrators
at 11 elementary schools and four secondary schools were studied. Their key finding was
that successful core leadership practices tended to fall into four categories instead of three
(Leithwood & Jantzi, 2006). Managing instructional program was added to the previous
three practices of direction setting, developing people, and redesigning the organization.
Each of these four categories contains several specific practices. For example,
core leadership practices are carried out differently at different stages of the turnaround
process. Principals are the key figures who implement the core leadership strategies that
eventually lead to the turnaround. In the beginning, during the “Declining Performance
stage,” leadership is more directive as staff responds in a helpless manner and is resistant
to change (Leithwood & Strauss, 2009). Challenged by teacher attitudes and the need to
shift school cultures, administrators hold teachers accountable for implementing
techniques they had learned in staff development and provide resources for collaboration
with colleagues. Moving on to the crisis- stabilization stage, leadership became
increasingly collaborative (Leithwood & Strauss, 2009). The core practices used by
administrators create a sense of responsibility toward the common goal of increased
student achievement.
Leithwood and Strauss (2009) found that the most effective core turnaround
leadership practices take place in stages that progress from a more directive leadership
approach to a more collaborative approach where teacher input was asked, once the shift
in school culture had occurred. This was a significant finding since the Leithwood and
Strauss study did not address sustainability and retention of successful principals in these
critical transformative schools. Not addressing district’s support for sustainability is a
limitation to the study.
The school district’s support is crucial in the transformational model as seen by
the Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement (CCSRI) 2005 study.
Contracted by the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education of the US Department
of Education, the Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement conducted
research on school restructuring, focusing on schools that had not met adequate yearly
progress for five consecutive years (CCSRI, 2005). CCSRI conducted a comprehensive
review of a number of turnaround models, and used current research on these schools,
including interviews with turnaround experts. A key focus of the study was to examine
leadership practices at successful turnaround schools from the perspective of successful
turnaround business models. Part of the research focused on the turnaround schools
where staff and school leaders had been replaced by the district.
Results indicated that school leaders are linked to the success or failure of the
turnaround effort. Choosing the right leader for a particular school is as critical as
providing district support. The leader must be knowledgeable about what works in high
performing schools and be able to apply that knowledge. The CCSRI study found that in
turnaround schools, there are two major actions and several supporting steps that the
leader must take. First, with the support of the district, the leader must undertake some
changes that will bring about the immediate results. Second, the school leader must not
hesitate to implement practices that have been successful in other turnaround schools.
Following these steps, the leader must communicate a positive vision and use strong
interpersonal skills to motivate teachers, parents, and students. In addition, he or she
must continually use data openly to analyze and plan a suitable course of action. Of
equal importance is the need to involve staff in decision making, set very high goals, set
new goals as needed, and make a serious effort to negotiate with the naysayers. Like the
previous study, this one also neglected to explore the sustainability of successful
turnaround schools.
Seventy percent of most reform efforts are unsuccessful because the efforts are
aimed at challenging-schools with low student achievement (Beer & Nohria, 2009).
Kowal, Hassel and Hassel (2009) recommended principals to be persistent even if leaders
are unsuccessful at the first attempt to turn around schools. Kowal et al. noted that
selecting the right leader is critical because turning low-achieving schools into highachieving schools in a quick period is extremely difficult and controversial. Kowal et al.
(2009) research provided the competencies needed by turnaround leaders. Turnaround
principals are exceptional and uniquely different from other successful school leaders:
These leaders must be the most driven-those with the strongest desire to achieve positive
results and be task-oriented; they need to motivate others and influence their thinking
because turnaround leaders cannot achieve results by themselves; they should be strong
problem-solvers, individuals who can use and analyze data to improve learning goals;
finally, turnaround leaders should have the confidence to lead by staying focused despite
the negative environment of helplessness and professional attacks often present when the
leaders begin the transformation process.
Districts need to ensure these leadership competencies are developed and provide
additional training and support for principals on setting high priority goals with
immediate results, even if it means that one break with organizational norms. These
principals must drive their decisions with the transparent use of data. They must have the
autonomy to hire and fire staff and be able to campaign for a turnaround by motivating
the key influencers and silencing the naysayers. Districts also need to develop a pipeline
for such leaders by seeking out only those that are exceptional.
The three significant studies listed above, all highlight the similarities in
leadership practices employed by leaders in turnaround schools. All three studies stress
the importance of hiring the right leader in order for a dramatic turnaround to take place.
The studies noted that confident, well-trained, action-driven leadership is critical in
bringing about changes, which are much needed in low performing schools.
Additionally, the findings emphasize that the leader must have an early win by bringing
about a couple of rapid but positive changes. Leithwood and Strauss (2009) in particular,
considered this a period when the leader must be more directive. Once the direction has
been set and the vision communicated, the leader must also possess good interpersonal
skills to motivate parents and staff and increase collaboration among them and the school.
All three studies stress the importance of using data and holding teachers accountable.
All three stress the importance of complete district support, which allows principals the
freedom to hire motivated teachers and fire the naysayers. Districts must be willing to
allow leaders to break organizational norms. Table 4 below lists attributes of turnaround
leaders that suggest the leader to be a person of remarkable capabilities.
Table 4
Leadership Actions and Attributes of Turnaround Principals
Leadership Actions of Turnaround Principals
1. Finding the right leader-well trained
-Action driven
2. Early win (Rapid but positive change)
-confident, directive
3. Setting direction, communicates vision
-Good communicator; has a vision, goal oriented,
ability to motivate staff and parents.
4. Developing people
-Builds trust, provides intellectual stimulation and
5. Redesigning the organization. Use of data to hold
teachers accountable. Build learning communities
-instructional leader, organized, good interpersonal,
collaborative, accountable.
Unlike the proponents of turnaround leadership, Minthrop (2004) argued that
turnaround schools are not sustainable because the strategies used by leaders rely on
external control or are forced upon efforts and therefore do not build internal capacity.
Under these conditions, teachers either leave or comply, which result in short term gains.
In such circumstances, results show initial gains followed by a decline or plateau in
student achievement. Fullan (2005) agreed with Minthrop and stressed the need to move
beyond short term solutions to bring about fundamental and sustainable changes.
Through NCLB, schools undergoing turnaround are mostly categorized as program
improvement. Fullan wrote that schools under conditions of external control fail to
produce internal capacity and motivation.
Impact of Transformational Leadership on School Culture, Student Achievement,
and Teachers
The Center for Improving School Culture (CISC) found a high correlation
between school culture, staff morale, and student achievement in a study of over 8,200
schools (as cited in Wagner, 2005). To comply with school improvement efforts with
high stakes accountability measure, schools are asked to implement specific curriculum,
using specific instructional methodology and spend time on test taking skills. What has
not been addressed in school improvement effort is the school climate and culture.
According to Wagner (2005), a lead researcher for CISC, the missing link to school
reform improvement has more to do with school culture than over-testing, elaborate
lesson plans and such. Levine and Lezotte (1995) agreed that school culture and climate
are often overlooked as an important part of school reform movement. Wagner (2005)
stressed the importance of establishing a positive school culture as a first priority because
schools should be rich in caring, nurturing, and relationships. A school with a
collaborative and caring culture is more successful in achieving sustainable reform
efforts. According to the CISC study, it takes a unique individual, such as a
transformational leader who can bring about self determination, high expectations, and
collegiality in a staff. Once the values and beliefs change, cultural transformations begin
to take place.
The culture of a school is its inner reality (Deal & Peterson, 1993). Phillips and
Wagner (2003) posited that school culture is how people treat each other, the extent to
which people feel included and appreciated and how people collaborate. Changing
school culture is a very difficult and time-consuming task (Schein, 1985). Fullan (1998,
1999) reminded leaders that effective and lasting school improvement requires a change
in school structures, curricular practices as well as relationships between staff and the
school leader.
Reformers have attempted to improve school efforts with additional funds and
technical fixes, by installing the latest technology in every classroom, buying new
programs, or purchasing new science labs. Welner and Oaks (2008) defined these as
technical fixes that are surface level fixes and not resources that bring about
transformational changes. Reeves (2006) provided a comparison for the process used for
sustainable cultures versus those receiving quick technical fixes by turnaround leaders in
some schools. The analogy he provided in the process is losing weight through healthy
diet and exercise versus unhealthy measures such as diet pills and anorexia. True
transformations in school cultures occur when leaders use their emotional intelligence to
build an environment of trust and collaboration so that educators’ norms, beliefs, and
values are challenged. The foundation of the group’s beliefs, as influenced by the
transformational leader, defines the culture of the school.
Teacher attitudes and beliefs are important because they affect student
achievement and students perception of school. Teachers’ attitudes affect the extent to
which the school will undergo reform efforts. Simply raising the standards and
increasing graduation requirements will not produce higher achievement, unless leaders
tap into the moral imperative of the teachers by motivating and empowering them
(Leithwood & Jantzi, 1990, 2006). A study by Leithwood and Steinbach (1995)
discovered that transformational leaders worked with their staff to develop better
solutions to immediate problems, leaders stimulated and motivated their teachers toward
a shared set of goals, and contributed to long term growth toward problem-solving
capacities of teachers. These strategies empowered teachers to achieve higher levels of
commitment in their organizational goals (Leithwood & Jantzi, 2006). High levels of
motivation and high levels of ability (provided through staff development) lead to high
levels of performance (Leithwood & Jantzi).
Student learning improves when conditions for teaching and learning improve
(McClure, Mehon, Yonezawa & Jones, 2008). Using Maslow’s theory of hierarchy of
needs, having safe schools and adequate school facilities are fundamental first steps
toward creating the conditions needed to promote teaching and learning.
Transformational leaders have to build human capital. The learning environment
consists of more than just instructional practices and school safety. The learning
environment should include caring relationships between students and adults, high
standards, and a strong home school connection (Klem & Connell, 2004). The learning
environment is especially important in underperforming schools where there are more
disengaged youths (McClure et al., 2008).
The study conducted by McClure et al. (2008) on the influence of school culture
on student achievement, found a positive correlation when the school practiced culturally
responsive methods. Students in such schools have higher levels of participation and
engagement. One way the teachers increased student engagement in schools was to use
the students’ home knowledge and language as resources in classroom instruction to
develop academic skills. When classroom engagement strategies were modified to
include students’ backgrounds, such as culturally responsive teaching strategies, student
performance increased. Higher levels of engagement improve cognitive, emotional, and
behavior engagement and student achievement (Klem & Connell, 2004).
From the review of literature, one can derive that a transformational leader is a
social justice leader, a leader who uses relationships and rigor to make important strides
toward increasing equity and access for students, thereby closing the achievement.
Transformational leaders must believe in the moral imperative to bring about reforms in
schools that will give high-poverty and minority students’ equity and access to a wellrounded education. In doing so, transformational leaders have to tap into the moral
purpose of their staff and motivate them to take ownership by sustaining improvements
and becoming social justice workers themselves.
Transformative Leadership
Although Burns (1978), Sagor (1992), and Sergiovanni (1990) have used the
terms transformational and transformative leadership interchangeably, Shields (2010)
argued that transformational leadership focuses primarily on what happens within the
organization, whereas transformative leadership recognizes that the inequities in society
affects one’s ability to succeed within an organizational context. Shields posited that
transformative leadership begins by questioning inequitable practices to improve justice
and democracy. Transformative leadership therefore links leadership and education
within its wider social context, creating inclusive and socially just learning environments
in schools.
The process of effecting change in one’s frame of reference is how Mezirow
(1997) described transformative learning theory. Adults have their own world views,
their frames of reference which shape and delimit expectations, perceptions, cognition,
and feelings. Transformative learners move their frame of reference toward one that is
more inclusive, self-reflective, and integrative. These ideals are drawn from Freire’s
(1970) work which called for personal dialogic relationships to transform education from
“deformation” (p. 89). According to Shields (2010), transformative leadership draws
from Freire’s (1998) debate that education is not the ultimate lever for social
transformation but transformations cannot occur without education. Freire emphasized
both individual and collective nature of transformative leadership. Weiner (2003) drew
on Freire’s work by saying that transformative leaders exercise their power and authority
by questioning justice and democracy between individual accountability and social
democracy. According to Weiner, transformative leaders lay the groundwork for
education that is inclusive, democratic, and equitable for students thereby making
schooling anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, and responsive to class exploitation.
Transformative leaders are therefore social justice leaders making such issues a priority
in their vision, leadership practice and advocacy (Theoharis, 2008). The transformative
leadership model promotes democratic citizenship and participation in civil society
(Shields, 2010), however, this model lacks in literature on longitudinal studies for
providing organizational systems for sustainability.
Reid (2004) defined sustainable improvement as enduring, one that demands
committed relationships and not “fleeting infatuation.” Systems of inquiry are focused
on improving outcomes embedded into the practice of educators. Sustainability in an
organization occurs when capacity is built to make continuous improvements in student
academic achievement. Fullan (2005) stressed that for change to be sustained; the change
process needs to address instructional resources new teaching approaches, and possibly a
change in underlying pedagogical assumptions and beliefs. Systemic changes happen
over the long term because the changes are more fundamental. Although they take longer
to achieve, they will have a greater impact once accomplished (Fullan).
Several schools have undergone systemic school reforms and have experienced an
increase in achievement within the first three years of implementation through the
demands of NCLB mandates. Fullan (2005) argued that such reform practices as NCLB
are on the surface practices limited in scope and are neither deep nor sustainable.
Similarly, Collins (2001) argued that charismatic leaders, usually hired for turnaround
schools, are negatively associated with sustainability. In his book Good to Great, Collins
analyzed 11 successful companies that experienced sustainability and identified what he
calls Level Five “Executive Leader.” These leaders were not flashy or charismatic, but
had humility and modesty and tenacity. While some schools have focused on improving
teaching and learning, others have focused on building collaborative cultures to improve
teaching practice and increase student engagement to increase sustainability.
Hargreaves and Fink
Hargreaves and Fink (2000) wrote, “Sustainability does not simply mean whether
something will last. It addressed how particular initiatives can be developed without
compromising the development of others in the surrounding environment now and in the
future” (p. 30). After conducting a study of more than three decades in eight high
schools, Hargreaves and Fink (2003) agreed with Fullan’s (2005) assertion, and offered
examples of lack of sustainable leadership practices in this era of reform and
accountability. For example, they note that charismatic school leaders at underachieving
schools, such as a “turnaround school” leave after first experiencing success and the
school cannot sustain growth in student achievement. This is because the changes made
are not deeply embedded into the schools’ culture. Collins (2001) concurred with
Hargreaves and wrote that many board members and district level directors may hire
charismatic leaders instead of strong Level Five leaders (committed and humble) from
within the organization who can move the organization from good to great. Hiring Level
Five leaders from within can sustain growth over hiring charismatic or turnaround leaders
because they tend to move to their next promotion after short term successes (Collins,
2001; Hargreaves & Fink, 2003; Hargreaves & Goodson, 2004; Fullan, 2005).
Sustainability is also compromised when the principal of a low performing school
is replaced by another from a high performing school. The new principal usually brings
along teacher leaders from the other high performing school, thereby “robbing” other
schools of their teacher leaders. A third example is one of a magnet school that opens to
select top performing students from neighboring schools, thereby leaving those schools
with low achieving students or students with behavior problems or disabilities.
Hargreaves and Fink (2003) reported that these are all examples of unsustainable
leadership promoted by the school district or by state mandates. More importantly, the
last two examples support the notion that low performing students are short-changed.
The study also found that most school leadership processes and practices leave little longlasting change.
Hargreaves and Fink’s (2000) study identified eight principles of sustainable
leadership that centered on structural, procedural, and cultural changes in organizations:
The first is that sustainable leadership matters by creating, preserving, and sustaining
learning. This kind of learning engages students socially, intellectually, and emotionally
as well. It is the deep learning that counts more than achievement scores (Fullan, 2011;
Stoll, Fink & Earl, 2002). The second is by securing success over time. Sustainable
leadership lasts. Changes should outlast its charismatic leaders who come and progress
to the next big promotion. Succession plans are in place from the first day of the new
leader’s appointment. Schools and districts that had a succession plan were rare
(Hargreaves & Fink, 2006). Many schools in the study saw a revolving door in
administration, thereby demoralizing faculty which could account for the high turnover
rate in school leadership, especially in schools with high minority and high poverty
students. The third principle is that successful leaders stay at their sites longer to promote
sustainability and long-lasting changes. They also noted that successors are groomed.
Sustaining leadership of others is their fourth principle. Sustainable leadership spreads
by distributing leadership among faculty, so that the work continues once the leader
leaves. The fifth principle is to address the issues of social justice. Sustainable
leadership is socially just to benefit all schools and all students and not just a few at the
expense of the rest. Opening up magnet and charter schools often times skims off the top
students in neighboring schools. Sustainable leadership recognizes this fact and is
mindful of such actions. The sixth principle is to develop and not deplete resources.
Sustainable leadership is a resource. Resources allow time for leaders to share networks,
coach one another, and learn to support each other. Demands for reforms and budget cuts
have left school leaders feeling overwhelmed and isolated. Sustainable leadership knows
how to care for their leaders so that leadership is not draining but lasting. The seventh
principle is developing environmental diversity and capacity. Sustainable leadership
promotes diversity. It builds capacity and does not impose standardized templates.
Finally, sustainable leadership is about undertaking activist engagement with the
environment. Hargreaves and Fink (2003) encouraged leaders to engage assertively with
their environment and become spokespersons for the school and community in which
they work.
In conclusion, Hargreaves and Fink (2003) stated that it is not the leaders who let
their schools down but the system in which they lead, and worked within.
Table 5
Two Approaches to Building Sustainability
Hargreaves and Fink (2003)
Michael Fullan ( 2005)
Focus on initiatives
Focus on system changes
1. Creating, preserving, and sustaining learning.
Sustainable leadership matters.
1. Public service to raise the bar, close the
achievement gap, and treat people with respect
2. Securing success over time. Succession planning
2. Change context at all levels. Change culture and
structure completely for whole systems
3. Successors should be groomed and should stay
longer at their sites.
3. Commitment to short and long term goals.
4. Sustaining leadership of others. Distributed
4. Long lever of leadership. Build leadership at all
5. Addressing issues of social justice. It does not
steal resources or the brightest students from
neighboring schools
5.Deep learning
6. Develop resources. Allow time for leaders to
coach, and network.
6. Build networks and lateral capacity to work with
7. Promote diversity and build capacity
7. Cyclical energy. Keep pushing for higher levels
of achievement
8. Activist leader. Become a spokesperson for the
8.Build accountability and vertical networking
While Hargreaves focused more on initiatives for sustainable leadership, Fullan
(2005) focused more on systems change.
Fullan (2005) defined the word sustain using its Latin roots “sustineo” that means
to keep up. “Sustainability is the capacity of a system to engage in the complexities of
continuous improvement; consistent with deep values of human purpose” (p. ix). He
declared that it is leadership and not leaders who bring about sustainability.
Fullan (2005) discussed eight elements of sustainability in his book, Leadership &
Sustainability. First and foremost, public service must be delivered with a moral purpose.
Fullan described three aspects of moral purpose that are: raise the bar and close the
achievement gap of students, treat people with respect (showing support, being
responsive and demanding, depending on the circumstances), and altering the social
environment for the better. Second, leaders have commitment to change the context at all
levels. This means that the entire organizational structure and culture changes for this to
happen. Fullan asked that leaders increase purposeful interaction between and among the
school, the community, and the district, for changes in the whole system.
The third element is to build lateral capacity through networks. Lateral capacity
building is a powerful strategy because peers learn best from peers. Teachers and leaders
can form powerful networks within and across schools, and districts. This networking
effort should be focused on quality knowledge and free of just sharing opinions and
beliefs. Intelligent accountability and having vertical relationships are the fourth
element. Vertical relationships such as those between the state and the district, and the
district and the school in terms of providing resources and building accountability are
important to building sustainability. The fifth element is deep learning which takes place
at the student, teacher, school, district, and government level for continuous
improvement, adaptation, and problem solving needed for sustainability. Schools,
teachers, and organizations should be encouraged to set up a system of transparent data
gathering, drive out fear to implement a new course of action and make sure that
everyone learns from mistakes if the new action plan does not work. Deep learners are
constantly adjusting, revising, making mid-course corrections, abandoning, or expanding,
using data. The next element is for dual commitment to short and long-term results.
Actions are taken to achieve early results with schools in dire conditions. Once public
trust is established, schools and districts must continue with the eight sustainability and
capacity building actions (Fullan, 2005). This builds and establishes strong systems over
time and brings about long term results. The seventh element is that sustainability is
cyclical. It has growth and plateaus, unlike the demands of Adequate Yearly Progress of
NCLB. Keeping up positive energy in schools and organization is built through
collaborative cultures that push for higher levels of achievement. Negative cultures are
more tiresome and keep people from full engagement. Learning organizations are
involved in cycles of continuous improvement. The final element is the long lever of
leadership. Leadership at all levels and not a particular leader is what brings about
sustainability. Leaders at all levels have to be trained to think of the big picture and
know how their actions affect the whole system. Leaders at all levels must know how to
put in place the eight elements of sustainability.
In conclusion, districts should lead both the initiatives that Hargreaves and Fink
recommended, as well as build systems within their organizations as mentioned by
Fullan, for sustainability to occur. A powerful example of successful systems
organization that most school can implement comes from the work of DuFour (2004) on
Professional Learning Communities.
Professional Learning Communities
Building Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) is a method often used in
school reform efforts where teachers work collaboratively and hold themselves as well as
each other accountable to improve student achievement by increasing teacher
effectiveness is the classroom. PLC is also an ongoing process that develops teacher
leadership to sustain school improvement. PLCs include members who are motivated by
a shared vision and who support and motivate each other to increase student achievement
(Stoll, Bolman, McMahon, Wallace & Thomas, 2006).
This kind of work requires commitment and hard work so that it fuels continuous
improvement. It is a method that can address Fullan’s (2011) call for moral purpose in
raising the bar and closing the achievement gap. Many leading scholars believe that
schools must be the focus of change in order to improve education. Professional
Learning Communities (PLCs) are a powerful way of working at the grade, school, and
district level to focus on strategic actions that mobilize educators toward much needed
reform (DuFour, 2004).
The core principles of PLCs, listed and described, ensure sustainability if they
become embedded in the school culture. 1) Ensuring that students learn. Changes begin
to happen when the leader ignites the teachers’ moral imperative to focus on the learning
that takes place, instead of focusing on teaching. The staff builds common ground and
develops belief that meets the needs of all students and what it means to have high
expectations. Teachers discuss and provide interventions for students not meeting
academic standards. Through dialogue with colleagues, students receive systematic,
timely, and directive support. 2) A culture of collaboration. Leaders must create a
culture where there is a collective purpose of learning for all. This collaboration is about
professional practice and dialogue. The process is systematic and brings teachers
together to analyze and improve classroom practice. This in turn leads to higher student
achievement. This dialogue can focus on school improvement goals, such as common
assessments and creating SMART (Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic and
Time-bound) goals. Teachers collaborate frequently to plan their instruction based on
formative assessments. Scheduling time for teachers to collaborate regularly is a priority.
3) Focus on result. Working together to improve student achievement becomes routine.
The results oriented schools do not suffer from the DRIP syndrome (Data
Rich/Information Poor). Data becomes a catalyst for sharing strategies, ideas, materials,
and talents. The focus is on continuous improvement as Professional Learning
Communities build capacity. 4) For Professional Learning Communities to be
successful, elements of human resources and structure have to be present (Kruse & Bryk,
1994). Human resources include trust, respect, and knowledge of skills, supportive
leadership, and socialization. Schools also need to have structural conditions such as
time to meet and collaborate, physical proximity for meeting together, communication
structures (vertical and lateral), and interdependent teaching roles.
Supportive Leadership and Structural Support
Building PLCs can be difficult to bring about and sustain (Moller, 2006). Schools
need supportive leadership and structural supports to build long-lasting PLCs (CCSRI,
2011). Principals encourage PLCs by distributing leadership duties among teacher
leaders (Moller, 2006), provide professional development opportunities based on teacher
needs (Bolman et al., 2005; DuFour, 2004), provide student data when needed, establish a
high-trust environment for teachers (Hargreaves & Fink, 2006), and make resources
available for teachers. In addition to supportive leadership, structural supports are also
needed. These supports include providing teachers common times to collaborate, release
time for professional development, and common planning times (DuFour, 2004).
Supovitz (2002) argued that these provisions may not necessarily result in improved
instruction if the focus of PLCs is not clearly laid out. An explicit focus on instructional
outcomes is needed for there to be an improvement in teaching and learning. PLCs do
enhance the culture of the school by building collegiality and trust. PLC teachers have
identified many benefits of this effort: reduction of isolation; shared responsibility for
student success; greater job satisfaction and higher morale; increased commitment to the
mission and vision of the school; and lower rates of absenteeism (Hord, 1997).
Successful PLCs have supportive leaders and committed teachers who connect
student learning and continuous improvement to its school vision. This shared vision
provides for purposeful decision making and professional development to build teacher
leader capacity (Moller, 2006). Case studies of three high poverty elementary schools
showed a remarkable increase in student achievement over a five-year period. All three
schools had PLCs focusing on instructional improvement (Strahan, 2003). The Center
for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement has a multitude of success stories of
schools increasing student achievement as a result of focused PLCs. Similarly, there are
also stories of stagnant achievement in which PLCs lacked focus. Research studies
conducted in 15 schools undergoing restructuring found that more emphasis was given to
restructuring and too little on human resources elements that improve culture, climate,
and interpersonal relationships in schools (Kruse et al., 1994). Professional Learning
Communities are another way to develop schools into healthy, professionally sustaining
environments toward school reform.
Chapter 3
In this chapter, I will provide a brief overview of the study, the theoretical
framework, a brief history of autoethnography, and the research focus. I will explain
why I chose autoethnography as a method for this study, followed by a description of
research method and design. Finally, participant selection and data collection is
described before the analysis of data and summary.
Brief Overview
The role of the principal is critical in raising the bar and closing the achievement
gap particularly in high poverty and high minority schools (Marzano et al., 2005; Branch
et al., 2012). The problem addressed by this study was that few low achieving schools
have effectively undergone sustainable transformations. How does a principal transform
an underperforming school in the era of accountability while keeping staff morale high?
What role, if any, does moral purpose play in raising the bar and closing the achievement
This analytic autoethnographic study highlights leadership practices of a principal
in a high poverty school that has undergone transformation in the school culture over the
course of nine years, from 2003-2012. The significant and continuous improvement in
student achievement over the course of nine years correspond with the change in
leadership at Pangani Elementary School, thus leadership practices by the school
principal warrants further analysis. Fullan’s (2011) conceptual framework of using six
strategies for realizing the moral imperative for educators to raise the bar and close the
achievement gap was used for this study. The six strategies Fullan offers to bring about
change are; 1) Make a personal commitment; 2) Build relationships; 3) Focus on
implementation; 4) Develop the collaborative; 5) Connect to the outside; 6) Be relentless
(and divert distracters).
The central research questions framed to focus on transformational leadership
practices were:
1. What strategies did I use to mobilize staff to bring about changes in the school
2. What strategies did I use to bring about changes in the organizational system
to increase accountability?
There is very little research on long-term sustainability practices in high poverty
schools that have undergone transformations. In addition, I was not able to locate any
research that focused on almost a decade of continuous growth in high poverty schools,
nor was I able to locate autoethnographic studies of leadership and long-term
sustainability in high poverty schools. Principals in high poverty schools have a
revolving door and last less than five years (Chenoweth, 2012; Rice, 2010; Branch et al.,
2012; Loeb & Valant, 2009).
Therefore, this research advances the field of successful leadership practices in
high poverty schools because: 1) this study is a longitudinal study covering nine years
worth data; 2) most studies do not focus on the individual principal in the process of
transformation; 3) this study takes into account the experiences of immigrants, second
language learners, and people of color in the school’s transformation process; 4) it
recounts the larger macro-level forces that shape the lives of administrators, teachers,
students, and parents; and 5), focus on socio-political consciousness that shapes personal
agency. Due to limited research available, qualitative research is the preferred method of
this inquiry to gain in depth understanding of this subject.
Qualitative research seeks to understand people’s interpretations of their
experiences as reality (Merriam, 2009). Qualitative research is holistic in its focus, using
descriptions of events, lived experiences, and philosophies which occur in the natural
setting, thereby allowing for a complete picture of what is to be studied (Stainback &
Stainback, 1988). This method allowed researchers to make accurate situational
decisions where variables under study are not pre-defined as in quantitative research.
The analytic autoethnography is triangulated by several sources of data and is valid
within postmodern philosophy of research.
History of Autoethnography
Within the parameters of qualitative research is autoethnography (Chang, 2008;
Denzin, 2006; Ellis, 2004; Ellis & Bochner, 2000). Autoethnography connects the
personal or self (auto) layer of consciousness to the cultural (ethnos) (Reed-Danahay,
1997; Ellis & Bochner, 2000). The research described and analyzed (graphy) to the
personal experience (auto) to understand the cultural (ethno) experience (Ellis, 2004).
The researcher, therefore, uses both the autobiographic and the ethnographic experience
for the study, thus making autoethnography a method consisting of both a process and a
product (Ellis, Adams & Bochner, 2011). In the 1980s a “crisis of confidence” inspired
by postmodernism provided many opportunities to reform social science and reconceived
the objectives of social science inquiries (Ellis & Bochner, 2000). As such, scholars
became concerned by social science’s empirical and positivist limitations. ReedDanahay (1997) described autoethnography as a postmodernist construct. Scholars began
illustrating how scientists tied “facts” and “truths” to paradigms and vocabularies
represented by scientists, therefore limiting inquiry (Ellis et al., 2011). They began
appreciating the relationship between authors, text, and its audience as they realized that
stories taught morals and ethics and introduced ways of thinking.
Additionally, there was also an increased need to resist the clinical research
methods of exploiting people and their cultures only to make a profit after publishing
their research (Ellis et al., 2011). While scholars discovered new relationships between
authors and texts, introducing a unique way of thinking and helping people make sense of
themselves and others, they became value-centered instead of pretending to stay valuefree. Conventional ways of thinking about research were narrow, and limiting because
different people possess different world views and that there were many ways of
speaking, writing, valuing, and believing (Ellis et al., 2011). Scholars soon turned to
autoethnography because they wanted to respond to critiques by making their research
more meaningful, accessible, and grounded in personal experience (Ellis & Bochner,
2000). Personal experiences, circumstances, and resources affect how research is
influenced; therefore, making it hard to remain neutral, impersonal, and objective
(Denzin, 2006). Thus, this genre uses postmodern philosophy of research, much the
opposite of positivist, hypothesis-driven research. According to Ellis et al. (2011),
autoethnography is an approach acknowledging subjectivity, emotionality, and the
researcher’s influence on the research.
Autoethnographic Research Focus
For autoethnography, any aspect of one’s life can become a research focus
(Chang, 2008) where the researcher uses direct observation of behaviors and
understanding of lived experiences and cultural accounting. Personal experiences with
illnesses, racism, infertility, gender roles, and life in academia are some reasons to choose
autoethnography as a method so that readers have a better understanding of social
phenomenon through the lived experiences of the authors.
Forms of autoethnography vary in emphasis, depending on how much it focuses
on the study of others, the self, and interaction with others (Ellis et al., 2011).
In reflexive studies, autoethnographers expose their personal ethnographic
experiences, process, or feelings from the field. One such example is a teacher of
minority students writing a reflective narrative. The teacher’s reflection could change her
praxis by engaging with culturally responsive practices (Ladson-Billings, 1992). In a
reflexive study of personal experiences, the researcher is the subject and uses personal
experience as a foundation for research (Berg, 2009; Ellis & Bochner, 2000).
Evocative autoethnographic genre reveal highly charged personal narratives by
authors who want the readers to fully share their experience through emotional recall
such as a narrative experience of a complex mother daughter relationship, or a father’s
death. For traditional social scientists, these are the most controversial forms of
autoethnography because of lack of analysis or connections to scholarly literature. Such
evocative or emotive autoethnographies, argued Chang (2008), should have cultural
analysis and interpretation otherwise they are considered more as autobiographies and
Narrative ethnographies refer to texts which are presented as stories which
include the researchers’ experiences and analysis of others. For example, A Man in the
Principal’s Office by Wolcott (1984) documented vividly experiences of a principal in
Wolcott’s ethnography. Written in 1973, this anthropological case study of an
elementary school principal vividly describes the daily responsibilities of a school
principal. The experiences have provided an in-depth understanding of the role of a
principal and the book has been cited in many studies. Lived experience can add a rich
and deep understanding of qualitative research.
Autoethnography as narrative inquiry tells a personal story but some scholars
argue that allowing stories to speak for themselves borders on narcissism. Clandinin and
Connelly (2004) suggested transitioning from field texts to research texts where the
stories are the field texts and the research is the analysis and interpretation of the text.
These research texts can take many different forms that the researchers choose, thereby
providing hybrid of disciplinary genres.
Analytic autoethnography refers to studies in which the researcher is a complete
member of the setting and is visible as such in the text. The agenda should be committed
to the theoretical understanding of the social phenomena through analytic research
(Anderson, 2006). Anderson described analytic ethnographies as one that “uses
empirical data to gain insight into some broader act of social phenomena than those
provided by the data themselves” (p. 387). To write analytic autoethnography, the
researcher must be a full member, or Complete Member Researcher (CMR), in the group
or setting being researched, be visible as a member in the researcher’s published account,
and committed to focusing on improving theoretical understanding through analytic
research (Anderson).
Why Autoethnography?
How does one measure moral purpose if not from one’s own experience and
reasons for actions? Fullan’s (2010) framework uses the moral imperative to drive much
needed reform in the public school system. Because autoethnography is an
autobiographical genre of research and writing that has many layers of consciousness, it
allowed me to connect the self to the surrounding culture (Ellis & Bochner, 2000).
Additionally, I wanted to take into account the importance of the macro-level forces that
shape the lives of administrators, teachers and students while dealing with day-to-day
socio-political barriers related to student achievement.
Analytic autoethnography in particular allowed me to utilize data from personal
narrative accounts which described my experiences while dealing with challenges faced
at high poverty schools, and utilize other data sources that I had accumulated over nine
years. The narrative inquiry provoked feelings, emotions, and dialogue around students,
teachers and the general culture of the school. This is important because the research
allowed me to closely examine and critique my actions as a principal in handling
strategies, frustrations, and challenges from the time I became a principal from 20032012 through the use of the data mentioned above. My personal experiences as a
principal who took over one of the largest, poorest, most diverse, and lowest performing
schools and transformed it to the highest performing Title 1 school in the district helped
me clarify my understanding of the struggles faced by principals in similar schools.
Writing an autoethnography was a challenge for me in other ways as well.
Having been raised in an eastern culture, I was taught never to focus on the self, as the
focus should always be on the greater community. It was a challenge for me to re-train
myself and allow myself to write an autoethnography, though I was encouraged by my
committee members. Creative writing is not a strength of mine and I looked forward to
the challenge of writing the narrative.
Autoethnographers must also include cultural interpretation and analysis that
connects the self to the culture. For example, my lived experiences and reflections will
allow the reader to become co-participants in recorded experience (Ellis & Bochner,
2000). It will also enable educators to reflect upon their own personal experiences in
relation to mine. Written in the first person, autoethnographic text can appear in the form
of short stories, fiction, novels, poetry, photographic essays, and other forms of
communication. I will use anecdotal notes, reflexive journal entries, meeting agendas,
test scores, and narrative entries. The narrative allowed me to write in a personalized
style, drawing on my own experience (Wall, 2006).
Research Method and Design
To understand the context studied, it is important to get a holistic view from the
perspective of the principal who is part of the subculture studied. The principal is the
person driving the change; therefore, we must embrace her voice and the subjectivity that
it comes with it, unlike traditional research where one has to keep the voice of the
researcher separate. The personal experience will broaden the understanding of the
school culture which is the center of the research. Reed-Danahay (1997) suggested that
one discovers oneself through writing. Proponents of self-study draw on the rich
autoethnographic experiences of the writers. The first-hand lived experiences written in
the first person should be valued.
I chose the analytic autoethnography as the best method and design for my selfstudy because this method is analytical and my positionality fit the criteria of being a
complete member in the research due to the intimate familiarity because of my
occupation as school principal, otherwise known as an opportunistic CMR. Anderson
(2006) found this kind of CMR to be the most compelling ethnographer. He
recommended five key features in analytic autoethnography: 1) the CMR is born in the
group or may have acquired intimate familiarity through occupational or lifestyle
participation; 2) the CMR uses analytic reflexivity which involves self-conscious
introspection with a desire to understand actions of self in relation to others; 3) the CMR
uses narrative visibility which illuminates self to construct meaning and value in the
social world they investigate; 4) the CMR dialogues with informants beyond the self so
that one does not become self-absorbed; 5) the CMR shows commitment to theoretical
analysis using a broad set of data toward theoretical development.
Using so many different sources of data allowed for triangulation and the
reflective nature of analytic autoethnography allowed me to give depth to the knowledge
of the social world under investigation and avoid being self-absorbed. The data sources
allowed me to analyze reasons for successful transformation and the feeling of inclusivity
that the students, teachers, and parents felt on campus. The central research questions
framed to focus on transformational leadership practices are:
1. What strategies did I use to mobilize staff to bring about changes in the school
2. What strategies did I use to bring about changes in the organizational system
to increase accountability?
Data will be examined from multiple sources to answer the research questions.
Generalizability, Validity and Reliability
Generalizability should not become an issue in the area of autoethnographic
research because the research has internal validity. My experiences at Pangani and the
leadership actions will enhance understanding of transformational leadership practices in
other low performing schools. The study should provide opportunities to the reader to
connect with experiences of the researcher. The focus of generalizability moves from
researcher to reader to determine if a story speaks to them about their experience and
whether unfamiliar processes are illuminated (Ellis & Bochner, 2000).
There is much debate on the autoethnographic methodology, questioning whether
a personal narrative can be credible, dependable, and trustworthy. Ellis and Bochner
(2000) posited that to be valid, the readers have to be able to identify with the
experiences of the author. To enhance validity of my research, I used several data pieces
collected over the course of nine years. I recorded the chronology of events based on my
note-books and personal calendars that I had saved over the last nine years. Additionally,
I used charts created by my teachers that had the recorded history of Pangani (Appendix
According to Ellis and Bochner (2000), questions of reliability refer to the
narrator’s credibility. Does the autoethnographer have credibility and have the
experiences described? Is there factual evidence? For this reason, public data such as
test scores, suspension data and attendance data were also used to corroborate the
narrative. In addition, data was triangulated using two hundred and fifteen selected
articles out of four hundred that were printed as raw data. These articles represented
meeting notes, minutes, newsletters, and memos. Over sixty pages of narrative recording
my lived experience was also used. Five teachers, one vice-principal, and one academic
intervention teacher were also used for member-checking.
Participants and Data Collection
In autoethnography, because the participant in the study is the researcher, the
focus is on my leadership practices and how these practices were driven by moral
purpose to close the achievement gap and have high expectations for all. In speaking
about the school and its culture, it is necessary to mention staff members, parents, and
students in my writing. Thus, pseudonyms were used for the school and all individuals
mentioned in the research. As I began to write, gather data, and analyze events, I spoke
to several teachers, parents, students and staff members to get their opinions on topics
related to the study because they were equal participants in the social science community
under study (Anderson, 2006).
I used personal notes taken during every school district office meeting, faculty
meetings, memos, walk-through notes, and student discipline logs. I have saved almost
nine years worth of calendars, memos, note-books to record my meetings, parent
information letters, student discipline logs, minutes from staff and leadership minutes,
raw data from collaborative sessions with staff to create mission and vision, for example.
In addition to going through all my hand-written records from note-books, I also printed
out two hundred and fifteen documents that I perceive as relevant to research from about
four hundred documents that I sifted through on my hard drive. These documents that I
used as communication devices or documentation of important events helped me to
remember the actions, and interactions with the school community from the beginning of
my tenure as principal. A chart which was created with the help of the school staff to
record the history of Pangani’s transformation from 2003 -2008 was also located
(Appendix G) as was the school vision and mission chart (Appendix D).
Public data, such as awards, suspension data, test scores, and school
accountability report cards were also examined. Data collection tools include data
collected over the course of nine years. To increase validity and reliability, I used four
kinds of data to triangulate.
1. Personal memory data. This data chronicles and highlights my experiences as
an elementary principal over the past nine years. Selected staff members
helped with the accuracy of certain data pieces that I needed to cross
2. Self observational/self reflective data. A collection of random journal entries
and email exchanges with staff and other principal colleagues were used. I
began collecting these artifacts and saving them in a folder called memoir
about six years ago because I wanted to save unique stories of students,
teachers, and parents who overcame extraordinary circumstances, stories of
resiliency, funny things children say, and so on. I simply copied and pasted
some that came in the form of emails. For others, I logged the event and
wrote my reflections about the event. I have used several of these examples in
Chapter 4.
3. Historical time-line. Artifacts such as charts and notes were used from staff
and leadership meetings of important events over the course of my tenure at
Pangani. All documents chronicling the development of the mission, vision,
core values at Pangani, were used. A chart which was created collectively by
the school staff establishing Pangani’s history in terms of changes in school
climate, assessment of student progress, collaboration, staff development,
curriculum, and intervention has been invaluable for the autoethnography.
4. External data. These are all the data available to the public such as CST
scores, meeting agendas, suspension data, student attendance record, parent
involvement data, etc. In addition, I used my calendars and meetings
notebook that I have saved since I first took control of the school to help me to
recollect events in the past. I included responses of student and teacher
Undoubtedly, the study will include a subjective narrative. Therefore, additional
artifacts, documents, agendas, newsletters, and achievement data will be included to
enhance triangulation as well as help the construction and interpretation of my
experiences. The introspective nature of the study allowed me to be reflective, reflexive,
and honest of my fears and doubts about confronting issues related to my leadership
skills. Meaning was derived from the analysis of common strands and key attributes by
using a coding system similar to that used in analyzing transcripts.
Data Analysis
Chang (2008) reminded researchers about the ethnographic intent of the cultural
understanding of self during the analysis of data. The meanings of behaviors need to be
interpreted in their cultural context. According to Chang, the data analysis and
interpretation moves in and out from the self in relationship to others, from the personal
to social realm, submerging and emerging out of data. Writing begins during the analysis
and interpreting state because of the interactive nature of analysis and interpretation. She
describes this step of methodological analysis as nebulous to instruct and describe
because the researcher has to have deep insight, a creative mixing of approaches, and
patience with uncertainty.
As I was writing, I kept referring to the data I had collected. As my writing
continued, so did my self-analysis and introspection. I soon began to search for recurring
patterns which applied to the theoretical framework of transformational leadership and
moral imperative as a strategy. The patterns and themes that emerged were not imposed
prior to data collection although I kept the research questions at the back of my mind
while writing the narrative in Chapter 4. Student stories and their resiliency kept coming
to the forefront, as well as the actions of staff members that were caring and selfless.
When I began to write each night, the writing flowed and I wanted to share about student
stories more than curriculum, instruction, and leadership actions because their stories are
compelling and how we advocate for our students is what makes our work bold and
powerful. Our moral imperative revolves around the lives of students we serve, so their
stories took center stage in the narrative.
I used five teachers, one vice-principal and one academic coordinator who had
worked at the site over the nine years for the purpose of member-checking. Member
checking is done when facts and interpretations are checked with others members who
remember events. This cross-checking helps clarify certain events and interpretation.
Some teachers reminded me of events that I had forgotten about, such as the year when
we had fourteen teachers pregnant in one year and how busy I was trying to help the
substitutes. During one of the member checking incidences, I was reminded about how
lucky I was to receive training in curriculum and instruction because the district saw it as
a priority to train principals of low performing schools. This made me appreciative and I
realized then that the district had supported my instructional leadership in many ways.
Coding the data proved to be overwhelming at first because I have almost nine
years worth of notes, emails, newsletters, agendas, etc. It helped to separate artifacts by
historical time-line. I used it to record what happened from year to year and crosschecked it with the historical time-line created with my staff (Appendix G). Then I
separated the artifacts by actions driven by moral purpose, actions that led to student
achievement, records of celebrating successes, collaborative actions, directives to put
systems in place, personal notes to congratulate teachers and students for their successes,
etc. I found this process to be messy and confusing at times because there were many
overlapping categories. The analysis and interpretation of data took a lot longer than I
had imagined because the large amount of data I had collected over the nine years.
According to Chang (2008), autoethnography is becoming a useful and powerful
research tool for educators in multicultural settings because it offers research friendly
methods, it enhances cultural understanding of self and others, and it has the potential to
transform self and others toward cross-cultural understanding. I found autoethnographic
method to be researcher-friendly because I had easy access to the primary data source
because of my lived experiences. Analytic autoethnography allowed me to use a baseline
of data as well as introspection while writing a reflective narrative account of my
experiences. Going through the process of analysis and interpretation helped me deepen
my understanding of leadership practices and learn from my mistakes and how certain
actions motivated motion leadership. Self-reflection and self-examination are keys to self
understanding (Nieto, 2003). Autoethnographies can be political in nature if readers
identify with the important political issues presented in the narrative. At Pangani, for
instance, teachers are aware of the socio-political barriers of our students who are
immigrants, whose parents have been incarcerated, or who live in poverty. The teachers
continually create opportunities that enrich and empower their students. In the case of
this research study, my hope is also that readers who are principals will examine their
own practices to help close the achievement gap through transformational and
transformative leadership practices.
Background of the School
Pangani Elementary is located in a very large urban school district in northern
California. It is a very large Pre-K-6 Title 1 school on a year-round schedule. Therefore,
it has over a 100 staff and faculty members, 70 of who are certificated employees. There
are over 1200 students, all whom qualify for the universal free school lunch program.
The campus houses a Healthy Start office which serves families in need of extra support
by ensuring children and families know how to access community resources; a County
Office of Education program for disabled students (managed by the county office); seven
preschools under my management that are run by Head Start, State preschool program,
and the district preschool program; a Child Development Inc. facility for child care; an
Even Start program for parents who want to learn English; and an after-school program
which serves 120 students. Other enrichment programs such as theater, choir, basketball,
flag football, volleyball, MESA and such programs are run by teachers as part of their
adjunct duties. Many parents call the campus a little city because there are so many
resources offered to the families. It is considered the hub of the community. Many
faculty members and students have come and gone in the last eight years. Students are
transient because of the large numbers of rental units in the neighborhood. Many
teachers have either retired or transferred to other schools in the last eight years because
of change in administration, or personal necessity.
Demographics of Pangani
There are 1060 students in K-6 class, and 140 students enrolled in the seven
preschool classes at Pangani. The figures below represent K-6 students.
Figure 5
Student Population by Ethnicity
Population by Ethnicity
Pangani is a very diverse school with only 26 White students. All the students
qualify for free and reduced lunch. There are 22 different languages spoken. Forty-eight
percent of the students are English Language Learners. Forty-seven percent of the
students are Hispanic, 25% are African American, and 16% Asian. Only two percent of
the students are White. The poverty rate of the school has increased over the last eight
years has increased from 76% to 96%. Pangani Elementary had 96% of its students
qualifying for free meals in 2011, thereby qualifying all students to receive free breakfast
and lunch. Students who stay for the after school program enjoy a snack at 2:30 pm and
a supper at 5:30 pm before heading home. The English Language Learner population has
also seen an increase from 36% to 48% from 2003-2011. Within this group, there has
been an increase in Hispanic students and a decrease in Vietnamese students as their
families have moved to better housing in neighboring areas. There has also been an
increase in students from Laos who generally arrive with fewer academic skills as
compared to Vietnamese students. African American student population has increased
over the last eight years while Asian student population has declined.
Academic Performance
Figure 6 tracks Academic Performance Index (API) from 2003 to 2011 based on
California Standards Test. API is an accountability system established in California.
API scores range from 200 to 1000. API measures the academic performance and growth
of schools. API also accounts for sub-group accountability. API scores are also used to
rank schools to 100 similar schools that have similar challenges and opportunities.
Figure 6
Performance Data from 2003-2011 by Academic Performance Index (API)
Pangani Elementary’s API scores over the last eight years, as seen in Figure 6
have seen steady growth. In 2002, Pangani Elementary had an API index of 657 and
increased to 692 the following year. At 782 points in 2011, Pangani Elementary is only
18 points away from the coveted 800 points. On Similar Schools Ranking, Pangani
Elementary has a ranking of nine out of ten. API scores are used to rank schools from
one to ten when compared to 100 schools with similar challenges and opportunities. A
rank of nine or ten out of ten means that the school is well above average when compared
to 100 schools with similar mix of demographic challenges in California.
Figure 7
Proficiency Rates in English Language Arts and Math from 2003-2011
As seen in Figure 7, school-wide proficiency rate in English Language Arts grew
from 22% in 2003 to 48% in 2011. In Mathematics, growth in school-wide proficiency
has occurred from 31% in 2003 to 59% in 2011.
Table 6
Proficiency Rates by Subgroups from 2002-2003 School Year to 2011-2012 in English
Language Arts and Math
% Proficient ELA
% Proficient MATH
Socio-economic disadvantaged sub-group information is the same as the overall school score
because 100% of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch meals.
White students are not a significant sub-group because they only represent 2% of the student
Table 6 above, shows proficiency data by sub-groups from 2002-2003 academic
year to 2011-2012 in English Language Arts and Mathematics. Socio-Economically
disadvantaged sub-group reads the same as school-wide data because all students qualify
for the universal lunch program. African American student scores had a big increase
from 29% proficiency to 37% in ELA in 2009-2010 school year. It was the year we
focused on African American students, school-wide, but it was also the year when
Hispanic student scores in ELA fell. The following year, we decided to focus on all of
our students because every sub group needed the help. English Learners saw large gains
in both ELA and Math scores from 2009 -2010 to 2011-2012. This was because Pangani
fully implemented a daily thirty minute program for English Language Development.
Scores for African American students suffered because the program Pangani had in place
for students who did not need the language development program was a vocabulary
development program which was not catered to the needs of students.
Table 7
Suspension Data
Table 7 shows that there were 162 suspensions in 2004-2005 school year, the year
the staff decided to implement a character education program. There was an increase in
suspensions the following year because the staff wanted a zero tolerance policy with
pushing, shoving, bullying and such behaviors. More students were suspended that year.
Character education program was in full swing. The hard work on implementation of the
program translated in better behaved students and a drop in suspensions. The year 20072008 marked the arrival of a new vice-principal. At the same time, we received four new
students that year who had many behavior issues and who had each had between 10-19
suspensions each. The four students (known as frequent fliers) skewed the data that year.
Table 8
Attendance Data 2004-2010
Table 8 shows attendance rates from 2004-2010. Attendance rates have increased
slowly increased over the years. There is a dip in 2008-2009 school year and the reason
is a change in our attendance clerk. The school was not able to follow up with attendance
trends and calls to parents during this year. District wide Attendance campaign has
helped school initiative to increase student attendance. The school district sends monthly
prizes for students with perfect attendance each month with a drawing for a bicycle for
students with perfect attendance all year. Pangani students still struggle to arrive to
school on time. Many students get themselves to school while parents are asleep or at
Additionally, with the changing economy, transiency rates increased from 18% in
2009-10, to 21% in 2010-11 school year.
Chapter 4
Before I begin writing about my heuristic experiences of my journey of changing
the culture and climate of a very large, urban Title 1 school, it is important to know
where I am from. Much of my beliefs, worldviews, and understanding of leadership have
been formed through my personal history and journey through the world as a South
Asian-American Muslim woman. In delving into my recent past, I recently rediscovered
the following journal entry from a doctoral class.
Where I Come From: A Journal Entry for a Doctoral Class (4-12-10)
I was born and raised in Kenya. I am the fourth generation of my family to come
from Kenya. I come from a family of farmers, traders, and blacksmiths. My forefathers
sailed from the coast of Kutch, India, to the coast of East Africa in search of business
opportunities during the times of the British colonial rule in India and East Africa. They
sailed the Indian Ocean in traditional dhow boats –sailing vessels made of mangrove
timbers sewn together with coconut fiber rope instead of sails and propelled solely by an
expansive square canvas sail. I am proud to be Kenyan, and proud of my Indian heritage.
I am also proud to identify myself as an immigrant, a local community leader, and who is
someone seen as a role-model for Muslim women in the United States.
I lived on the beautiful tropical island of Mombasa in Kenya. At the age of five,
my parents sent me to live with my grandparents in Nairobi because they wanted me to
attend an all-girls private school that taught Urdu as a second language. It was important
that I learn to read and write in Urdu because that is the language our elders learned to
write (my mother tongue Kutchi, is not a written language). In Nairobi, I received a lot
of love and care living in a single house brimming with four generations--my
grandparents, my great grandmother, my two uncles, their wives, and their children. My
grandparents lived a very modest life and my uncles did all they could to expose me to
many different experiences to educate me. Raising children and investing in their
education was truly a community effort in Kenya. I grew up with neighbors who spoke
Swahili, Urdu, Punjabi, Gujarati, Somali, Arabic, and Kikuyu. We all spoke different
languages and loved celebrating each other’s religious holidays. Growing up among such
diversity, I naturally learned many of the languages spoken by my neighbors such as
Swahili, Gujarati, and Kutchi before I began learning English in kindergarten. I never
felt different from any of my neighbors or friends at school.
However, there were some people I felt very different from. They were the
people of privilege, the White class. They were the colonialists. Kenya was under the
British rule and even though it gained independence in 1963, the White class had retained
all the privileges of colonial rule. In her book, Why are all the Black Kids Sitting
Together in the Cafeteria, Tatum (2003) defined racism as institutionalized where the
system operates to the advantage of Whites and disadvantage of people of color. In
Kenya, the policies and practices clearly operated to the advantage of the Whites.
As a young child, I thought that all White people were educated and rich. They
were the ones living in the best homes, frequenting the expensive restaurants, driving the
expensive cars, and their children were the ones who attended the most expensive
schools. I did not think that poverty existed among White people because I never saw a
poor expatriate in Kenya! All the literature we studied in schools was European
literature. History, art, and music were centered on the British Empire. I was taught that
everything of worth had been created by Whites. I was told that the pinnacle of culture
and brilliance was European and looked nothing like me or my African counterparts. I
did not read African literature, learn about African art, or study African science. In fact, I
did not learn about the cultural and scientific advances of other cultures until I attended
the university. While I enjoyed the varied poetic styles of English authors, I missed out
on learning Indian literature which I still do not know much about.
My high school was an excellent public school of about 1000 girls. We followed
the British system of education, so we were all tracked based on the national tests that
exiting elementary level students took in order to be selected to their school of choice. I
was placed in the top track, and eventually became a school captain, and leader of several
clubs at the school. I excelled in my studies to the extent that my French teacher told me
that she had submitted my name for a fully funded scholarship that would pay for a
summer program in Paris. Since I was the top student, she told me that I would probably
be selected. Yet she came to me a couple of weeks later and apologized to me saying, “I
am sorry, Fawzia. Your nomination for the French scholarship was denied. I have to
send another student’s name.” At first I did not understand what she was saying. “Why?
I have been the top student for the last two years and the scholarship clearly states that
the top student from each school would get the scholarship. I have been working hard for
it all year long!” She placed a hand around my shoulders and explained, “The Ministry
of Education wants us to send only black Kenyans. I am so sorry. There is nothing I can
do. You don’t qualify.” I remained quiet. I knew she was disappointed too. I had heard
that the Kenyan government was trying to encourage more black Kenyans to take a more
active role in Kenya’s business and politics. I just thought that it was unfair since I had
worked hard for it. I was denied the scholarship to me because I was of Indian origin.
The government wanted the scholarship to go to a Black indigenous Kenyan. I felt sorry
for myself. During the British rule, the British had all the favors and after independence,
the indigenous Kenyans had the upper hand. I knew that many East African Indians were
quite well-off and educated but my community was not as educated. I felt that the
government should give scholarships according to merit. After all, I was a citizen. After
four generations, it seemed like we were still immigrants. I was upset. It was the first
time I felt “homeless” in my own country. Kenya was my home and had been my
family’s home for generations. We no longer had any family ties in India. My parents
tried to pacify me by saying that it was not meant to be and that I would have other
chances to travel, so I should let go of my hurt feelings. As a sixteen-year-old student, I
did not understand why; Kenya was the only home I knew and I was rejected because of
my cultural heritage. Eventually, I did earn a full scholarship to France, and the initial
pain healed a little, but I never felt completely at home after this encounter.
The community I came from did not believe in educating their daughters. There
are many well-educated Indian communities, but mine was not one of them. Indian
communities are formed according to the religion, language spoken, trade (social class),
and geographic location of the forefathers in India. Boys in my community only received
a high school education, as most of them were groomed to take over their father’s
business. The girls were married off from the age of 16. All marriages were arranged by
their parents.
I was good at my studies and my parents fully supported my desire to continue
with my education. I read voraciously and enjoyed talking about world news and
philosophy with my parents. I had endless opinions about many things, but I would
never speak up in front of other community elders. Even if my elders made a wrong
judgment, or gave out incorrect information, I never said anything out of respect for their
age and out of fear that I would be treated as an outcast. I was afraid that if I spoke up,
they would deny my entrance to college (small Indian communities live by what the
elders say); and I so badly wanted to go to college. No other girl from my community
had ever gone past high school. There was only one university in Kenya in those days
and only seven percent of high school graduates earned admission to this prestigious
university. I was lucky to get admission.
Instead of congratulating me and my parents, my community elders came to tell
my father that no boy would want to marry a girl with more education. “Really?” I
thought to myself. “Well, I would be better off without someone as narrow minded as
that.” They also told my parents that colleges were co-ed and that was no place for a
respectable girl. They were afraid that I would choose my own husband if I was exposed
to higher education (meaning becoming independent) and perhaps marry someone who
did not belong to our (narrow-minded) community. My community members needed to
open their minds I thought. How could they when they do not believe in higher
education? They are all too busy running businesses. All other Indian community
leaders help their children go to college and my community leaders were stopping their
children from doing just that! I felt rebellious but did not do or say anything out of
respect for my parents. I was in the adjacent room listening to the conversation between
the elders and my parents, with my ear close to the open door, angry and afraid at the
same time, not sure how my parents would handle the matter. I could hear my dad’s
voice rise in annoyance and distemper. He is normally a soft spoken man, respected for
his leadership, wisdom, and character:
Instead of encouraging our daughters to go to college, you are here to stop them
from being educated further? This is the reason our community is narrow-minded
and lagging behind other communities. Please leave and do not come back unless
you are here for a good cause. My wife and I have complete faith in our daughter.
No-one is going to prevent her or any of my children from going to college. I
have complete trust in my daughter.
Hearing these words from my parents completely changed my life from then on. I
became confident about shaping my own future in education. Who knew my own
community would be prejudiced against me because I was a girl? “Why waste the
money educating girls, they said. What good would an education do her? After all she
will belong to another family and will be at home raising a family.” But my parents
acted as my change agents, believing in me and having the will to take a bold step. I, in
turn, did everything to make them proud so that my younger sisters, and cousins, and
girls in our community would be given a chance to study further. At that moment I
decided that I would do my doctorate and be the first girl in my community to do so. I
would “show them that educated girls can be good daughters, wives, and moms.” I
concentrated on my studies and never dated anyone. It was a sacrifice I made to pay my
parents back for their trust in me. I could not disappoint them. The education of my little
sisters and cousins was at stake. I agreed to an arranged marriage to a person I knew
since childhood. I was lucky that my parents chose a man who was kind, supportive,
open-minded, and funny. I trusted their judgment. I grew to love him.
More Conflict
My arrival to the US brought with it a new wave of internal conflicts. I felt
trapped in choices mired in East vs. West dichotomies. What do I keep of my
Kenyan/Indian culture (there were certainly practices that I did not like) and what
American ways do I adopt? Even now, years later, I still struggle with these decisions. I
was not aware of the extensive needs of the poor and minority groups in the United States
until I entered and completed my credential program at a University with the
multicultural education program.
It was during the credential program that I felt the most empowered to make a
difference. I had worked for the United Nations in Kenya, and later in a private British
High School for children of diplomats. While I enjoyed those jobs, neither gave me the
satisfaction that I received when I began work at a Title 1 school; thanks to the
empowering classes on race and diversity in my credential program. There, I felt that I
had finally found my voice, my calling. I began working for my students as a teacher and
now as a principal. I continue to fight for equity in education, advocate for more
resources for disenfranchised students, and raise awareness amongst disinvested
communities related to opportunities already available for their children.
In her book, Tatum (2003) challenged the reader to find the courage to overcome
our fears to create a more just society. I have found that courage by working alongside
my school community and standing in solidarity with them here at Pangani Elementary
school. Pangani was one of the lowest performing schools out of 39 elementary schools
in the district and now has the highest API of all Title 1 schools. Student achievement
has continued to increase. Parents are more involved than ever. Students are building
character and leadership skills. We teach our students to give back to the community
through service learning. In addition, I see a community transforming because of the
strong alliance school leadership and community partnerships have built among the
regions elementary, middle and high schools. When our moral purpose drives our
actions, our collective strength and determination creates positive motion towards a better
future for our students.
I am committed to expanding my work with a wider audience, not just my school
community. I am committed to continue being a voice for all children, especially those
who have been traditionally barred from higher achievement, regardless of whether those
barriers are caused by society, family dynamics, religion, immigrant status or culture. I
am active with, and rooted in the local community, urging students to go to college and
working with their parents. I also pay particular attention to conservative Muslim groups
encouraging them to allow their daughters to continue with their higher education. There
is an African proverb that says, “If you educate a boy, you educate an individual. If you
educate a girl, you educate a community.” Only the educated are free. End of journal
My Accidental Path to Education
I did not want to become a teacher. Many of my teachers told me that I was a
natural at teaching; I often tutored friends, and organized many clubs after school. My
mother wanted me to become a teacher too. She had dreamt to become a teacher, but
could not. She was married off while she was still in high school because my
grandparents only had enough money to educate their sons. In Kenya during those days,
most of the bright girls were destined to become teachers. “I didn’t want to be
stereotyped and boxed in.” I had rather planned to learn languages and become a
linguist, traveling around the world and working for the United Nations.
I ended up beginning my teaching career by chance in Kenya. While pursuing my
bachelor’s degree in French and Sociology in Nairobi, Kenya, I was working for the
United Nations conferences as a French/English interpreter. When I finished my degree,
I went to Mombasa where my parents lived. My plan was to spend a year in Mombasa
and then travel to Europe for further studies. I had already checked out available
scholarships. Because Mombasa is a small town, there were not many jobs available, so I
applied at a private British school to teach French and was lucky to be hired because noone else was available to teach it. The school only hired expatriates or teachers from the
United Kingdom, so I was the only Kenyan citizen to be hired at this prestigious school.
The private school had a privileged clientele where students followed the British
curriculum and were expected to attend university in England or America.
I taught children of diplomats and British expatriates for four years before coming
to America. The one-year assignment lasted for four as I found teaching to be very
exciting and satisfying. In those four years, I managed to revamp the French department,
open a French club for students and began an exchange program with students from
Madagascar. I quickly became a respected and well-known teacher in Mombasa. I
planned to continue teaching high school French in the United States after I moved here.
I also spent ten years raising my children at home and running a
daycare/preschool out of my home because I wanted to be home to raise my own
children. When my younger son started school, I went to the university to ask about
credentialing classes. I believe it was karma that the first person I met in the teachereducation building was a caring professor who influenced my teaching career immensely.
He asked me a few questions about myself and he convinced me to enroll in the Bilingual
and Multicultural Education Program. I had not given much thought about teaching
underserved students before I began my credential program. The program sounded
intriguing, so I enrolled in it.
Interest in Social-Justice Work/Awareness of Moral Purpose
It is the social justice training that I received at this teacher-education institute
that completely changed my interests in the teaching field. It was at this teacher
education program that I felt empowered to dedicate my career to Title 1 students. I
learned about the different groups living in the United States and their struggles with
class, gender, poverty, immigration, and race. I learned about the bilingual education and
all the teaching strategies. I learned about the culture of poverty and how important it
was for students from diverse backgrounds to be taught by teachers who looked like them
(Phelan, Davidson & Yu, 1998). I felt I had a lot in common with students in Title 1
schools. I am an immigrant, a Muslim, an East Indian, a woman, and I saw poverty daily
in Kenya. I had also traveled extensively and had lived amongst diverse communities,
which helped me work and thrive in the vastly multicultural urban schools of Northern
My first year teaching in America was my toughest year as a teacher. Despite my
theoretical base in multicultural education, I was not prepared to deal with students in the
Title 1 elementary school where I was hired as a sixth grade teacher. I found the students
to be rude and unruly, yet I struggled with managing student behaviors. My panic gave
me diarrhea on the first day of school because I did not know how to handle such a
disrespectful class! I was sure that I did not need to use any of the behavior management
tools I had learned to control my class. These behavior management tools used extrinsic
rewards such as play time, class money to buy prizes if students behaved well. I believed
that learning should be intrinsic and such awards seemed like bribery to me. After all, I
had been a very successful teacher in Kenya, where I had no behavior issues. Students
respected their teachers in Kenya and so did their parents. In America, I realized quickly
that students needed “instant gratification,” earning points, candies, prizes and false
praise; I say false because students expected you to say “good job” even when they were
not doing a good job! My work was cut out for me! I had to really get to know the
students and the culture of my students to know what mattered to them and how I could
reach them. I also realized that students in Kenya considered education to be a privilege
because school was not free and was indeed very competitive. In the United States,
public education was a right and it was free. In Kenya, schools and educators were
sacred and treated as such. As an immigrant, and a first year teacher, I struggled to
understand the disparities.
I acknowledged that I did not have the management tools for a class of thirty-four
eleven year-olds. To begin with, I was told by one of my colleagues that I, as the new
teacher, received all the “difficult to handle” students that other teachers did not want. I
think she took pity on me and offered to take back one of the most difficult students who
was originally assigned to her. Apparently this happened to any new teachers arriving at
that school. I wished that the other colleagues would do the same but they did not. I did
not say anything because I was new and saw this as a challenge and put myself to work. I
remembered the phrase “if I could reach them, I could teach them.” While relationships
(reaching students) take time to establish, I needed to have a behavior system down so
that I could teach and not waste any precious class time. I spent my first year as a teacher
and a fairly new immigrant in an American school struggling to understand the behaviors
of my students and the fact that students did not seem to appreciate the beautiful
classrooms, the playgrounds, the free meals in the cafeteria, the availability of computers
and libraries. Now, I have a better understanding of the inequities in the education
system by neighborhoods and zip codes. I also spent all of my vacation time observing
different teachers and their behavior management styles. I was being tested by my
students. I worked incredibly hard to learn from my colleagues and to see what
management tools worked with my students and how I could make the curriculum
engaging and relevant to their lives. By the end of the year, I had my class under control,
but I was one exhausted teacher! There were days during my first year of teaching that I
did not look forward to going to work because I did not want to face my students who
took so much of my energy. I felt they were at least two years behind children their age
in Kenya were. I had to spend every minute of the day trying to get them caught up
because I did not want them to fail in middle school. I was worried about my students
because I noticed that even students from poor backgrounds in Kenya whom I had tutored
were better in writing, grammar, and math skills. I knew my new students were capable
of doing much better. My tough class and my struggles in my first year of teaching only
strengthened me as a teacher and strengthened my resolve to dedicate my career to Title 1
Trust Building Takes Time
As administrator, my first year as a principal was my toughest year, reminding me
of my struggles as a first year teacher. I was a vice-principal for four years prior to
becoming a principal because I wanted to be well-prepared for the challenges of being a
principal. I also wanted to wait for an opening at a Title 1 school. Pangani Elementary
was the largest Title 1 school and it was one of the three lowest performing schools in the
district when I applied. I was excited when I interviewed for the job and was selected. I
knew what good instruction looked like and with my ability to speak seven languages
fluently and being able to relate to my students, I knew I could make the changes
necessary. Despite all the research that I had done on the school and conversations with
some staff members about the challenges at the school site, I still had no clue about the
real challenges that awaited me.
The first day to officially begin my role as principal was on Monday, June 16,
2003. I arrived the week before for a brief introduction to the staff by my superintendent.
I entered the double metal doors to the main administrative building, greeted the front
office staff, introduced myself, and went into the principal’s office to drop off a couple of
boxes of my personal belongings. The vice-principal had moved into my office because
she had been the acting principal for at least three months prior to my arrival. The
previous principal resigned because the stress of being a principal at such a large yearround school was too much for her and it was affecting her health. Meanwhile the vice-
principal was in control and finding it hard to let go. She felt very much at home in my
office and looked at me as though I was intruding in her space. I wondered why she
would want to move out of her big office across the room to my office. I knew I was up
for some power struggles on my first day at the new site. The vice-principal was of
retirement age and the teachers seemed to like her. I was struck by how loudly she
spoke. Sometimes her tone was patronizing but often belittling when she spoke to
children in her loud voice. Was I the only one who noticed that? I once asked her to use
a softer tone when talking to children. The vice-principal responded that she had a close
bond with the children who felt “at home” with her yelling. The vice-principal had
applied for my job but did not get it. It made things somewhat uncomfortable for me
especially when I found out that the PTA was also petitioning for the vice-principal to
become the principal. I had to console myself to the fact that there was a reason why I
was hired for this position and not the vice-principal.
During my first month at Pangani, I heard the vice-principal, Ms. Murray on the
intercom for five to ten minutes each morning doing morning announcements. She
would play birthday songs for teachers and mention names of all the students who had
birthdays on that day. The school had 1200 students altogether, so on any given day, the
list was quite extensive. Ten minutes a day, five days a week result to fifty minutes of lost
instructional time a week! Another thing that struck me during my first week at Pangani
was that the beginning and end of the school day were chaotic: Students who came to
school late were allowed to take their breakfast trays to the classroom to eat if they
arrived late. Before the morning bell, students played on the playground. By the time the
bell rang, students were in fights and teachers were trying to solve playground problems
before instruction began. Recesses were disorganized and uncontrolled with the office
seeing endless streams of students who had been in fights… Student pickup during
dismissal at the end of the day was dangerous… There was no plan in place for cars to
drive in and pick students up in an orderly fashion. I walked around with amazement as
to how a school could be so unsafe and disorganized. I kept calm and kept all these
thoughts to myself, wondering how and when to address these problems. There were
fights almost daily at the park adjacent to the school and we would spend at least an hour
monitoring the park after school hours.
I walked the classrooms every day and observed teachers who were friendly and
nurturing to their students. I also noticed many “busy” activities on dittos that were not
challenging, but kept the students engaged in a manner that did not require higher-level
thinking. Although I knew exactly what I wanted to see in the classrooms, changing
instructional practice would take the longest time because I would need teacher buy-in
and that would only happen after I had built trust. Trust building takes time.
I used my first month, June, to observe and interact with students, teachers, and
parents. I asked a lot of questions on what changes teachers and parents would like to see
at the school site. I met one-on-one with all staff members during the day as well. All
staff members (not just teachers) were released for thirty minutes to meet with me in
person, so that we could get to know each other informally. During these meetings, we
would talk about our families, our hobbies and our vision for the school. I asked staff
members individually about the changes they would like to see in the school and I wrote
down all the suggestions. What I noticed most was that teachers wanted to be recognized
for their work. They enjoyed working with each other, but needed direction. They were
tired of the turnover in principals at Pangani; the last four principals had each lasted
about two years, each of them bringing changes that were not sustainable, so teachers
were using forms and behavior referrals from a previous principal whom they liked.
Teachers asked for help for more training with the English Language Learners
population and more parent involvement. From what they told me, overall they felt they
were satisfied with their teaching but felt neglected by the district because they had poor
buildings and too many changes in administration. The sense I got was that they loved
the children and that it was too bad that their parents did not seem to care enough to come
to school functions or help children with the homework. There were some teachers,
however, who had a homework club to give children a place to work quietly after school
before they went home. I thought that was very thoughtful of those teachers, considering
they were not getting paid for these extra hours. I saw some teachers with sound
instructional practices and high student expectations, and I saw many other teachers
giving busy work to keep students quiet and the environment orderly, but there was not
much learning going on. A five-minute warm-up routine would take forty in those
classes. Early finishers would complete coloring packets, word searches, and other
mindless busy work. Dittos were used regularly and students were not being challenged.
I kept the observations about the instruction to myself for the first year. Changing
teachers’ instructional practices would be a hard subject to deal with. I needed to do
some trust building and do daily walk-throughs to understand teacher strength and
weaknesses. As for teachers who blamed the parents for their students’ low achievement,
shifting their paradigm was something that needed to happen. Being caring is not enough
for our students; we have to raise the bar by increasing our expectations of our students.
We have to make sure that our students can stand on an equal footing academically with
other students once they leave our schools.
Period of Self-Doubt
From the interviews with staff, I learned there were several teachers with Masters’
degrees, a couple of them were in leadership roles in their previous professions, and
many had over 20 years of teaching experience. Because of this information, this was a
time of self-doubt, as I was intimidated by their collective experience. Due to the fact
that I am a second language learner in a foreign country and was still learning American
ways, my own thinking about my experiences shaped my self-consciousness. The White
colonialist reality and my experiences from Kenya nagged me for a while. In Kenya the
Whites were always the boss. I questioned: Will I be successful leading all these White
teachers who are so learned and experienced? Will I earn their respect? Will I be able
to lead them?
Though I struggled a bit, I knew better than to allow these thoughts to overwhelm
me. I brought experiences that my teachers did not have, such as having lived in Africa
among multi-cultures, having traveled the world and speaking seven languages fluently.
Additionally, I had prepared myself professionally for this position. I was resilient and I
knew how to treat everyone with respect, I knew how to create circumstances that
support success and how to build positive motion.
Diverting Distracters with Instant Wins: How I Began to Grow
My mentors told me to observe and build relationships for the first year and not to
bring about any changes. Yet, there were many distracters that took away from learning
time. Some things were easy fixes that could bring about order to the school as we
planned for the new school year. The fights after school were also going to take more
involvement from everyone but I was not quite sure how to stop those just yet. These
two items were left to be tackled later in the year but there were some easy solutions that
I knew could not wait because they had to do with safety or attendance (also called
instant wins). They were also easy to implement because they would support the teachers
and did not involve any curricular or pedagogical changes. Whenever changes are
implemented, ideas are either given to me when I ask for suggestions at our leadership
meetings or if the idea is mine, I talk to key teachers to get their input on how the changes
would be perceived by the community. The ultimate question I ask myself is: “Is this
good for kids?” Once we agree to bring forth any changes, the plan is communicated to
all stakeholders and then implemented; continued dialogue occurs during the
implementation which includes requests for feedback.
The first quick fix or instant win was a change in the breakfast policy. Breakfast
would only be served between 7:30 and 7:45 am. This gave students enough time to eat
and be ready for class by 8 am. We wanted all students to come to school on time and to
eat a full breakfast I the cafeteria. Of course we had pretzels and breakfast bars for
students who arrived late and came hungry. Yet, I did not want the late meal to be an
enjoyable one; rather I wanted students to come early for a hot meal. We were not going
to cater to late-comers any more. Teachers loved this change, but parents did not and
were upset with me. However, they quickly learned to send their children to school on
time. Each morning I would wait by the school gates to monitor all the late arrivals and
would ask all children why they are tardy. In addition, children who would come to
school late and by themselves because parents are either sleeping or at work, were given
alarm clocks that cost $2.99 at IKEA.
The second instant win we experienced was implementing a rule that mandated
that children line up after breakfast instead of playing on the playground. This prevented
fights on the playground in the morning and saved teachers precious instructional time
because they did not have to resolve playground fights. Teachers liked this rule, but
students and parents did not. Once I explained my reason to the parents via the monthly
newsletter, the parents understood why. The third instant win was that there were to be
no announcements over the intercom while school was in session, except on Monday
morning. All important information for teachers would be communicated through a
weekly newsletter. This allowed teachers extra time to teach instead of listening to
birthday announcements each morning. Students would be acknowledged for their
birthdays during their lunch times in the cafeteria and teachers would be acknowledged in
the weekly bulletin which had the week’s events and any other pertinent announcements
for staff. An added benefit of this change is that the teachers liked the fact that they did
not have to hear the long, meaningless announcements. A fourth change instituted was to
mandate that all teachers walk their children in a line from their classrooms to the front of
the school where parents were waiting after school. This assured us that no children
would loiter in the hallways (hence lessen the temptation to steal from unattended
classrooms) after school and also assured that teachers would have a chance to
communicate with, or greet parents every day. Though teachers did not like this, they
understood my reason behind it and obliged.
Now for more than eight years later, all teachers walk their students to the front of
the school and say goodbye to them individually as children leave the school for the day.
Teachers tell me that this rule has enabled them to connect with their students even more
because they have the extra time to talk to students while they are walking to the front of
the school. When teachers are visible in front of the school, it also allows them to touch
base with parents and to update parents on a child’s behavior. Moreover, parents get to
see caring adults outside the classroom; they know our teachers are caring enough to
walk their students out. To further facilitate manageable changes, I also announced that I
wanted a safety committee formed for the parking lot pick-up procedures. The parent
pick-up and drop-off routines needed careful planning with input from several parents
and teachers.
Two unplanned incidences in my first year worked in my favor as I reflect on
them. The first was that I had to write up an incompetent teacher who had been hired the
year before. Although she was a very kind person who got along with everyone, she did
not know how to teach; she taught fifth graders like they were second graders. Moreover,
children in her class got into fist fights almost weekly, probably because they were not
being challenged in class and there were no systems in place for behaviors. I worked
with her the entire year and when I did not see any changes in her methods, I had enough
documentation to show she needed a lot of improvement. Luckily she had not received
her tenure yet. I worked diligently to document everything that she was (not) doing. My
students deserved better. One year was too long for children to miss out on their
learning. If I did not spend my time to evaluate this teacher, then after her tenure it
would be almost impossible to remove her and many children would suffer just because I
did not do my job. We do not do justice to our children by not evaluating our teachers in
a timely manner. So amidst all the chaos of my first year, I had to deal with this teacher.
Moreover, new teachers need a lot of support and I have seen so many improve to
become fabulous teachers; but for those who do not show any improvement despite the
support, administrators need to do their part and evaluate them out before their tenure. I
wish other principals would spend their time removing incompetent teachers before they
were tenured. In our district it has become almost impossible to remove incompetent
teachers once they are tenured. What a waste of a year in a child’s education if his or her
teacher is not a good teacher!
Many teachers were upset with me for firing this kind and friendly teacher who
got along well with them. For example, Mr. Tamm asked me, “is it true that you are
evaluating Ms. Smith out? I really like her. She has done a good job helping me with
basket-ball this year.” Another teacher said: “She is very kind to children.” Yet, I had to
tell them that I did what I had to do because our children deserved better. Consequently,
word spread around that I was not the shy, quiet principal they thought I was. Because I
speak less and listen more, some teachers thought I lacked confidence, and I admit, there
were many times I felt unsure; but, I also knew that I always find the answers because I
know how to reach out for help.
Another incident that helped me to build my leadership abilities during my first
year was not allowing a bright and beautiful student to participate for her sixth grade
promotion. I remember having spent countless hours trying to build relationships with
this young girl because she was involved in fights with other girls almost weekly. I tried
counseling her, involving her in leadership roles, and I selected her to be a special helper
to keep her occupied so that she would not be around other girls and pick fights. She
participated in a small-group counseling sessions, so that she could use words to solve
problems instead of her fists. She was a bully and nothing I tried stopped her from fights
during and after school hours. The student ended up with many suspensions and finally I
had to give her an ultimatum, two weeks before her sixth grade promotion to stop
fighting otherwise I would not allow her to participate during her promotion. I was so
sure she would be able to control herself for two weeks! Yet, the week of the sixth grade
promotion, the student asked three fifth grade girls to her house after school. In her front
yard, the girls began exchanging words, which resulted in a fist-fight. The young lady’s
father ran out of the house, jumped on the fifth grade girls, punched one girl, and pushed
the other to the ground. I remember one of the neighbors hysterically calling the school,
describing what was going on. We had to call the police to break the fight, and the dad
was taken into custody. Subsequently, I suspended the girl for the rest of the week,
which meant she could not be part of the sixth grade promotion! That was a close call! I
honestly did not know whether or not I had the backbone as a first year principal to deny
a sixth grader her promotion ceremony! However, the teachers were impressed and so
were the parents. The word at school was “Don’t mess with the principal. She is tough
and means what she says.” I never told anyone about my self-doubt, however.
This young lady came to see me just two months ago, eight years later. She
waited at my office to tell me that she was now mentoring young girls who were foolish
like she had been. She was in college. She came back just to tell me that because she
wanted me to be proud of her! She told me that I was the first person to tell her that she
could go to college. She remembered my words about being bright and using her
intelligence to make a difference, instead of wasting her energy on negative things. To
think that I had written her off because she lacked good role models at home! In
addition, I am quite sure there was someone in her high school who provided her with the
support she needed. But most important is the lesson that this experience taught me.
Sometimes we touch lives of people in unexpected ways. I learned from this experience
that we have to keep hope alive and not allow our biases to get the better of us. Because I
had been unsuccessful with all the interventions I had tried with her, it did not mean that
this young lady did not have the where withal within her to change the course of her life!
The tipping point for me was the district support I had in moving the viceprincipal to another site. I told my boss that if he wanted to see improvements at the
school site, I needed a supportive vice-principal, not one who worked to sabotage me. I
told him how my current vice-principal was having clandestine meetings with teachers to
say that I was bringing in too many changes that were not good for the school and that I
was undermining her authority. The next year, my vice-principal was transferred to
another school and in her place I had a skilled leader who was on board with the changes
that were taking place.
Persistence and Hard Work: Dealing with the Physical Environment
The physical appearance of Pangani was dreary and quite dirty. There were fortyfour very old and cluttered portables used as classrooms. The multi-purpose room and
three big containers in the back of the school stored excess and obsolete furniture. In
addition, every other portable classroom had huge rat traps under the classroom.
Teachers told me that the portables were at least 30-years-old, musty, with mice that
often ran across their classrooms. I was appalled to hear that. I wondered if parents at
high income schools would tolerate such an environment.
I first began with areas that had to deal with cleanliness and safety. The
bathrooms smelled bad and there was litter all over the campus before the start of each
day. I started applying pressure on the custodian to keep the campus clean. I began
writing up the custodian to get him to do his job after I saw that my kindness to him did
not make a difference. Each class was also assigned one week for campus clean-up duty,
with the idea that if students take ownership, they would be less likely to litter. The
custodian and I began going through all of the extra furniture and sent the unneeded items
to the district warehouse. We cleaned the multi-purpose room of the excess furniture; we
cleaned out the storage sheds and donated one big shed to another school. To further
facilitate this process, teachers were paid an extra half day to clean out all their
classrooms of unwanted library books and old curriculum. This they did gladly. We
brought all the books and unwanted supplies to the multipurpose room for students to
take home (with the district’s permission of course). Not surprisingly, our students were
happy to take home all of these supplies because they did not have any books to read at
home. They even took science and social studies books and charts home with
excitement! Overall, I was excited about improving these structural and relationshipbased connections but by September, I had to deal with something to which I was a
Many of my students and teachers were complaining about being sick; it was my
first year at Pangani. The old portables smelled musty and some teachers were convinced
that there was mold in the buildings. I was worried and called for help from the district
office. Additionally, one of the school clerks in the administration building where my
office was located had been complaining about her eyes burning. She took a transfer to
another school because of her health. Slowly everyone else in the office was
complaining too. I was an instructional leader not a health expert.
The risk-management department from the district office called the mold experts
to run tests in the two rows of classrooms where teachers and students complained about
mold issues. There was mass hysteria: Was there a gas leak somewhere that caused the
burning sensation in the eyes? Was it the drinking water that caused the sore-throat?
Perhaps the school was built on a land-fill because the classrooms were slightly tilted
and sinking? While district experts sealed off the administration building to carry out air
quality tests, nine staff members previously housed in the administration building,
including myself, were moved to the library.
The urgency of these issues meant that this was not a time for me to work on
instruction. I had to create an environment that would make the parents, students, and
teachers feel safe. I did not know how to do that except to assure them that I was in
constant communication with the district, asking them for guidance. Every week, I called
a brief staff meeting and would give an update to teachers about air quality tests and
results. This was important because the teachers were getting restless and upset with lack
of results and actions from the central office. Not to mention they were getting upset
with me because I was the link to the district and it was taking long for air quality results
to come back. As such, the associate superintendent for elementary education asked me
to call a parent information meeting while he invited the doctor handling all sick patients
from our school and our risk-management department to answer parent questions.
Parents asked questions and when it was determined that the results of all the tests
proved to show nothing, the parents were angry and began yelling at the associate
superintendent. I was at a loss as to what to say or do because I did not know what the
findings or the solutions were. More so, I had no idea how to control this angry crowd,
because I did not know the answers. Being new to this community, three months at my
new job in fact, I had neither parents nor teachers trust in me and had not yet established
a rapport with the community. Consequently, I stood on the sidelines while my boss, the
associate superintendent, handled the angry crowd with finesse. He managed to calm the
parents and promised to move their children to a new campus while the central office
decided on next steps.
At the end of the meeting when I thanked him for leading the meeting he pulled
me aside, looked at me with a worried look and said, “This is your school. It is important
that the parents see you as their leader. You should have taken a more active role in the
meeting.” With these three sentences, I sensed his disappointment in me. Since my
arrival at school, I worked tirelessly, devoting many evenings and weekends to throwing
away or donating old books and furniture that were clogging up the rooms and storage
space. Yet, I did not yet have the confidence to stand up in front of an angry group with
whom I was not familiar. I had not yet built the trust with the community in the three
months that I had been there and I did not have any answers to explain the illnesses. I
was still learning. I wanted to give him my reasoning but knew it would sound like I was
being defensive, so I kept quiet. He further told me to invite the most vocal parents to be
part of our site council. How brilliant to get them involved in decision making, I thought.
He also told me to begin arrangements to transfer two grade levels to a new site; then he
left. Once he was gone, I went to the bathroom, closed the door and cried. I felt
completely overwhelmed with my job at this point and prayed to God to grant me the
strength to handle the complicated task ahead of me.
For the next seven months, we transported all of our 144 first grade students, and
144 third grade students every morning to a new school that was still being built; it was
actually a middle school about two miles away from Pangani. We furnished sixteen
classrooms to house eight classes in first grade and eight classes in third grade. We
would feed the children breakfast at Pangani before 7:45 am and the buses would pick up
the students at 7:50 am. Instruction began at the new site at 8:05 am. Yet, many times the
buses would not arrive until 9:00 am because the bus drivers had to complete their
morning routes before coming to our school and there were delays. We would then have
to wait every morning with more than 200 students and try to keep them under control
while waiting for the bus to arrive. Winter months were tough; so were rainy days.
During this time period, I would drive over to the new site everyday during the
instructional day to see if teachers and students needed anything. In addition, on some
days my vice-principal or I would have to drive over multiple times to deal with
discipline or a suspension.
I also arranged for several library books to be delivered weekly to each class
because the children did not have access to the library on the new campus. We arranged
for student lunches to be delivered at the new site daily. The buses would then bring the
children back by the end of the school day. There were days when I was also asked to
ride the school bus with the students because of the fights occurring on the bus or due to
students being defiant towards the bus driver. This scenario lasted until the end of the
school year.
After this time, the air quality results for mold came back negative. Thus, during
this period, the administration building that had been sealed off for eight months and a
new HVAC unit was installed. The classroom portables that had been vacated by first
and third graders were given a “face-lift” with new paint and repairs. The students and
teachers came back on campus at the end of the year. Hearing that the associate
superintendent had accelerated plans for constructing new permanent buildings at
Pangani, the community was happy with the news that construction at Pangani would
begin immediately. Now it was time for my fifth graders to be bused out to another
elementary school for one and a half years while Pangani Elementary went through the
three phases of construction over 18 months.
Commitment, Positive Social Relations and Treating People with Respect
The school had had a revolving door with previous principals, which was
probably one reason why staff morale was low. Stability is needed to develop strong and
trusting relationships to create positive working conditions. Principal retention rates in
high poverty schools continue to decline. In Chicago and Austin, Texas, more than 60%
of lowest performing schools have had three or more principals in a 10-year period
(Cuban, 2010). I remember teachers telling me that I, too, would not last more than two
years because all other principals left after two years. I promised them that I would stay
for at least five years. I knew that it would take me at least three years to know what I
was doing, and then two additional years to bring sustainable changes. Even as I
reassured teachers, I could sense that they didn’t believe me and felt that I too would ask
for a reassignment when the going got tough. Even I am surprised that I stayed longer
than the five years, not only because of the nature of the job, because of the large school
size and a grueling year-round schedule! Previously, after every three years, I looked for
a change in assignment because it would provide me with a challenge and a new learning
opportunity. At Pangani, every day was a challenge! So while I was more comfortable
in my role as a principal by the third year, I was busier than ever because the three years
taught me how much I did not know. My experiences also taught me that there was still a
HUGE task ahead of me. The sustainable changes in embedding systems that optimize
student learning, such as maximizing student learning time, and forming professional
learning communities, and using data to drive instruction took a lot longer than I had
imagined. The progress of turning the school around was slow and steady.
Many teachers had felt that the administration was “out to get them.” For
example, during the era of NCLB accountability, the previous principal had laid some
accountability rules. Teachers were expected to bring their assessment data and talk
about the growth their students were making six weeks into the new school year. This is
a common practice in our school district. We call this the Collaborative Academic
Support Teams (CAST) meeting where the meeting takes place between the principal, the
classroom teacher, the learning center teacher, the speech therapist, the school
psychologist and the reading specialist if there is one. Each teacher then goes over
student academic, social, and emotional needs. The team of experts provides resources to
help meet the needs of the teacher so that she could in turn meet the needs of every
student in her class. From what the teachers told me, many of them were feeling inept
and inadequate during this meeting. The previous administration was condescending if
teachers had not come prepared with student information which led to many teachers who
left the meetings in tears. I realized then that I needed to prepare the teachers ahead of
time by showing them how to present their data and what kinds of resources they could
use. The CAST meetings were thus created to provide additional supports for students
and resources for the teachers. I also saw it as a way for me to know each student’s
strength and weaknesses. I wanted to send out the message that my administration’s role
was to support the teachers and to make them successful. As a result, I told them that a
school was successful if teachers felt successful with their students. The role of
administration was not to criticize them but to build their capacity. I noticed too that the
administrative team which consisted of the academic intervention teacher, academic
program coordinator, and the preschool/after-school program administrator, would all sit
together at the back of the room during each staff meeting. It made teachers nervous and
created a divide. I explicitly told my new team that they were NEVER to sit together and
that they needed to be seated with different grade levels at all meetings. To my surprise,
they did not question it because they probably did not realize how their actions were
being perceived. I also told them explicitly that I did not want to hear them talking
negatively about any staff members and that I expected them to treat everyone with
respect, even teachers they felt were incompetent! Meanwhile, I continued to spend after
school hours visiting classrooms to talk to teachers. I quickly found out who the
respected teachers were. I used them for input on any changes I wanted to bring before I
brought it to leadership. I also kept my union leaders in the loop. They were supportive
because we kept our communication open.
The low morale, change in administration, and poor air-quality also resulted in
two my front office ladies retiring together after having served Pangani for 17 years each
by the end of my first year. The third clerk had already asked for a transfer because she
kept getting sick in the old building. I was not familiar with how the front office had
their systems organized for cumulative records, attendance, parent communication, and
busing, to name a few issues. I was overwhelmed as it was but decided to take this as an
opportunity to hire a new front office staff and put some efficient systems in place!
School-Wide Safety and Building Character
During my first year there were many student suspensions due to fights among
students during recess and on their way home after school. Because of this my viceprincipal and I spent at least an hour or more each day monitoring the parks by the school
to keep students from fighting with each other. For instance, I had to stop several times
on my way to school in the mornings to reprimand students who were walking to school
and were engaged in unsafe behaviors. I had to stop them from running across the streets
in the morning traffic, or throwing rocks at homes or cars, or chasing each other. Often, I
saw little six-year-olds walking themselves to school and worried about their safety.
I was at a loss as to how I could change these behaviors because suspensions did
not change student behaviors and it meant additional loss of instructional time for
students who were suspended from school. I called my district office asking for help. I
heard about a successful program at the County Office of Education that provided Best
Practice guidelines for positive behavior support program school wide. A committee was
assigned to the training and thus began our journey with the school-wide discipline and
character education program which has had a total impact not just the student behavior
but also the community as a whole.
During our first year of implementation of the Best Practice program, we
established three basic rules: Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Responsible. Teachers would
teach students explicitly what those three rules meant and what they looked like, sound
like and feel like. At the beginning of each year, we explained to students what it means
to be safe in the hallways, the bathrooms, the playground, on their way to school, and so
forth. Students are taught how to be respectful and responsible in all school environment
and particularly when talking to adults on campus. We drill these three basic rules every
day until students understand clearly what we expect from them.
Speaking the same language and holding the same understanding of safe,
respectful environments and demonstrating responsible behaviors is important school
wide. Thus, if students are sent to the office for discipline referrals, the students inform
us about the rule they have broken and why they were referred. Noticing how successful
this program was in changing student behaviors, our teachers began asking for more
extensive training for all teachers.
We joined the Center for Youth Citizenship which provided us extensive training
to build civic values and citizenship among our students. With this program, the staff
picked six core character traits to focus on. Each month, we focused on a character
theme and rewarded students and staff who exhibited the character trait. These core traits
are teamwork, responsibility, respect, trustworthiness, caring and giving, justice and
fairness. Additionally, teachers wrote up a five-step school-wide discipline plan that all
teachers agreed to follow. Step one of the plan is a warning from the teacher; step two is
a self-reflection where the student writes down his or her actions that led to step two; step
three is a time-out to another classroom for reflection; step four is a phone call home; and
step five is a visit to the office for administrative intervention.
The school-wide discipline referral process and the clear, explicit instruction and
understanding of the rules, combined with character development increased appropriate
behaviors and solidified the foundation for character. It created a cultural shift and
brought school-wide unity which assisted our school with our aim toward higher
achievement in academics.
When students understand what is expected of them, and are taught explicit
behaviors, they do follow them. We made it fun and created weekly and monthly
rewards for students and teachers who have to model the same behaviors of respect and
responsibility. During the last ten minutes of each week, students who demonstrated
perfect behavior are given a prize. In addition, each month, students are rewarded with
twenty minutes of bingo (using math facts bingo). Each class also votes for a student
who has been a role model for the month based on the rule being emphasized. These
students receive the “Student of the Month” medal and get to eat with friends of their
choice at a beautifully decorated lunch table on the school stage.
Similarly, all staff members are also voted for by their peers and each month
several teachers get a surprise visit by administrators, in the Publishers Clearing House
fashion. This means that we arrive with balloons, a sash for the teacher to wear, a
Starbucks gift card, and a big check for “A Million Thanks.” Staff members and students
love these surprise visits and teachers love to display their awards in their classrooms.
Along with our character education program, the other most important thing that
brought tremendous pride to our teachers, students and parents were the beautiful new
buildings and new furniture. With the beautiful new buildings also came new furniture.
We talked to our students about taking pride in our new buildings and taking care of our
school property by keeping it clean. Even today, teachers, parents, and students do their
best to pick up any garbage they see while walking around. Students earn character
award tickets if they are seen practicing safe, respectful, and responsible behaviors like
picking up trash, and reporting students who violate the school by trashing bathrooms.
These tickets are then drawn at the end of each week for prizes. I saw immense pride and
a sense of safety in our community emanating from our new buildings.
To increase safety, the Safety committee came up with a student drop-off and
pick-up plan for parents. This plan provided structures for a single stream of cars to
arrive to pick up students at a designated area which would be monitored by two teachers.
These teachers would make sure all students are helped into their cars and are wearing
seat belts before they leave. I breathed a sigh of relief when this happened because of the
unruly drivers who make their own rules when there are none to follow.
Each morning, one can hear drum beats-a call for student unity at the sound of the
first bell. We begin with a drum-beat to get students to line up quietly on the blacktop,
and to be ready and focused for the morning pledge. Teachers are expected to come out
to their class lines and greet every student and parents in line. The parents and students
follow the beats by clapping to the rhythm of the drumbeat and recite our school pledge
which the students wrote collectively.
Figure 8
School Pledge
I am safe, I am respectful, I am responsible
We are here to learn, therefore
I will do nothing to keep the teacher from
teaching or anyone from learning
By acting this way, I am taking charge of my
I believe, I will achieve, I will succeed
We introduce special guests on campus and our dads who volunteer their days to
be WatchDOGS (a parent involvement program for dads) on campus. The students then
walk quietly to their classrooms, focused and ready to study.
Building School Pride by Developing People
Teachers began feeling very successful with changes in the school environment.
With behaviors in check and a kinder gentler student body, students spend more time
learning and less time being disciplined. Academic scores continued to increase from
year to year (Table 6). Teachers, students, and parents were energized and feeling proud
of the changes. I wanted everyone to know of the wonderful things happening at
Pangani. Because perception is reality, I wanted to change the perception of Pangani
being a low performing school where student behaviors were out of control and where no
teacher asked to be transferred to.
I began sending in news to the local media about all the wonderful programs and
achievements at our school. We began celebrating our successes with our community
and giving students pep-talks during assemblies. People do not know unless we tell them
and I realized that positive communication is key to building momentum for change. As
an example of the positive press our school was featured in the New York Times and the
local paper because of the continuous growth and change is school culture. Feeling
confident, we applied for a character education award in 2006 for the school.
In 2007, Pangani was one of the three schools in California to win the California
School of Character award and the only school to win the 2009 award. Our students and
teachers took tremendous pride in winning. During the early years, from 2004-2009, we
had several legislative-action visits at our preschools because of our district’s reputation
of being on the cutting edge with preschool programs. When asked if our school could
host these visits, I jumped at the chance, even though they take up a lot of time to
organize such events by; having meetings with legislative staff to create an agenda to
meet the objective of the visit, finding dates, location to debrief, training our student
council leaders to host visitors, and creating opportunities for visitors to be able to
observe and communicate with students and teachers during their visits. I knew that
connections with outside and formal visits would help boost staff morale and get our
school in the news. We also hosted the visitors from department of education from
Cyprus, Afghanistan, and Germany. For the last three years, we have been hosting
teachers from Korea for two weeks each year. Overall, my teachers, students, and I enjoy
these cultural exchanges and learn from them.
Another deliberate action I took to receive some positive publicity was to begin
recognizing teachers who were dedicated and were touching the lives of students in so
many ways. I began nominating them for awards. From the very beginning of my
assignment, I was walking through classrooms almost every day. I wanted to get a sense
of the strengths and weaknesses of my teachers and I wanted to know how students were
learning in the classrooms.
My daily walk-throughs allowed me to know the teaching and learning styles of
students and teachers. It also prompted me recognize teachers who were excelling in
their classrooms. For example, in 2006, I recommended an outstanding teacher for the
Teacher of the Year Award. This is a competitive award which usually goes to teachers
who are in non-title 1 schools probably because principals have more time to write up
recommendations at non-title 1 schools because they have less behaviors and student
socio-emotional problems to deal with. Our Pangani teacher became our school districts
Teacher of the Year, and then moved up to become the 2006 County Teacher of the Year.
When I saw the pride this recognition created in our community, I began carving
out time each year to nominate and recognize one or two teachers and students for their
work. Every year, at least one teacher was awarded a literacy award, a technology award,
a grant, or scholarship. Teachers began to take pride in their work and worked harder
than ever before. There was a lot of positive movement going on; even teachers who
were previously unmotivated displayed greater efficacy. I made sure that I worked with
teachers’ strengths rather than focus on their weaknesses. For example, one of the
teachers had been written-up by a previous administrator for not keeping up with the
curriculum and for not being organized. This teacher told me that her passion was theater
and previous administrators did not allow her to teach theater after school because she
was not the most organized person in the classroom. I told her that starting a theater
program after school was an excellent idea because most of our students’ families do not
have the opportunity to pay for such programs. As such, this particular teacher writes,
directs, builds sets, and creates costumes for our very beloved Theater Club which has
been in session for the last eight years. Our theater group has been invited to present at
district board meetings and at several local events. It is a popular after-school club and
the teacher feels appreciated by all. Her creativity has moved to her classroom where she
is motivated to differentiate instruction with her students and improve student reading
and writing skills. This teacher joined the ranks of twelve other teachers from Pangani
who have won different city, county, or business awards based on my nomination.
Another teacher I nominated had started a girls club after school. Below is an
excerpt from a newsletter describing the club.
Figure 9
Club Description
Pangani Girls Stand Tall!
Spotlight on “LBA”, Leaders, Believers, and Achievers, was created last Fall of 2010 by Sixth Grade
Educators at Pangani Elementary in support of our rising girls on campus. You can find the panther girls
meeting each week throughout the “G Wing”, discussing highs and lows throughout their week, effective
problem solving techniques to common issues, and activities to increase strong leadership skills while
maintaining a focus on higher education. The group was created for intermediate girls grades fourth
through sixth, encouraging the soft spoken ones to express their pride, embrace all the unique personalities,
and ALWAYS guiding the outspoken ones into a positive direction utilizing Character Ed traits embedded
throughout Pangani culture. Leaders, Believers, and Achievers in the Making………
Spotlight was created to reiterate positive communication skills, share true feelings and common
passions, understand and strengthen relationships increasing one’s self esteem and confidence,
consequently improving academic performance on a daily basis. When excessive patterns involving girl’s
gossip, rumors, and withdrawn behavior seemed apparent on and off campus, Sixth Grade Educators
created Spotlight in attempts to dilute many ongoing issues with some of our girls. Etiquette, as well as
pride and respect for one’s self are also honed in on, considering many school days are left short in
addressing maintenance needs, along with specific ways to appropriately dress in academic and
professional settings. Not only has the group proven to be a huge a success for our excited students who
can hardly await each Wednesday, but it also gives a sense of belonging, creates a positive bond between
younger and older students, and gives our female students the opportunity to be role models and mentors to
those in need. “Not only have the disciplinary issues decreased since the establishment of Spotlight, but
many issues are resolved with techniques learned from LBA, which are apparent and often used as a
reference tool when spoken to by Administrators,” comments Vice Principal Mrs. Johnson. Johnson goes
on to state “Spotlight empowers our students to solve their issues before festering, making them
accountable for their choices, and reflecting on effective strategies and lifelong skills to use in the near
future, actions which seemed to be lacking prior to the creation of Spotlight”. “This in turn has created a
profound change in the climate here at Pangani, which is positive and beneficial to all students and their
education”, says Johnson. Sixth graders love it too! Jessi Moore exclaims, “We love Spotlight, and it
gives us “girls” something to look forward to each week. I feel proud when I tell others I’m a “Spotlight”
girl because I really do enjoy working with the younger students, I love to dance, and I constantly learn
how to be a stronger leader by solving my own problems and helping others resolve their problems too”
says Sixth grader Jessi Moore. ‘I can’t wait for every Wednesday to get here!”
Spotlight was created to address the needs of ALL participants, whether it be creating an outlet for
girls to share a common passion (dance component), receive feedback on how to speak with their best
friend about a problem, or just be in a comfortable environment enjoying the company of a Spotlight
friend; regardless the need, Spotlight is meant to benefit each and every girl walking through the doors.
Next week’s topics will be focused on raising funds for SGSA (Sixth grade Science Alliance), leadership
actions to take when rumors arise, and which areas of academics will be focused on before the MYPASS
assessment is administered. The girls are also working together on a dance routine in hopes for another
gathering benefiting Science campers next Spring. Spotlight meets every Wednesday from 2:45-4pm in the
G wing. We look forward to meeting each and every Pantheress this year!
Every two or three years a different teacher runs a club for boys and/or girls to build their
self-esteem and leadership skills. Student council and peer-mediation programs are ongoing programs but other mentor programs are run by individual teachers who would like
to empower students by giving them additional skills to deal with challenges they may
face because of the color of their skin, their economic background, or gender.
Being Relentless When Dealing With Challenges
With Pangani being on a year-round schedule, the entire student and staff body is
divided into four tracks, with one track on vacation during any given month, thereby
increasing the seating capacity of by 25%. When one track returns from vacation,
another track goes on break, resulting in having to do everything, such as assemblies,
trainings, testing, etc. twice. Because we are never together as a whole school on any
given day of the year, it is a challenge for us to train staff because I cannot mandate
teachers to come during their off-track time (although many come if I pay them a
stipend). Assemblies, performances, and testing are scheduled for two different months,
so that all children can participate, and so are our Back to School Nights and Open
Houses. It is also very complicated to have all the teachers on the same lesson on any
given week because one track is always ahead of all the tracks, when giving tests and
comparing data.
Large elementary schools are tough to handle if one does not have enough
administrative help particularly large schools on year-round schedules. Year-round
schedules work well for students and teachers because they are typically on campus for
sixty days and on vacation for twenty but they run the principals haggard because the
school closes for two weeks only between one academic year and the next. My husband
tells me every morning how pretty I look and when I get home exhausted in the evenings,
he says I look like someone ran their truck over me! Having a large student body, and a
staff of 100 plus, I have to respond to emergencies big and there is never down time and
at all times, being people-centered is an imperative.
Because of my extremely busy schedule and the high transiency rates of students,
it is hard to remember names of all 1200 plus students. At times, I feel very guilty when
students greet me at school or while shopping and I cannot recall their names.
Sometimes I have to pretend to recognize students or parents who greet me in the stores.
Those are the days that I wish I had a small school which would allow me to know the
names of all my students and parents. Elementary schools, especially those in high
poverty should not be large. When we create very large elementary schools, we do our
students a disservice because they need more adult interaction and more individualized
attention in terms of interventions.
When I look at all the similar schools to Pangani (each school is given a similar
schools rank when compared to 100 other schools that have similar demographics such as
poverty rate percentage of minority students, parents education level, etc.), they are much
smaller in size than Pangani (Appendix H). Only six schools in the state of California
have a better score than Pangani on the similar schools ranking. I noticed that those six
schools are much smaller schools. Each of the six schools tested an average of 233
students while Pangani tested 638 students in 2010. This tells me that schools need to be
smaller. Pangani has 1266 students when preschool students are counted. Each grade
level has five to eight classes! Sometimes it becomes hard to manage and keep track of
everything that is going on in everyone’s lives- students and teachers!
Allocating Resources Appropriately
Having good knowledge of how to allocate resources and maneuver budgets to
meet the needs of the school improvement plan is an important skill to have. The
majority of our budgets are allocated to hiring additional staff that provides support for
student interventions so that our students experience success. Technology upgrades and
professional development for teachers are also high on the priority list. Because we are
given our final budgets in the middle of the year (after the governor presents the state
budget), we begin our year allocating our resources very conservatively. By the time we
receive our final allocation, half the academic year has already gone, which is a
frustration for principals. If I knew what the school’s final allocation was before the
beginning of each academic year, my whole school plan would look very different
because the governor’s budget is released after the academic year is has begun.
Instructional Focus and Accountability
Because Pangani was one of the lowest performing schools in the district the year
I took over the school, it had qualified for a Reading First grant. Using federal funds for
the lowest performing schools, The Reading First Program provided the schools with
support to improve reading achievement from kindergarten to third grade. The school
staff had to agree to its mandates in return for staff development for changes in
instructional practice. The staff at Pangani had agreed to the become a Reading First
school in exchange for the training and the mandates to write up Action Plans and show
proof that we were following the plan. We were closely monitored by district and
Reading First officials who frequently conducted walk-throughs and reviewed reading
test scores. When I joined the school, I had to learn everything about the requirements
for being a Reading First school. As a new principal I was overwhelmed with all the
mandates and with trying to motivate my resistant staff to put some of the trainings into
practice. I had to deal with teachers who felt threatened by so many observers in their
classrooms and being closely monitored on teaching strategies and reading scores. Also,
I had to attend extra trainings for principals in the first three years of my new job with all
other issues I had to deal with. Despite the extra responsibility, I soon found that this was
a blessing in disguise because it strengthened my instructional leadership and shook up
some complacent teacher attitudes.
Reading First funded a reading coach whom I used as a consultant not just for
teachers, but for me as well, because she had a strong background in reading. She
provided teachers with lesson study models and demo lessons to strengthen their
teaching. Additionally, she helped to facilitate data analysis meetings at the different
grade levels, provided teachers with intervention support, tracked reading progress in
primary grades, and provided teachers with any additional supplemental materials they
requested to meet the needs of their students. My teachers became adept at
differentiating instruction based on needs of students. Along with the coach, Pangani’s
academic intervention administrator was a brilliant person I learned a lot from. She
tracked interventions for the entire student body, making sure that our English Learners,
special education students, gifted students, as well as students who needed socio-
emotional support received the appropriate interventions. I felt lucky to have two such
talented people I could consult and trust. They were both instrumental to the success in
turning around teacher practices and providing targeted interventions in both reading and
in mathematics. I also used the professional development workshops provided by
Reading First as leverage to making instructional changes in the classrooms. Although
only the primary grades had to follow the mandates and trainings of Reading First, I
implemented changes school-wide because they incorporated good instructional practice.
For example, the school had two hours of interrupted reading block each day; every class
had to practice reading fluency every day and display student results; teachers had to test
their students every six weeks, document their results, and analyze them to improve
instruction; every student’s writing had to be displayed; teachers had to display daily
agendas and lesson plan books, etc. Many teachers did not like being forced to make the
changes but I reminded them that the practices were researched based and our school
needed to improve our practice. I told them at a staff meeting in my second year at
Pangani when I felt I had built a level of trust,
It does not make sense to do the same thing over and over again and blame low
scores on students or lack of parent involvement. Do you honestly believe in your
hearts, that only 30% of our students are capable of being proficient and that it is
OK for 70% to fail? What does that say about our teaching and our expectations?
This was one of the toughest conversations I had with my staff. There were many
hurt feelings. One teacher responded by saying,
I work extremely hard. My students know I care about them. I live in the
community and have taught parents of my current students. I help out our
families when they are in crisis. I don’t know what else you want us to do.
I responded with,
I know you are dearly loved in the school community and that you are here until
late, working hard. I also see that you are here for every evening event to help us
out. We need to cater to the academic needs of our students as well. We are not
effective school if we allow 70% of our students to fail. Our school has become
more diverse and the standards for teaching are more defined and demanding
since you began teaching here seventeen years ago. We have to critically
examine the quality of our students’ work and ask ourselves what we need to do
as a school to make improvements. What are our expectations of our students?
Are they high? I can guarantee you that high expectations with proven research
based strategies and curriculum will yield high student results.
After I said my piece, I held my breath. There was an uncomfortable silence.
Some teachers looked down, while others exchanged glances with each other. I quickly
added, “You are too caring of a staff to let your caring get in the way of student learning.
We have to do what it takes to increase our students’ chances to get a decent job and to
get their families out of poverty. I know that is why you chose to teach here. We will all
help each other succeed. My job is to make you the best teachers you can be. I will also
provide you with any support you may need. My goal is for our school to be the top
performing instead of being at the bottom. Collectively we can make it happen.” Some
teachers smiled and nodded their heads, while others did not seem to believe we could
make it happen. Only time would tell.
After making such a bold statement, I felt energized to hold teachers accountable.
We began our book study of Payne’s (1996) book, A Framework for Understanding
Poverty, which helped us to frame our work and create high expectations rather than
make excuses for poor quality work. We understood that we could not use Payne’s
deficit model as an excuse for low expectations because our children came from
impoverished backgrounds. We also began staff development in differentiating
instruction. After each workshop, I would conduct walk-throughs with a focus on
implementation. The environment was intended to provide teachers with support and to
celebrate publicly whenever we made gains in our scores.
Keeping Moral Purpose Ignited by Celebrating Successes
We had a staff party when we moved from 635th place to 69th in Reading First
scores when compared to the other 800 or so California Reading First schools. Pangani
soon became a school visited by other schools for observations, which created a
tremendous sense of pride among the teachers and the community. We make it a habit of
displaying our CST scores in our hallways, to constantly remind us of the work we have
to do. But we also take time to celebrate with students, as well as teachers. Below is an
excerpt from an e-mail I sent to my staff last year.
Figure 10
E-Mail Excerpt
Dear Staff,
Thank you first and foremost for the continued success on reaching higher standards. Your perseverance
and high expectations are paying off as you can see. This note goes out to ALL staff members because
together we cultivate a culture of high expectations for our students to be successful in. Here is a
summary of how we did:
Average API gain in our county
9 points
Average API gain in California
13 points
Gain for Pangani
17 points
Pangani API score
API scores for
African American students
Hispanic students
EL learners
Socioeconomic disadvantaged
50% students proficient and advanced in ELA
57% students proficient and advanced in Math
Similar schools rank
We have a similar schools rank of 9 out of 10.
We are compared to 100 similar schools statewide in order to gain this rank. These schools are picked
based on student and parent background. Only six schools statewide did better than Pangani with API.
 If you notice, ALL schools above us are much smaller and probably not on a year round schedule.
 While we are not where we want to be, we should be VERY proud of our gains.
 We will be celebrating with our community this Thursday during our community Barbeque, with
our students next week, and with teachers during our next track change day, October 1 st.
Thank you again for all the extra hours you put in and for placing our students first. Next year it is
800 or BUST!
Understanding Cultures and Making Connections
I spent my first year driving through our neighborhood at different times of the
day to see what went on in the streets where my students lived. I joined in a coalition for
our area, called Pangani Neighborhood Coalition to improve our neighborhood. This
coalition is powerful and has increased many resources for our community. I began
attending community events because I wanted to learn about all the challenges and
adversities that my students faced daily. I wanted to soak up the culture. I also spent a
lot of time talking to parents about their fears and their hopes for their children. Some of
these fears were gang activities, lack of safe playgrounds for children, lack of affordable
adult education classes to learn English, and criminal activity in the area. Side-by-side
with our city council and local coalition, I hosted several meetings at our site for planning
a neighborhood park and a new library, two much needed facilities to keep our students
out of gangs and juvenile delinquency.
These efforts are important when considering the social context of our area. In a
neighborhood like Pangani’s, parents teach their students to fight back and stand up for
themselves. When I ask students why they choose to hit students back when they know
we have a hands-free rule, many respond that their parents tell them to hit back in selfdefense. The consequence for this, however, is that we have to punish both parties and
not just the aggressor. Therefore, I had to explain to many students that their parent’s
rules applied at home and within the neighborhood but not in school. It took us a long
time to train our students to do the right thing at school. Students in tough neighborhoods
have to stand their ground and fight back when assaulted or harassed, that is the code.
Yet, at school, the right thing to do when confronted by an aggressor is to tell an adult.
This has prevented many fights in and after school hours.
In addition, college is not in the minds of students and families because for many
them, they are trying to survive from day to day. I remember a conversation I had with a
new sixth grade girl was sent recently to the office for using profanity.
Mrs. Keval: You are a beautiful young lady. If you chose to use profanity, people
will use profanity back at you. That is not how a beautiful young lady like
yourself should be treated. You have to respect yourself before others respect
you. What do you want to become when you grow up, I asked.
Student: I don’t know.
Mrs. Keval: Well, you have been here for three months and I am sure that your
friends have told you that I don’t accept shrugs or I-don’t-knows as replies. I
believe that every Pangani Panther is smart enough to reply with an appropriate
Student: Just work, she replied avoiding my eyes.
Mrs. Keval: That is good. What about college? Have you given it a thought?”
Student: I ain’t going to college. I am a freeloader. She said with a snicker.
I knew she had heard that terminology from someone else, being a freeloader.
Thus we spent the next hour talking about all the different jobs she could get with a
college degree and the difference in pay for someone who had a degree when compared
to someone who only had a high school diploma. We also spoke about trade school. Our
discussion made no impact on her because she raised her eyebrows as though she had
made up her mind and that really bothered me. I was usually able to reach students who
would then begin asking question about getting good jobs. Yet this young girl did not
know anyone in her family or neighborhood who had a college degree. I also knew that
some of her cousins ran the local gang in the neighborhood. Thus, I did not know how to
change her attitude and I stayed awake that particular night wondering what the future
held for her.
Another sixth grade student I was talking to told me that he didn’t plan to go to
college because “College costs more than buying a house. If I go to college, only I
benefit. If we save to buy a house, my whole family gets to benefit.” From statements
like these, I realized that many of our students believed they did not have a chance to go
to college because it was so expensive. I arranged for two students from our feeder high
school to come and talk to our sixth grade students about how they received full
scholarships to colleges because of their hard work. This was also a time when, as a
region, we wanted to create a college-going culture. We began organizing college tours
and rallies for our students to join middle and high school students for college and career
day. Our sixth grade students are invited to join Advancement Via Individual
Determination (AVID) classes at the middle schools. Through AVID, a college readiness
system that accelerates student learning, students are beginning to realize that college is a
possibility. Parents have begun to keep their students in our feeder high school because
of this connection. Previously, we were experiencing a “brain drain” where the smart
students would be enrolled in a middle and high school in the better neighborhoods. It
takes a lot of trust and relationship-building with families to convince them that as a
region we do provide our students with a good education. I also remind them that if their
children stay in our region, they have a higher chance of receiving full scholarships to
universities, which is the truth. Our feeder high school has the best counselors who make
sure that their students go to college. It is the relationships with parents that make this
To build relationships immediately, we have a practice at school that when a new
child enrolls (and we have new students almost daily because of high transiency in our
neighborhood), my vice-principal and I make a special effort to greet and welcome the
student personally. This allows us to meet the parent(s) and create positive contacts on
the first day of school. While walking the new student to the class, we begin asking
parents questions about the student’s specific needs and also let parents know how to
volunteer at the school. This gesture allows us to build positive relationships with our
parents as well understand their concerns about their students. Establishing trust with the
parents has been a blessing and the longer I have stayed, the less I have to explain my
disciplinary decisions to parents.
Another way to connect with families is being able to speak their language and
make them feel welcome in the front office. We are lucky that collectively, our front
office staff speaks nine languages fluently! We have not allowed language to be a barrier
for communication, thankfully. I wear my Indian outfits to school every Friday so that
students see that we should be proud of our cultural heritage. Some Vietnamese, Hmong,
and Indian students wear their cultural outfits on Fridays, as well. This has been a
practice of mine since I was a teacher. Our staff encourages our parents to speak to
students in their mother tongue because speaking an extra language can be a bonus when
one is looking for a job.
I have had some funny and some embarrassing experiences trying to understand
some of the nuances of the culture in the Pangani neighborhood. For example, in my first
year as a principal, I had to learn why girls carried Vaseline to school. I discovered that
they applied it before a fight so that their opponents would not be able to grab them or
scratch them! I learned that the term “punk” does not mean “rebellious” and in fact has a
bad connotation in the prison when a parent came in ready to “beat up” a teacher who had
called his son a punk. I learned that the biggest fights among boys were caused by two
words, “your momma!” At times all a boy had to say to another to get him to fight was
“your momma!” I learned that girls get into fights when one says “boo” to the other,
which means “I dare you to fight me.” I also learned that when a child says his sibling or
parent got “faded”, it meant they got high on drugs or alcohol. I also had to read and
learn about the different gangs ruling in our neighborhood and how to connect graffiti to
the gangs claiming their territory.
Some experiences were sad. Some students carry knives in their backpacks to
“protect” themselves on their way to and from school, even when they know it is against
school rules. One sixth grade girl brought two big bags of marijuana in her backpack.
While many children in her class knew what the smell was, I had no clue and one of the
students told me to check the backpack with the foul smell. I was expecting to find
stinky shoes but found bags of marijuana. The poor girl who brought it was hiding it
from her father who had been using it. She broke down and cried. Having known her
previous record and her character, we did not expel her because she was telling the truth.
I also learned how to hold my own with parents who spoke loudly, using
profanity and threatening head swinging, finger wagging gestures. They walk in the front
office, yell at you, use profanity, and threaten to go to the board every time they do not
get their way. Thankfully there are not too many parents like them. These are the bully
parents who have gone through life bullying people to get what they want.
I quickly learned not be gullible. In the beginning, I would help out our parents
with gas money or giving them rides but I quickly began to distinguish people who were
in real need and people who were taking advantage of me. For example, there was a
family of four children who were all adopted by a couple who lived in the neighborhood.
Each of the four children had learning disabilities and was pulled out of four abusive
homes. I was so touched by this couple because they were, I thought, heroic to adopt
such challenging students. Yet these four siblings terrorized our school in the first two
years that I was at Pangani. They threw rocks at their neighbors’ homes and at cars on
their way to school in the morning; they bullied students during school hours; and they
would have fights almost daily after school while walking home. The parents never
supported us when we asked for their help. To circumvent the negative behavior of these
children, I had to hold the four siblings for fifteen minutes after school which gave time
for other students to leave campus without the fear of a fight with them.
I was happy when their mother finally told me that she was going to take a week
off to spend time on campus and hoped that that would make a difference. She worked
for a local newspaper and I signed a letter from her employer, which allowed parents to
miss some time at work because their children’s’ school required their presence at school.
The week came and I saw no sign of the mom. The children were tight-lipped about
mom not showing up. I soon realized something was not right. I then asked a couple of
moms who lived in the neighborhood and found out that the parents of the adoptees were
on a cruise in Hawaii. I had been taken for a ride! I so badly wanted to believe that their
mom really wanted to work with us and that I had finally succeeded! Consequently, I
reported the family to CPS because rumor had it that the children were living by
That winter their house burnt down. The oldest son, who was in sixth grade, was
in the garage playing with fireworks while the parents were out. Thankfully no-one was
hurt. We, at school, were dismayed. As soon as I found out, I called the family to see if
the family needed help.
Mr. Dufray, I heard about your house burning down. I am so sorry. I am so glad
to hear you that all of you are alright. My staff and I would like to know how we
can help you and your family. Are your children in need of anything? We
haven’t seen them at school for three days. How can we help?
The dad then went into the long story of the house burning down and told me that
their church was already helping them and that they had moved in with his mom until
their house was re-built. He added, “The children will be attending the school in
grandma’s neighborhood.” I kept the phone down. I jumped out of my seat, threw up my
hands, and shouted, “YES!” I shouted out to my secretary and the next words that came
out of my mouth were, “Thank God we will have a break from that family! The children
are moving to the neighboring school where grandma lives!” I immediately felt guilty
about it because it meant that my neighboring school would be dealing with this problem.
The four students from that one family had drained our energies because they were so
high maintenance. For the next two years, I drove past their home at least once every
trimester to see the progress of their home re-construction. Luckily, by the time the
house was re-built, the students were past elementary school age. I still feel guilty about
my reaction to the news to this very day.
Respecting the reality.
We have many children for whom the only meals they may receive during school
days are provided at school. All students at Pangani are guaranteed free meals because
92% of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch programs. Our food-services
department has a policy that all uneaten food and drink should be thrown away, once the
students have them on their trays. Students are not allowed to take them out of the
cafeteria either. I have seen students hide food under their jackets and when I ask them
why, they say that they are saving it for dinner. I have to take it away from them because
that is the rule but I also alert our Healthy Start office to connect the family with the food
closet that supplies free food to needy families. Oftentimes, I see parents trying to finish
off a meal that their child did not want, or feed younger siblings who are too young to be
in school. For example, I see one emaciated grandfather hiding leftover food under his
jacket. I do not have the heart to say no to any of these parents. I also do not see why
they cannot take away sealed food that would end up in the trash! I give my speech to
parents at the beginning of each year about the rules that apply to the district’s food
policy because I have to. After that, if I see the parents hiding food or eating the leftovers, I pretend not to see it. I feel ashamed to tell them they cannot eat.
Being an immigrant.
I am still learning about American culture, rules of etiquette, idioms, behaviors,
and expectations. I have had to retrain part of my cultural norms to fit into the American
culture. For example, my associate superintendent who hired and mentored me told me
that I needed to sell myself. What he meant was that I had many rich experiences
overseas and locally that I should be proud of and talk about. I told him that the culture
that I was raised in did not allow for people to talk about themselves. We were taught to
be humble and that “a true compliment is when others talk about the great work you have
accomplished and not when you talk about it yourself.” “This is America. You should
learn to talk about your work without sounding like you are bragging. If you don’t talk to
people about your work, you will not get noticed.” I had to train myself to do that and it
has helped my career move along. The art is to talk about it without sounding like you
are bragging!
Making connections.
I am forgiving of our immigrant parents when others may find them to be rude
because I have been through several similar experiences myself. For example, I have to
remind myself that Americans like their space. Sometimes I get too close to them while
talking. I have to be conscious about little things like saying “Bless You” when someone
sneezes. In my culture we say a silent prayer for the person who sneezes but now I have
to remember to say it out loud, otherwise it would be considered impolite. Because these
are experiences that only an immigrant could relate to, I am very forgiving but I do make
sure that I inform my parents about acceptable American ways and expectations.
One example is that while doing a home-visit to a Filipino family, I saw that their
front-yard was cluttered with garbage cans and broken toys. Because of my relationship
with the family and the fact that we had exchanged our immigrant experiences, I was able
to tell the parents that Americans like their neighbors to have a clean front yard.
Furthermore, I told them that if they cleaned theirs, their property value would increase
and people would have a good first impression of their house. They told me that they had
never thought of this before. I do not know if I would have shared such information if I
had not been an immigrant myself.
Another example is when I have dealt with a very angry parent during one cold
and windy December morning. He and his family had recently arrived from Fiji and was
upset that I would allow students to be outside in the cold winter months. I told Mr. Din
that this was America and that he needed to dress his child appropriately during winter.
His first grade student was wearing a sweat shirt over a t-shirt. I told him to buy his son a
jacket, a warm hat, a scarf, and gloves to keep him warm. Children could enjoy the
outdoors even during winter months if dressed appropriately. I knew I had to share this
with him because I was raised on the equator where there were no winter months. I had
to find out for myself that to stay warm, I needed to keep my head and feet warm! Who
knew that as a principal I would also act as a cultural liaison?
Finding Humor and Empathy to Build Collaboration
The principals in the region I work in often share funny stories that happened, or
share experiences that only an administrator of a school with similar demographics would
believe. This allows us to one additional tool for camaraderie, collaboration, and
empathy for our group. We call our stories west-side stories. Following is an excerpt of
an email I sent my colleagues on 9-2-11.
Because you heard me call the cops twice in one day, here are my west side
stories from Friday, 9-2-11
7:50: I saw a first grader remove his checked shirt and put it in his back pack. I
went over to him as he was only wearing an undershirt. I asked him to put his
shirt on again because he was not allowed to be on campus wearing his
undershirt. He replied that he couldn’t because it had too many fleas on them.
Upon close examination, the poor six year-old’s body and hair were covered with
little black marks. Not believing the kid, (I don’t know why I wouldn’t), I
touched one of the black spots on his skin and all the fleas began flying. Called
home. Mom was angry that we wouldn’t give her son a change of shirt and send
him back to class.
8:45: A mom called to say that her fifth grade son was late because mom had
overslept so could we please give him breakfast when he arrived. I told her that
she needed to feed her child at home if he was running late. Reminder her that we
stop serving breakfast at 7:45 am and that we are getting ready for lunch. She
began yelling to say, “My child had better not stay hungry or I will call the board
on you!”
9:15: A sixth grade teacher calls me to say that a student was crying
uncontrollably. I walked over to his class. He continued to cry like a small baby.
I brought him to settle in my office. I hugged him, and tried to stop his tears. It
took him about 15 minutes to calm down. He was not able to say why he was
crying. His teacher and I think he is depressed. I need to get him assessed.
9:40: A second grader, Chris threatened to “shoot everyone in this class and kill
you all”. In my office he also yelled that he can’t wait to grow up to be 17 so that
he can rob people and rob banks and get rich. I asked him why 17? He replied,
“because that is when you can do bad things.” After I sent him to our counselor
intern, I noticed hair all over the chair. He has a habit of plucking handful of hair
when upset. I reported the incident to mom. We have been asking her to get him
treated. He came back to school with his hair shaved off.
10:00: I walked out for recess supervision. I watched the VP chasing a fourth
grader Lejohn, who is angry at everyone. His mom’s boyfriend had visited them
last week and threatened to kill all of them. Boyfriend has since been arrested but
children are traumatized.
11:10: Jonah a new kid in second grade became violent and began throwing
things at his teacher. Didn’t really get to follow up on him because I was
monitoring our kindergarten lunch time because some parents take all the leftover
food from tables and hide them under their shirts, or jackets. I really don’t mind
them taking it if it is leftover, thinking they must be desperate for food but
foodservices supervisor was here and I didn’t want our parents or staff to get in
1:30-2:30: Had to call police services. During class Gabriel (Jonah’s brother) was
not able to go to Fun Friday and as a result he got angry and began throwing
things around the classroom. Teacher sent 2 students to get help from the office
and evacuated the rest of the students. When VP arrived Gabriel was yelling,
growling and grabbing items off the walls. As VP and I attempted to approach
him, he began throwing chairs and knocking down desks. Gabriel picked up
tables, boxes, books and he threw down the Elmo and pushed the projector. At
one point he picked up a chair over his head and threw it at the computer. Admin
was able to hold him. During this time Gabriel bit, scratched, kicked, and yelled
using foul language. Admin radioed for office to call parents but could not get a
hold of mom or dad. I used the emergency radio to contact police services.
Police arrived and were able to restrain Gabriel. Mom finally arrived to the
classroom. She was able to calm Gabriel down. Parents were told that a meeting
would take place to determine Gabriel’s placement. Mom had told me that they
hadn’t been truthful to us about Gabriel. He was expelled from his previous
school. Gabriel had hit the teacher several times as she tried to restrain him. His
teacher broke down and cried. Everything in her class was on the floor, including
all her supplies, books, shelves, small group table, projector, etc. I spent time
counseling her and consoling her. I also told her that I would make sure that the
student would not come back to her class and that he would be placed
appropriately. I got her a sub for Tuesday so she could clean up the class.
The funny part is…when police showed up. Three of the parents who came to
pick up their children, thought that the police were there to pick up their children!
3:00: A middle school teacher ran into our office to say that she was driving by
and saw a fight at the park next to school. She couldn’t get a hold of anyone by
phone at her school. We ran over and called for police. The middle and high
school students were having a gang related fight. Red versus white t-shirts were
at it again!
Another day here, and it was not even full moon! Do other principals really know
what our days are like?
I found it important to share one of the “west-side stories” because it shows the
magnitude of the work we have to be ready to handle. Yet we have to continue to be
relentless with our focus to improve student learning. We cannot allow our daily
interactions and individual stories distract us from the real work of increasing student
Parent Involvement and Empowerment
Parents have always loved Pangani because of the nurturing, and friendly attitudes
of the staff and also because of the services provided by the school. One such family
resource is having a Healthy Start office on campus which provides a range of care for
families that can affect the entire community. These services provide, but are not limited
to counseling, vision and dental care, food and shelter to homeless families, teen
pregnancy services, etc. Pangani also had 12 preschools which served students who
qualified for Head Start, Title 1 and State Preschool programs. Pangani also houses a
County program for physically disabled children. In essence because of all these
services, our school is considered the hub in the neighborhood. Because of all the
programs Pangani serves, my staff often refers to me as the “mayor” of a little city. Our
moral imperative goes beyond teaching children because I believe we have to protect our
communities if we want to protect our children.
I was disappointed by the lack of parent participation during Open House, Back to
School Nights, and Awards ceremonies. Teachers told me that they invited families by
sending letters home but parents did not “care enough to show up”. This did not sound
right to me. All parents want to see how well their children are doing, especially when
they receive awards. I asked teachers to make personal phone calls home to invite
parents for award ceremonies and all big events. The personal phone call to parents is
special and builds positive ties with the families. Teachers who did this had huge parent
turn-outs. I began recognizing all parents who came to our award ceremonies. During
the award ceremony, I would ask each teacher to acknowledge their parents and call them
to the front so that the teacher and administration can shake their hands and give them a
gift (we give bumper stickers, books, coupons to restaurants, etc.). Teachers who did not
personally invite parents would be embarrassed not to have anyone come to the front.
This happened only once because at the next awards assembly, they made sure to invite
Our school had a strong presence of moms while dads only came for movie nights
and school barbeques. We began a WATCHDOGS program which was originally started
by a parent after the Columbine shooting and has become a national program that has
proved to be successful. DOGS stands for Dads of Great Students. Since we began this
program, we have our dads sign up for 100-177 days a year to volunteer in the
classrooms, parking lot, and the yard.
Our school also provides a place for all of our immigrant parents to learn English
in a successful program called Even Start. We provide two rooms each month so that our
parents can learn English and take citizenship classes. While the ESL teacher is in one
room with about 36 parents, their children are in another preschool-like environment.
Many of the parents could not come to the English classes we offered because they could
not pay for day care for their young children who were not in school. We began this
program seven years ago and have seen the advantages of such a program. Our
immigrant parents are now attending parent-teacher conferences and helping to volunteer
in school activities. It is imperative to provide our parents with the tools to help their
children with homework and have the ability to voice their concerns to classroom
teachers and school officials without the aid of an interpreter. Having the classes for
adults to learn English, has given me a forum to empower parents about their rights.
Some of them are here illegally and I show them that they too have rights. I meet with
the adult education class once a month to tell them about their rights and the resources
available for them.
I also meet with the all parents on the first Thursday of each month to update
them on the programs in our district and our school, while also asking them to volunteer
for any upcoming events. Some of these parents are now running after school sports,
Ballet Folklorico, and other after-school enrichment programs. They are the main helpers
in our school-wide barbeque and the multicultural faire night.
Another aspect of parent involvement has been the parenting classes provided by
our Healthy Start office. These parenting classes teach parents how to handle ADHD
students or students who do not follow rules at home. Parents say they have learned
immensely from these classes that we fund out of our parent-involvement funds. Because
of the popularity of these classes, we rotate the location to different schools so that all
parents can have equal access to classes. We have our parent representatives from each
neighboring school to join the students, administrators, and staff to be involved in the
coalition we have formed to improve the neighborhood. I personally have seen a
decrease in the amount of graffiti at our school and in our neighborhood. I also notice
that our students are no longer throwing rocks at cars or vandalizing property on their
way to school like they did eight years ago. It truly does take a community to raise a
Courageous Conversations with Parents
As educators, we must engage in honest conversations about the achievement gap
and disparities in education not only with each other, but with our parent community as
well. In my second year at the school, I was so passionate about having “courageous
conversations” with parents that we designed a parent forum for parents and talked about
test scores and the achievement gap. My staff and I hoped that it would increase parent
involvement and parent awareness and hence increase student achievement. All parents
were invited to participate but our focus was on two of our largest groups of parents,
Hispanic and African America. Approximately 120 parents showed up. We broke up in
small groups and allowed parents to join a group of their preference. By design, our
discussion groups were led by African American and Latino teachers. The results of the
discussions were mixed. Many parents had promised on actions to be more involved but
nothing much came of it. I realized that we would have to invest a lot of time into
training our parents. As a new principal, there were so many other priorities on which I
needed to focus. I did not have the resources to tackle this problem at that time.
Another incident about empowering parents is the time I remember counseling a
mother from an Asian family for three years to leave her abusive husband. It took several
years of counseling from Healthy Start and support from our school for her to have the
courage to leave her husband because she did not want to shame her parents. I also
remember counseling and empowering a Pakistani mom, Shenaaz, to get her driving
license so that she would not be so reliant on her husband and the men in her extended
family to take care of the needs of her children and herself. She had been raised in a
culture where women were dependent on the men in their families because women are
not allowed to be independent. She had also been married off at the age of seventeen
even though she was born and raised in America. When I asked her how this could
happen she told me that her clan home-schools their girls and is very close knit. Homeschooling their girls, teaches them to accept patriarchy and submission to men.
Shenaaz has two beautiful daughters who are very bright. One of them is in high
school and the other in middle school. When the oldest daughter finished sixth grade,
Shenaaz told me that she would keep her daughter at home. She did not want her
daughter to attend middle school because all girls in their clan were always homeschooled after elementary school. I had to spend many days convincing Shenaaz that her
daughters needed to finish high school and receive scholarships to go to college, thereby
becoming change agents. I personally took Shenaaz and the oldest daughter to introduce
them to the middle school principal. He gave them a tour of the middle school and told
mom that he would watch her daughter closely. When the daughter was ready to
graduate from middle school, Shenaaz was ready to home-school her daughter again.
When I found out, I made specific arrangements with a Muslim vice-principal to give
Shenaaz and her daughter a tour of the campus and he too promised Shenaaz that he
would keep a close eye on her daughter. Following is an e-mail written to the principal
and vice-principal on May 25, 2011:
Dear John and Mohamed,
I have been working with a strict Muslim family who does not believe in
education their daughters. Mom was raised in Sacramento and was not allowed to
study past elementary school, and married off before she turned 18 while her
brothers went to college. Her very bright daughters go to Pangani. Had to beg
mom to send the eldest daughter, Malika to middle school as mom and dad were
planning on home-schooling her. Malika is very bright and well behaved. Mom
would like for her to go to college but is afraid to go against their cultural beliefs
and face the wrath of their tribal elders. I personally took mom and Malika to
middle school and introduced them both to the principal and some staff members
there, who promised to keep an eye out for Malika. Malika has been successful at
middle school but parents now want her to stay at home because they are tired of
the harassment from their tribal elders. I told both parents that I would guarantee
that Malika would be in good hands. I also told the parents that the vice-principal
at the high school is a Muslim. They are going to consider it and I will bring
them over to meet with you once they give me their response. This is a heads-up
for you. Malika’s little sister is ready to go to the middle school now. Just as an
fyi, mom is finally driving and gaining independence. It only took me four years
to convince mom. Luckily her husband is supportive of her. If we keep
communicating with this family, I think these two girls might just end up in
college and be change agents for their community! Wouldn’t that be exciting! If
the Sacramento Taliban is out to get me, I will point the finger in your direction.
Just kidding. Thanks for your help!
Malika is in high school and her little sister in middle school. Their two little
brothers are still at Pangani so I am able to keep close contact with the family. I keep
reminding Shenaaz not to marry off her pretty daughters before they finish college. She
tells me she cannot promise anything. Allowing her daughters to attend a public
secondary school was a big step for her. I could not believe that being born in America,
Shenaaz was still thinking like it was the middle ages. It reminded me of the time in
Kenya where they didn’t want their daughters to be educated. Shenaaz had always
complained to me that her parents educated her brothers while she was home-schooled
until the age of 17 and then was married off. To think that she was doing the same to her
Empowering Teachers with Rigor and Relevance through Relationships-Motivation for
Moral Purpose
There is a consistent pattern that reinforces established assumptions on race,
academic ability, and intelligence. I noticed that while teachers were compassionate and
nurturing toward our students, there was a sense that we could not “demand any more”
from our students because of the tough lives they were living. We have to be sensitive to
the academic path we set for students in our school. We have to create a path that leads
to success no matter the gender, ethnicity, or socio-economic level of our students. When
students walk through our schools, they are following the path we set for them.
While the relationships between students and teachers were there, we were still
lacking in rigorous instruction. Because of this we conducted several book studies with
the staff. We read Positive Classroom Discipline by Jones (1987) because teachers
should have the tools to keep classroom disruptions from taking place. We read Ruby
Payne’s (2003) Framework for Understanding Poverty, which helped us all understand
the hidden rules students came to school with. We also tackled Payne’s deficit model in
which she stereotypes all children of poverty. We discussed how students perform to
their teachers expectations and not because they were poor and lacked ability. It gave
teachers the tools and the drive to teach students explicitly the academic language for
success at school and at work while honoring students’ home languages and background.
Teachers realized that we should not scold students for things they did not know but we
did need to provide them with the support and create high expectations. We selected 10
ways to bridge the equity gap and posted them in the hallways to remind us of our daily
work. These posters were empowering and were a constant reminder to us about our
work (Appendix F).
The ten reminders are for all of us. When a child is failing, we should not blame
parents or things that are out of our span of control. We need to examine our practice,
our relationships, and our understanding of our student needs. We teachers have the
responsibility for student learning. We can’t say, “I taught it. They didn’t get it.”
Teaching is when kids get it, when they have control of their content. When I see a
failing grade, I ask the teacher what she or he has done so far to ensure success and then
I ask what we can do to support the teacher.
Finally, the tipping point for our school’s academic rigor occurred when we read a
widely cited article on closing the achievement gap by Reeves (2003). Doug Reeves, a
lead author and education specialist conducted research in schools that showed high
achievement despite the challenging circumstances of their students. The schools under
study had 90% minority students, 90% students who qualified for free and reduced lunch,
and 90% were successful on standardized assessments. Reeves found five commonalities
among the high achieving high poverty schools under study. These five common factors
are: 1) School-wide focus on achievement; 2) Clear curricular choices; 3) Frequent
common assessments to show student growth; 4) Writing across the curriculum,
especially expository writing; 5) collaborative scoring of student work.
Our leadership team created a five year plan to put the 90-90-90 model as Reeves
(2003) calls it, in motion. We began with the easiest practices. It was an expectation that
there would be no mindless “fluff” activities or, “cute” projects that did not challenge the
students to think. There would be no movies shown in the classroom unless it was used
to teach a grade level standard. We began enforcing daily fluency practice. All the
teachers were trained in how to conduct daily reading fluency and daily math facts
practice. It was an expectation for teachers to chart individual student progress and
display this on their walls.
I expected teachers to display both reading and math fluencies in their classrooms.
I also expected teachers to display monthly writing for ALL students on their walls,
including students who had learning disabilities. My administrative team clearly focused
on implementation by conducting daily walk-throughs in all classrooms (Appendix A).
We change the walk-through forms to meet the implementation requirements for the year
based on professional development. I meet with my vice principal and my after-school
program administrator every Monday at 10 am to discuss our walk-throughs and share
improvements or exemplary practices we see. These meetings motivate me to meet my
quota even when I have a hectic schedule. We have kept up with this practice for the last
five years. We leave behind written comments, about what we observe. Instruction has
tightened up immensely and that first year of implementing weekly walk-throughs. Each
teacher receives a walk through note at least once a week. The practices have been
successful and are being implemented by other schools that have been to visit our school.
All of these practices were implemented after consulting several mentors and
teacher leaders. We have a lot of talented teachers and leaders around us. We have to
know how to tap into their talents. I have hired many teachers who I considered as
experts in their fields, these are ex-coaches, reading specialists, and administrators who
decided to go back to the classroom and they all chose to work in Title 1 schools. While
other principals may have felt intimidated to hire them, I jumped at the opportunity
because a very successful leader once told me not to be afraid to hire people who know
more than me. There is an art and a science to being a leader. The art is in knowing
how and when to tap into peoples’ talent to seek suggestions and the science is knowing
how to execute those suggestions.
Regional Work-Connecting with Outside by Sharing Resources and Learning from Each
Our board would like to see us increase our collaboration among our regions.
Each region has elementary schools, and a middle school that feed into a high school.
We began our collaborative work and it is only within the last two years that we have
built enough trust that the principals have pooled resources to follow the 90-90-90 plan
focused on expository writing. Through this collaborative work, our region now has
common assessments, common writing prompts and rubrics (Appendix I), and vertical
and horizontal articulation between and among schools. This model has proven to be so
successful that we have been invited to attend conferences to show how this approach can
be successful. Although our school has been a leader among the elementary sites in the
region, we have learned from our feeder high school which has a similar schools ranking
of 10 out of 10 ( top performing when compared to 100 similar schools with similar
demographics in California) and has seen sustainable growth over the last ten years
despite change in principals. I was worried about the sustainability of my school when I
left because we had worked very hard to change many of our practices. The high school
principal invited me and my leadership team to join his staff to learn how the teachers
took ownership of using data to drive instruction using the Decision Making Framework
[DMF] (Appendix B).
This one piece of tool has transferred the accountability and decision making
piece to my teachers. They take full responsibility of looking at the data, and coming up
with the gaps in data and cause for the gap. The DMF tool also provides teachers with a
tool to ask for staff development needs. My teams are independent because they no
longer need me to tell them what to do and how to do it because they are the experts! I
hand selected teacher leaders at each grade level team. These were teachers who were
motivated and had the respect of their team members. These teacher leaders are also the
grade level leaders that keep motivating their teams to do better.
Regional articulation also consists of student needs. We flag students who may
need additional support or a special mentor. If students are going through tough
emotional times at home with recent divorces, incarcerations, deaths, etc., we make sure
and flag those students. We have followed some of our students all the way to high
school. I have made it to each high school graduation in the last three years to see “my”
students graduate. I also provide substitute time for any of the teachers who wish to
attend the high school graduations.
In addition, every single teacher at Pangani picks a hard-to-reach student to
mentor. Sometimes the mentor sees them through high school graduation. Through this
mentor program which was started by one of our teachers, teachers invite their mentees to
eat lunch with them, attend their awards ceremony if they are being honored, and do
something special for their birthdays. These teachers also check in to make sure that
homework is being turned in. Each year, during high school graduation, many of the
teachers and I attend the graduation ceremonies proudly to see our students receiving
graduation certificates.
Christmas Party Conversations-Just Three Stories out of Hundreds
Some of my colleagues and family members do not understand why I choose to
stay in a school in a relatively dangerous neighborhood and work so hard. “Why don’t
you ask for a transfer? This job is too hard.” “Why don’t you ask to lead one of the
distinguished schools? The parent community will love you.” “Aren’t you scared
working late in this neighborhood? You need to find a school in a better neighborhood.”
These are some of the questions or suggestions I receive regularly. There is one simple
reason why many of us who work in Title 1 schools choose to do so and that is the
passion that drives our work. This passion, which is driven by moral purpose, becomes
stronger when we are touched by the daily experiences our children have to live through.
Following are three stories which were documented in just one month.
Hasani and Dasani Leal.
Hasani, a sixth grader at Pangani broke into his classmate’s house, killed his dog
and is now in a juvenile detention facility. I found out about it on the evening news and I
feel that I have failed him. Hasani is often a topic of conversation amongst the staff and
he came up during a staff Christmas party. “I want to start visiting Hasani regularly.
Perhaps that will help him. Do you have his counselor’s number?” asked Mike. Mike
had been Hasani’s kindergarten teacher six years ago. Hasani and his twin brother
Dasani had enrolled at our school as five year olds with severe behavior, social,
emotional, and academic deficiencies. I became very familiar with the twins during their
first year. They ended up spending a lot of time in our office because they were never
picked up on time. In the office, the twins would climb on top of the counters, play with
the phones, or crawl around the carpet, without a thought about appropriate behaviors.
At the age of five, the twins could barely talk in complete sentences. I thought it was
certainly only a matter of time before they would be tested for special education
placement. Mike, the kindergarten teacher worked hard with the twins and their family,
doing several home visits and developing relationships with the family. He was the kind
of teacher who made home visits to every student’s home before the school year began.
He never once sent them for behavior referral to my office. I placed my toughest
students in his class and they made amazing progress each year. Our special education
team, their classroom teacher and I decided that the best placement for the twins would
be to stay at our site because they were already showing progress in academics and
developing appropriate school behaviors. Today, Hasani and Dasani are sixth graders
and Mike has continued to mentor both students over the course of their elementary
education years. My staff and I take pride in the turnaround in behaviors students like
Hasani and Dasani make at school. The twins were like many students who arrive at
Pangani with low social and academic skills. Through careful selection of teachers and
the right amount of extra support, most students have been successful. Sometimes even I
wonder how teachers manage students with such extreme needs every day but they do
and the students show excellent progress from year to year. Having witnessed this only
raises my appreciation for the wonderful talent of our teachers.
At the end of each year, a team hand selects teachers for students who require
special nurturing or behavior intervention, or acceleration based on teacher strengths and
student needs. Hasani and Dasani had so far shown improvements each year at Pangani.
Every year they would be in trouble because of stealing candies, and fancy school
supplies from teachers or from other students. They were also good at making up stories
and lying but we always found out the truth because they love to tell on each other! In
sixth grade the twins managed to stay out of trouble most of time. They had begun to
turn in their homework and their teachers were excited about their progress. Teachers for
both Hasani and Dasani wanted to take them to the week-long science camp at the end of
the year to reward them for their behaviors. The teachers also knew that this may be the
only science camp experience for the twins, just like it was for most of our sixth graders.
Our sixth grade teachers work hard all year long to raise funds for ALL their sixth
graders who wish to go to science camp.
Toward the end of first trimester, Hasani began running away from home on
Fridays and would show up to school on Monday mornings. He would spend the nights
at his friends’ homes, making up some story about why his parents were not home that
weekend. At times he even slept in abandoned homes. Child Protective Services had
always been involved with his family. This year we asked for family counseling and
Wrap-Around services for the whole family. Based on this intervention, we saw a
marked improvement in all the siblings who attended our school but as a staff, we were
perplexed with Hasani’s behavior. During one long weekend, Hasani had run away from
home again. None of his friends would allow him to sleep over and no-one gave him
food because they realized he had been lying. Therefore, at 1 am he broke into the school
with a big rock, shattering a glass window to gain entry. He roamed into ten classrooms
looking for food. The alarms went off and the police arrived, finding him at school.
They asked him to clean up the mess he had created in the classrooms, where he had
poured chocolate syrup over tables. There was also blood everywhere as he was also
bleeding from the cuts he had received when he reached to open the door through the
jagged broken glass.
When the police took him to his house, Hasani refused to leave the car. He told
the police that he would rather go to juvenile hall. Needless to say, Hasani’s parents were
upset with this news of Hasani’s exploits. I met with his mom and told her how upset the
entire staff felt over the break-in, not so much because their rooms had been broken into,
but more because they could not believe that one of our own could do something like
this. I apologized to Hasani’s mother, saying that I felt that as a school we had somehow
failed him. We were working hard to instill character and ethical behavior in all of our
students. Because of the tears in my eyes, his mother confided in me that she had
suspected Hasani to be schizophrenic, just like his mother. She stated,
You see, Hasani and Dasani are not my biological children. They were adopted
and I have not shared this news with the school because even the children don’t
know. Their mom is schizophrenic. The signs have been there all along but I did
not want to believe it. I should have taken action a long time ago, so please don’t
blame yourself.
A week later, Hasani burglarized his friends’ house and killed his friend’s
Chihuahua. I heard about it on Sunday evening news. He is currently at a juvenile
facility under psychiatric care. His kindergarten teacher still wants to visit him to see if
he could continue to mentor him like he had done all these years. While I was relieved
that Hasani was out of our school and into a facility that would provide him with the care
he needed, I was touched and felt guilty when his kindergarten teacher said that he was
not going to give up and continue to keep in touch with Hasani.
Damaje and Freddie Small.
“Demaje was admitted to the hospital yesterday for an emergency operation,”
whispered the Healthy Start coordinator, not wanting to upset the rest of the staff. “What
happened?” I asked. Demaje had something wrong with his esophagus. The food he
was eating was not reaching his stomach. That is why he was throwing up all the time,
and we thought it was bulimia.” Demaje was a student who arrived to school last year.
He was a quiet boy in the fifth grade and stayed out of trouble the first couple of months.
One day we had a call from a parent who told us that Demaje was begging for money at
the local grocery store. The parent did not know the name of the boy but knew he went
to our school. From her description, I knew exactly who the parent was talking about so I
called Demaje’s parents at home. They told me that it probably was Demaje because the
police had brought him home the day before because he was caught stealing food from
the grocery store. I told his parents that Demaje had told me that he was hungry every
time I saw him. I asked his parents if they needed food at home. They said that they had
enough food that Demaje “ate $20 worth of food a day” and that they could not keep up
with it and did not know what to do because he was always hungry. We soon found that
he was throwing up all of his food. We asked his parents to take him to the doctor, which
they did. The doctor said that this seemed like “an emotional problem” and needed to be
treated as such. Demaje was then sent to another school so that he would continue to get
his education while being treated. Six months later, one of Demaje’s family counselors
saw him and became extremely concerned that he had lost even more weight. She and
his step dad took him to the emergency room and they found that he had a physiological
problem and not a psychological one. Had the counselor not acted when she did, Demaje
could have died.
Demaje’s little brother Freddie has major problems. Freddie, who is from a
different dad, saw his father being shot to death as a toddler. Because of his emotional
problems, Freddie was sent to his paternal grandmother who adopted him.
Unfortunately, his grandmother passed away when he was only five years old. He
returned to his mom’s house to join eight siblings in Redding. Something happened in
Redding and his family moved to our school’s neighborhood overnight. Freddie comes
to school dirty, smelly, and angry. His step-dad wants custody of Freddie, Demaje and
the rest of the children because their mother is a prostitute and has neglected her children.
Tran Truong.
Twice during the course of two weeks, I saw a parent come to the front office in
panic, asking if her son was OK. The first time she said she was afraid for his safety and
had to take him home. We asked her if there was anything we could do to help but she
said, “no”. Tran looked at me and told me not to worry, everything is fine. When Tran
arrived the next day, I asked him if everything was OK. He told me that his mom has
illusions at times that someone was out to get them. At times she thinks she is a
Vietnamese princess and other times an FBI agent. The following week, his mom
showed up with a baby and a toddler in hysterics saying that the FBI had custody of her
ex-husband and that they could be after Tran. I calmed her down and told her that all
children were safe at school and that no-one could take any children from school without
our knowledge. We sent her on her way but I was worried about her state of mind. I was
also worried about the baby and the toddler she had with her. I pulled Tran out of class to
talk to him and found out that his mother was unstable. There were six children from two
dads in the house. Last winter she had piled up all the children in her car without notice
and they drove to Michigan in winter for two weeks. His mom was running away from
“FBI” and was looking for a cousin to live with in Michigan. He told me that he was
really scared during those two weeks because he did not know where they were headed
and there had been days without any food. When I asked him why he hadn’t shared any
of this with his teacher or someone at school, he told me he felt ashamed. I called CPS
immediately. His mom has since been taken to a psychiatric facility while the children
were sent to live with their biological fathers. I worry about the dangerous lives our
children live at times at the mercy of their parents.
Developing the Collaborative Through Systemic Changes
On January 12, 2012 at 8:30 am, I visited teachers who were being released for an
hour at different times of the day for grade level articulation. These teams are released
for an hour once a month during the school day so that teachers can share instructional
strategies and monitor student progress using student data. While the teachers are
meeting, students are learning about character education in the multi-purpose room with
the vice-principal. Every grade level has focused dialogue. Teachers have specific tools
to measure student progress such as assessment data and SMART (Specific, Measurable,
Achievable, Relevant and Timely) goals. Teachers have built trust and are not afraid to
share their data and ask for help from each other. The teacher leaders at each grade know
how to motivate their groups and push for higher achievement. Because of this, they
share strategies and resources between each other, as well as ownership of common goals
for all students at their grade level and not just their class. I feel contentment to see the
trust and collaboration at each grade level as I walk around and listen to the collaborative
focused dialogue with great sense of pride. We had come a long way from me and an
instructional coach sitting at each meeting, facilitating the conversations around student
achievement. While looking back at my notes from a staff meeting at the end of the year,
I recollected when we were brainstorming our areas of strength and areas to improve on;
the notes reminded me that Grades 4, 5, and 6 felt as though their teams were
dysfunctional. Based on that input I changed around some grade level assignment of
teachers looking at different personalities and how they complimented each other’s
talents. Some teachers are not too happy with being reassigned to a new grade level. For
those who trust me, I asked them to trust my judgment and they agreed. For those who
are toxic to a grade level, I told them the same thing. I do provide teachers with extra
support when they change grade level assignments. Now, all grade levels have some
level of trust needed for collaboration.
Igniting our Moral Imperative
There are so many wonderful teachers who truly are changing the world,
influencing one student at a time. There are those who motivate me to do even more
because they keep my moral purpose ignited and if my focus becomes diluted by all the
things I have to do, then these are the teachers who reel me in. One such teacher is Ms.
Ling who was a district coach when she decided to back to the classroom. She is very
widely respected and I had been asking her for a long time to come to work at our school.
I was surprised when she called me one day and told me she was transferring. She is one
of several who asked to transfer to Pangani. These are the teachers who are not afraid of
dealing with the realities of children who come from impoverished backgrounds, children
who do not have the needed support at home, and children who live in high crime
neighborhoods. Many teachers, including myself seek her guidance because she is
knowledgeable, patient, analytical, and relentless. She also knows how to tell a person
what s/he is doing wrong in a respectable way. Following is part of her email to me
written on August 27, 2011.
I was going to say something to you in person on Monday, but decided that an
email would ensure that my thoughts were communicated. Don’t worry; it’s not
as serious as it sounds.
In attempting to modify my next week’s lesson plans after looking at the
weeks bulletin, I’m very frustrated. My class is scheduled to attend 4 different
assemblies during a one week period. Although I realize that all these assemblies
are important in their own way, I think 4 in a week sends a wrong message to our
staff about instructional time. I’ve already turned-down 3 offerings for extra
computer time as I feel my students can’t afford any more time out of the
classroom—even for computers! To me this exemplifies our nonchalant attitude
toward class time, and 3 ½ hours out of the classroom this week further promotes
this attitude.
However, in light of what we are trying to do with professional
development this year, we need to send a consistent message about class
instructional time so that we as teachers value each and every second of it. Again,
the assemblies are not the problem—the missed instructional time is the problem.
All principals wish to have teachers like Ms. Ling who value every minute of
their teacher contact time with their students. Sometimes I get bogged down in trying to
fit everything in and forget what it is like for a classroom teacher or a student. Because
our students are impoverished, I try to bring them as many experiences as I can and
forget that my good-will may not be in the best interest of students or teachers. Luckily, I
have teachers who speak up and know that I will acknowledge my mistake and thank
them for setting me straight!
Another exemplary teacher I am lucky to have on staff is a first grade teacher.
She enjoys the challenge of taking students who need extra behavior or emotional
support. She speaks positively of every student and manages to find that student’s
strength. Her academic vocabulary with her students is very high and students leave her
class as strong thinkers and writers. She makes sure to hug every child in line when she
meets them and hugs them when they leave. I met one of her students today who told
me, “Ms. Jones is a great teacher. I love Ms. Jones.” “That is nice compliment for Ms.
Jones, Desiree. What makes her a great teacher?” I asked. “Because she learns,” was her
reply. I tried to correct her by saying, “you mean she teaches you.” Desiree smiled and
said, “Of course she teaches. She is a teacher! But she also learns with us.” I thought
that was a profound statement coming from a first grader. During lunch recess, I went to
Ms. Jones and told her about my conversation with Desiree. Ms. Jones smiled and told
me that the day before she was teaching a math lesson and for the first time, all students
got the concept. She told her students that she as a teacher got it too. She learned how to
finally teach a concept in a way that all students understood! Ms. Jones is such a
phenomenal teacher. When I do my walk-throughs, I often stay longer than planned
because of how she makes her students think and produce work.
I remember a teacher who had been at Pangani for 22 years and was an effective
teacher even though he was stuck in his ways of teaching. He was usually grumpy and
people either liked him or stayed away from him. I liked him because he cared about his
students and took his work seriously. During his last couple of years of teaching, he had
major health and family issues and could not take in the stress of students with
challenging behaviors. In 2009, Mr. White had several transient students. The new
students who arrived over the course of the year had severe behavior issues. When Mr.
White began complaining about how the stress was affecting his health, I pulled him
aside and offered to exchange his “high maintenance” students with another teacher’s
students. Mr. White was happy and relieved when I asked him and told me he would
think about it. The next day, he said he could not give up on any of his students because
he knew their strengths and weaknesses and if the students were moved it would set them
back. Our students do not trust adults easily and it takes time for them to form
relationships. He told me that it would not be fair to his students just because he was
going through a stressful time. He said that he would focus on his students more and not
let his personal life “steal away” the learning time for students.
I also remember a grade level leader who came to me frustrated because the
students were not making the growth needed because the teachers on her team were not
all following the planned pacing guide. She is a very strong teacher but could not tolerate
other teachers who were not as strong as her. She would get emotional and would often
tell me that she did not understand why other teachers were not worried about
challenging their students. This teacher made movies with her students which she
entered in contests and won. She created a butterfly garden for our students; she brought
after school science classes to our school; and dedicates her life to Title 1 needs. This
teacher is very high maintenance for any administrator because she has low tolerance for
people who do not match up to her caliber. I put up with her because she is good for
kids. When she asks for support, like time to write grants, supplies for technology for
example, I provide it for her because I know she gets things done.
I get motivated by several teachers who are driven by moral purpose and touch
the lives of students and family in unique ways. Likewise, I know that teachers motivate
each other. I often begin each academic year with a motivational speech that captures the
results of teachers’ hard work. I know that the acknowledgment ignites their moral
purpose to achieve greater results. I have included part of my welcome speech to
teachers below. An excerpt from a welcome speech at the beginning of the year is shown
in Figure 11.
Figure 11
Welcome Speech Excerpt
Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together. – Van Gogh
What an extraordinary group of teachers we have here at Pangani. There is an incredible sense of
Passion.There is an incredible sense of knowledge and there is an incredible sense of expertise. I feel very
lucky to work with such a fun and dedicated group. I speak highly of each of you and the work that you do
on a daily basis. Pangani is on the map. We are continuing to build internal capacity. The board has
acknowledged the progress we make here and in turn they now speak highly of our school. Slowly but
surely we are becoming the school we hope to become because of our collective efforts. There is a sense of
a common purpose. Day in day out, I come across teachers who go above and beyond:
Teachers like: Stella Wicker - She got her student out of an abusive home. Tu Tran was a student who
was gagged by her mother, beaten and asked to stay in the trash can many evenings. Stella continues to
mentor Tu, has taken her shopping from the receiving home. We just heard that Tu has been adopted by a
loving family.
Sally Smith - Who never says no to taking in our toughest students from teachers who need respite. On
occasions, she has fought for the students to stay in her class because she continues to find ways to build on
students interests and strengths.
Miyagi and Tony –who have dedicated their own time and money to train students for Track and
MESA(Math, Engineering, and Science, Achievement)
Paula - who gave her cell phone number to three of her sixth grade students who she knew needed her
support during summer break because of problems they were experiencing in their home lives .
Katrina and Madilyn who spend countless hours making costumes and building sets for their students for
our theater program.
I also know that there are many of you who have bought groceries for families when you see an empty
pantry in the house during home visits. You don’t tell me this but the students and their parents tell me
how grateful they are.
4th grade teachers – recently did a fund raiser – so that their students can learn about the importance of
earning money and donating money to a worthy cause so they know how it feels to give back.
6th grade giving up one evening a month to raise funds for their students for Science Camp and holding
garage sales during weekends.
6th grade teacher making arrangements for her students to volunteer their recesses and after school hours to
help the disabled students next door, so they become empathetic
Kelly, Chris and Emily who tell me to place them wherever I have a need when I do teacher assignments
each year. Teachers who give a helping hand whenever we are short of personnel, out on parking duty, or
at recess, doing schedules, helping out at community events etc. Teachers who maximize the learning
potential of every student in their class because they know education is the only way their students can
raise from poverty. Many of you do not do what you do for public acknowledgement. You are driven
because you believe in our students and your drive, which I call your moral duty. Thank you for inspiring
me to always do my best. I look forward to another year of great learning, not just for our students but for
all of us!
Teachers spend so much of their time and money on students because they truly
care about their students. Yes, there are some teachers who have no business teaching
students but there are many who selflessly devote themselves to the communities they
serve. There are so many dedicated teachers who motivate me on a regular basis. Some
of these examples are: teachers who arrange with other teachers to take in their student
who is not meeting standards for extra reinforcement. Many of my teachers arrange for
their students to come in during their time off to receive extra practice and be part of a
class that is still on track. We have been able to do this because we are on a four-track
year round system which allows each track to have different vacation months. Teachers
are willing to take on an extra student or two for that one month for extra support, so that
the student is in school instead of a vacation. There is a general feeling that we are here
for ALL students and not just those in our class; teachers have taken students interested
in science out to dinners with real scientists who came from background similar to theirs,
so students feel empowered and not helpless: Teachers have helped families who have
become homeless by donating money toward their first month’s rent. One teacher
offered a family his extra phone and paid for the service because he knew that the parents
were searching for jobs and having access to a phone was important. There are teachers
who have visited their students who were taken away to receiving homes because of
unsafe home lives. Sixth grade teachers actively solicit funds from businesses so that
ALL of their students are able to attend a science camp for a whole week because they
know that this is something very few would have been able to afford. The same teachers
also hold movie nights once a month to raise funds for the camp. This happens despite
pressure from their union leaders not to work beyond their contracted hours because of
failing negotiations with the school district. Teachers have written grants to build a
school garden on their own time over several weekends because of the need to teach
children about healthy living and eating. Teachers have earned grants to train and enter
students to run 5K races. Teachers do several home visits and have, on many occasions
bought groceries for families when they found there was nothing in their homes to eat.
Just last week, one of our students won second place at the Intel International Science
Competition. If it had not been for our teachers who constantly look for venues to expose
our students to environments they are not exposed to, our students would not have had
the opportunity to attend this elitist competition. The same girl, a sixth grade Hispanic
student by the name of Lupe told me at the week-long science camp she had attended the
month before that she had never been around so many “White race people” and that the
(White) girls she shared her dorms with (who came from another school) were really
nice. Lupe is a bright student who comes from a very large Hispanic family but she
would never have been able to pay for a science camp had it not been for the teachers
who seek funds and scholarships from businesses so that their students can have this
experience. The list goes on, as I find acts of selflessness even in these tough times.
What motivates our teachers is the reason they chose to be in a tough school like ours. It
is the drive deep within themselves, their moral purpose and their belief that we can and
do make a difference, one student at a time. Most teachers do not do this for recognition,
but I have, on occasion, announced their selfless acts. Because it touches and motivates
me deeply, I hope that it does the same for other staff members.
I wish NCLB would take into account how hard teachers work to bring equity and
justice into the lives of their students. These experiences to me are more valid and real
when compared to multiple choice questions on a standardized test.
Chapter 5
Reform efforts in improving the quality of education in the United States is a
national priority. However, schools that educate poor and minority students, where the
achievement gap is most pronounced, require urgent attention. Only 43% of AfricanAmerican males and 48% of Hispanic males graduate from high school (Levin et al.,
2007). The need to address the achievement gap and to provide quality education and
access to higher learning for all students is a moral imperative. There is a need for strong
commitment from school leaders to transform schools toward educational excellence
regardless of race or income levels (Fullan, 2011; Sergiovanni, 2000; Sirotnik, 2002).
This is important because school outcomes are tied directly to the leadership and
decision-making provided by the school principal (Branch et al., 2012).
In the era of accountability, the school principal’s job has not only become
important, but also complex and overwhelming (Loeb, Kalogrides & Horng, 2010).
Principals are asked to be visionaries, strategic thinkers, disciplinarians, building
managers, supervisors, public relations experts, instructional leaders, data experts,
community builders, fiscal experts, and change agents. As change agents, principals are
asked to transform high poverty, low performing schools by creating positive and focused
changes in the school culture, which results in high student achievement.
Fullan’s (2011) conceptual framework of moral imperative to raise the
expectations and close the achievement gap falls under the transformational leadership
framework. Transformational leadership is a process that motivates leaders and followers
to mutually engage in a process to bring each other to higher levels of motivation. It
takes transformational leadership to do the hard work to bring about cultural and
organizational changes to our schools (Bass & Avolio, 1994; Leithwood, 2006, Fullan,
2011; Sergiovanni, 1990). Transformational leaders motivate their staff toward higher
expectations and collaboration, thereby increasing student achievement.
Fullan (2011) posited that leaders have intense pressure to realize the moral
imperative which is raising expectations and closing the achievement gap for all children.
He says that it is the leaders who can mobilize their teachers’ moral commitment to
become change agents. Fullan’s conceptual model was appealing because moral purpose
plays a large role in sustaining continuous growth long after transformations in the school
cultures have occurred. It takes resiliency, facilitative power for collaboration, ability to
be people-centered, and strong moral commitment for enduring changes. According to
Fullan, when schools succeed, societies succeed, thus improving the quality of how we
live together. Fullan (2011) offered six strategies to enact moral imperative, which are;
1) make a personal commitment; 2) build relationships; 3) focus on implementation; 4)
develop the collaborative; 5) connect to the outside; 6) be relentless (and divert
Purpose and Methodology
The purpose of this study was to closely examine leadership practices of the
principal in transforming a low performing school toward sustained growth; and
determine the role moral purpose played in efforts to increase expectations and close the
achievement gap. Analytic autoethnography was the method selected for this qualitative
study. The autoethnographic study provides an account of a new principal’s experiences
and her struggles to win over a resistant staff and transform the culture of a very large
school underperforming school to one of sustainable growth. I could not find any
autoethnographic studies of school transformations that had shown sustainable growth
over a nine year period. The fact that the viewpoint of a principal and the challenges
faced in a struggling school to put systems in place for continuous achievement have
generally remained unstated. This guided me toward the emerging field of
autoethnography, as evidence of what successful practices are used for leadership and
sustainability remain elusive. My personal experiences will allow current and future
administrators an insider’s perspective to the wide variety of tasks a principal must deal
with each day. It will also allow them to develop their own understanding of the
complexities, the level of determination, and successes that result when one’s moral
purpose guides one’s leadership.
A plethora of journals, written notes, e-mails, memos, newsletters, personal
reflective notes to myself, survey results, test data and such over the nine years (including
this year), have provided me with rich data to analyze.
The findings of this autoethnographic study resulted from these questions:
1. What strategies did I use to mobilize staff to bring about changes in the school
2. What strategies did I use to bring about changes in the organizational system
to increase accountability?
I realized I came to this school with a moral purpose and a desire to work with
Title 1 students, but without any special training in transformational leadership, or a
demand from the district office to change the school’s status quo. My desire and moral
purpose to work in a high poverty school was just that, a moral purpose to make a
difference in the lives of minority and poor children. I did not begin my job as a new
principal with any special training to turn around school cultures. According to Fullan
(2011), moral purpose and desire alone, without any strategies cannot enact change. I did
not have the necessary tools or training to enact systematic change, although I had been a
vice-principal for four years. I followed my gut to create a more inclusive and just
environment for all children and consulted my community to understand what their
barriers to success were (students, parents, and staff members). I would then seek help
from the district leaders or my leadership team when I wanted to implement changes.
This study was unique in that it advanced the field of leadership and sustainability
at a high poverty school over a nine year period. Additionally, because the changes
began six years before the school became a Program Improvement School, it highlights
moral purpose of the leader and staff who began the changes on their own, without state
or district mandates. Third, it also shows strategies used to motivate existing staff and
working closely with the union and resources available to build capacity and increase
student achievement.
I began with small changes such as increasing safety and security on campus that
I knew could be successfully enacted but I was not ready to bring about other large-scale
changes which had to involve teachers frames of references as well as curriculum
planning and delivery methods. Collectively, my teachers and I worked over the years
for transformations to happen once trust was established; otherwise the transformations
would not have been sustainable without their support. Several colleagues and relatives
could not understand why I would agree to work so hard at such a challenging school and
often asked me to demand a change of assignment. An analysis of the data revealed how
relentless and focused I have been. I also realized that my staff would have to be the
biggest change agents and advocates for our students to change the culture of our school.
After the initial struggles to win the trust of the teachers, other steps were necessary,
providing them with needed staff development, celebrating their successes, arousing their
motivation and focus were critical to bringing about the positive changes in student
achievement. Through diversity training and courageous conversations, they were
actively becoming advocates for their students as their frames of reference began to
change. While teachers were always kind to their students, I saw that they were now
becoming more deliberate in creating a more socially-just environment and increasing
their expectations of students and themselves.
What also helped me was the respect that I gave to all staff members and being
insightful enough to tap into their strengths. As is true with our students, teachers will
meet high standards and expectations we have of them. When we began to notice our
academic successes and change in behavior with our students, our moral purpose became
the driver for change. This feeling is unlike any other I have felt and it provided me with
energy and an unrelenting drive. When I experienced the moral imperative in action, I
realized why I chose education as my career and clearly defined my personal mission.
Analyzing my data allowed me to be reflective of my practices and allowed me to
relate the findings to the literature review and the chosen conceptual framework.
Developing meaning in qualitative research is an emergent process. As I began reading
and coding data, new meanings began to emerge with my analysis which provided me
with new understanding. Being advocates for immigrant families, homeless families,
children who needed social emotional support, students with disabilities, students who
were being bullied, students who needed intensive interventions, created a culture of
increased socio-political consciousness. Transformative learning and leadership practices
were occurring alongside the transformational changes on campus. The transformations
that were occurring were deeper and created an environment that made it safe and
inclusive for the community we served. I don’t believe that transformational changes can
occur without the transformative changes happening first. Another area of discovery
under Fullan’s framework made me realize that our school had a very strong support
within our region’s five elementary schools and the feeder middle and high school as
seen in the findings. Another area that my introspection helped me with was the
appreciation of district support in building my leadership skills. The reflective nature of
analytic autoethnography allowed me the luxury of reflection and introspection.
Self-reflection of myself within the social context provided me with rich
perspectives of why I was autocratic when enacting some systems changes like
demanding meeting agendas and minutes, or collaborative during other times like when
to provide release times for teachers. I realize now that there is no blueprint on how to be
a catalyst to change. When people are treated with respect and inclusivity, and the values
and practices you wish to bring to your school are modeled effectively, changes begin to
Today’s school principals lead complex organizations. They must respond to
increasing demands of NCLB, increasing student diversity, income disparities, and
different learning capabilities of their students. Additionally they must know how to
motivate staff, build collaborative communities, and put systems in place for continuous
growth in learning. One overarching theme of the finding is the importance of being
people-centered, and having the ability to motivate and develop people to create learning
organizations. My experiences with the transformation began with building relationships
and getting to know and understand the community I was serving. Some changes that
were easy to implement, such as cleaning out school clutter, and increasing instructional
time by diverting distracters (implementing a character education plan and implementing
a school wide discipline policy) were done in the first year to gain instant credibility.
Other changes regarding instructional strategies and collaboration could only be done
after I had understood teacher professional development needs, and only after I had
gained their trust. For the staff to become actively engaged in creating a climate that was
socially-just and inclusive took time. It also meant having courageous conversations with
teachers who were not actively advocating for their students. These teachers were
advised to change schools if they were not willing to be self-reflective and employ
practices that were inclusive of students’ cultures.
Upon reflection and conversations with teachers, I realized how some of my
actions triggered the development of trust. One way to gain teacher trust was to commit
myself to staying at the school site for a minimum of five years and be transparent about
my views on not blaming the parents for poor test scores and changing our own
accountability system and becoming a voice for our community. Another was to be a
good listener and include teachers in the decision making process. A culture for
inclusivity not just for students but also for staff was built. By visiting classrooms
regularly, I was able to acknowledge good teaching and learning, thereby tapping into
teachers’ moral purpose by celebrating their success. I had to set clear direction for the
school by building a collective vision, which did not happen until the third year. I felt I
knew my staff better by then and collectively we had developed the trust to create a bold
vision that we knew we could work toward. Creating a five-year plan with a relentless
focus on implementation needed a lot of determination during budget cuts. However,
when one is determined, one finds ways to achieve the goal.
Respecting the entire community by developing their skills was another theme
that emerged. The staff and parent community have mentioned in several
communications that they valued how I treated everyone in an inclusive manner. I
realized that I needed to respect everyone before I could earn their respect. This included
teachers who could not manage behaviors of students, students who were defiant, or
parents who could not control their temper. Teachers and other staff members were
provided with needed support so they could focus on their priority which was teaching
and learning. This included developing them as leaders of students who came from
diverse ethnic backgrounds, and removing mindless duties (such as laminating) that took
time away from meaningful tasks. Students received character education program which
was adapted to the culture of our school so that they could become caring citizens, and
had the option to join enrichment classes after school to increase their potential. This was
a very important component toward our success. Many of our high poverty students are
suspended because they have not been explicitly taught what the desired behavior
expectations are at the school site. Additionally, students were provided with appropriate
interventions for remediation or enrichment. Parents were also empowered; they were
informed of their rights as parents; they understood how the different state and federal
categorical funds were being used for their children; they were encouraged to join
advisory committees; they ran enrichment classes such as Ballet Folklorico and flag
football; and were provided with classes for English Language Learners, adult basic
education, early childhood education, and job readiness on campus.
Fullan (2011) encourages principals to connect with the outside by learning from,
or sharing successful strategies with other schools. As a new principal at a very large
school, it took me at least four to five years to be comfortable with the direction our
school was headed before I could find the time, and feel confident to dialogue with other
schools to share strategies. Building Professional Learning Communities (PLC), building
trust, and connecting with the outside did not take place until after six years of leadership.
PLC’s take time because they are formed on a foundation of trust and collaboration.
PLC’s have provided teachers with ownership of their data. Teachers are motivated to
constantly make evidence based decisions to plan for their students. Once this happened,
teacher enthusiasm spread quickly, not just at Pangani, but in five elementary schools and
their feeder middle and high schools as well (Appendix C). This connected peers to
purpose. Today, after nine years, I feel confident that the ground work for sustainable
growth has been laid.
There were times when my focus became distracted with multiple initiatives and
the overwhelming task of running an elementary school with over 1200 students on a
year round schedule. There were times when the work load was overwhelming. I
wondered how long I could keep working so hard. Yet, what surprised me was that when
we received results of our hard work, it motivated our staff to be more focused and more
confident about increasing expectations for ourselves and our students, as well as
increase advocacy for our families. Our work was being noticed by other schools and
district leaders. Teacher enthusiasm in the district was infectious and some even asked to
be transferred to Pangani, knowing full well that the work was demanding. The staff at
Pangani was accomplishing its moral purpose; Tangible improvements in test scores,
improved student attendance, and reduced discipline speak for the transformation itself.
Other improvements in the school culture that can only be expressed by the staff who
have worked there for over ten years are on: increase in community pride in the school, a
kinder and gentler student body, lack of graffiti on campus over weekends, and decrease
in burglaries at the school. This could only happen because our culture was more
inclusive of different ethnic groups, immigrant families, families suffering from hunger,
violence and homelessness, and families who suffered from poverty. Finally, we could
not serve the instructional needs of our students if we were not serving the whole child.
This is important because schools are moral communities and the connections between
parents, teachers, and students are central to increased achievement (Sergiovanni, 1991).
Figure 12
Framework Design for Deep-Rooted Sustainable Change at a High
Poverty School
Socially Just
& School
Culture at all
Setting Direction
Focus on
Figure 12 below summarizes the model that worked at Pangani Elementary. For
changes to occur toward positive sustainable growth in student achievement over the
course of nine years, a climate of respect, inclusivity, and accountability was created for
all the stake-holders as the overarching expectation. It took many years to build
sustainability by promoting diversity and undertaking activist interest in the school and
the community. Changing the entire organizational structure to create a climate that was
socially just to better meet the needs of the students, staff, and community was critical.
Focus on character education, high expectations and equity pedagogy helped to provide
all students with equal opportunity to attain academic and social success in school.
Leadership created a collaborative culture, set direction for the school via building a
collective mission and vision. Developing teachers, students, and parents helped moved
the organization forward. Collaboration and professional learning communities within
the school and outside were always focused on implementation. All these conditions
improved student achievement and developed student character thereby empowering
students to be more confident and ready to be productive citizens.
Interpretation of Findings
While conducting research and gathering information to answer to the research
questions, the student stories kept coming to the forefront. I wanted to document all the
compelling stories and the resiliency of our students in the face of adversity. For instance,
our passion that drives our work enacts the moral purpose that helps students overcome
some of their circumstances. It is the reason why educators choose the teaching
profession, to make a difference in the lives of children. Some of us are lucky enough to
be able to witness first-hand how hard work, commitment towards high student
achievement, being resolute, guided by a moral purpose can transform communities. As I
analyze the transformation that took place at Pangani, the morning pledge that students,
staff and visiting parents repeat every morning, resonates with social justice:
I am safe, I am respectful, I am responsible.
We are here to learn, therefore,
I will do nothing to keep the teacher from teaching;
or anyone from learning.
By acting this way, I am taking charge of my future.
I believe, I will achieve, I will succeed.
This morning-pledge clearly identifies that the overarching culture is one of safety,
respect, and responsibility, which applies not only to students, but to school
administrators, and staff members as well. It took two to three years to cultivate this
culture that was inclusive.
There were several strategies I used to mobilize staff towards higher expectations.
The challenges I faced when I first arrived at Pangani were many. I was a first year
principal at a school where the staff morale was low because of the rapid turnover in
school principals, low test scores, poor buildings, and student discipline issues. There
were no structures or systems in place for teacher and student accountability: The
teachers were caring, but blamed family living circumstances for their students’ poor
grades. In 2002-2003, only 22% of the students’ schoolwide were proficient in English
Language Arts and 31% in Math (Table 6). Parent participation during awards
ceremonies and school functions was low. Teachers felt they were in a rut and
demoralized. Teachers and administrators spent a lot of time dealing with student
discipline resulting from playground fights, as well as fights before and after school.
The following themes emerged in how the challenges were dealt with and
leadership practices that set the change in motion.
Build Relationships and Treat People with Respect
During the analysis stage, data revealed the level of respect the staff, students and
community had was mutual. I had to model the values I wanted to implement. I had to
treat people with respect before I could earn their respect. The environment I walked in
was one of mistrust. The challenges were first handled by taking time to understand the
school’s community which was done by spending time with them and asking for their
input about the changes they would like to see. This process is an inclusive leadership
process to show stake-holders that they are valued. During my first few weeks, I spent at
least thirty minutes with all members on an individual basis getting to know them
personally and what changes they would like to see in the school. I also spent time
walking through each classroom two to three times a week to understand their teaching
styles, their relationships with students, and their strengths and weaknesses. The first
year was spent listening, observing, and building relationships with students, parents, and
staff (Sergiovanni, 1990). This helped build trust, increase visibility, and build credibility
in my commitment to stay. Through conversations and observations, I found out what
the barriers to success were, who the respected neighborhood community leaders were,
who the respected teacher leaders and union members were and made deliberate efforts to
establish relationships. As a result of my observations and understanding the needs of the
community, actions were taken to improve safety, attendance and inclusivity, and unity.
These actions which helped build credibility for me as a leader were easy to implement
yet had a big impact on the overall climate of the school.
Commitment and Focus
I made a public commitment that I was there to stay for a minimum of five years
as soon as I realized that the teachers did not trust me to stay more than two years as a
result of their experience with prior principals. Because of my commitment, teachers
would be more willing to put in their efforts into any changes that were going to be
implemented I thought. But establishing trust was going to take time I could see. I was a
quiet leader, not a charismatic one, who spoke with an accent, an immigrant who was still
struggling to understand American idioms, and a woman of color. From previous work
history in America, I knew I would have to work twice as hard to prove myself and I
knew I would succeed because of my drive and moral purpose.
My first year was the toughest because of the overwhelming task ahead and also
because it seemed that I had no allies except for district support. During the first year
when my vice-principal was undermining my authority and when the school had angry
parents and teachers were dealing with mold issues, there were times when I did not want
to go to work: The school was split between two campuses because some portables were
being checked for mold. The environment was negative. Many teachers did not trust me
and instead chose to follow the vice-principal because she had been at the site for three
years. What helped me was support from the district to transfer my vice-principal and
my belief that if I treated my teachers and community with respect and support, they
would in turn respect me. I stayed committed and focused even during tough times.
Kowal et al. (2009) saw this as one of the competencies of transformational leaders.
Building Character, Positive Environment, and Instilling School Pride for Staff
Each staff meeting and leadership meeting began with compliments, team
building activities, and celebrating small successes (Leithwood 2009). This made staff
aware of the pockets of wonderful things happening on campus and in the classrooms,
thereby boosting staff morale. The school staff soon realized that with the frequent walkthroughs in the classrooms, the principal was noticing and acknowledging teachers who
were implementing good teaching strategies. Tapping into the moral purpose of teachers,
renewed their commitment to increase student achievement by celebrating small
successes and developing their skills (Fullan, 2011; Leithwood, 2006; Sergiovanni,
Meeting short-term goals of increasing student fluency in reading and math facts
were easy and do-able. Deliberately applying for and receiving two statewide awards in
character education also increased teacher morale. Communicating and sharing data
about better attendance, increased parent involvement, and test scores improved teacher
confidence and boosted moral purpose and commitment to close the achievement gap.
For teachers who were making a difference, each year I took the time to nominate
one to five teachers for different awards and grants after my first year of observations.
These recognitions were focused on teachers who were not only good instructional
leaders but also strong advocates for students across the campus. This motivated teachers
and helped ignite their moral purpose while allowing the school to be in the spotlight for
positive publicity (Day, 2000; Fullan, 2011).
For students.
The launching of school-wide discipline plan, and beginning a character
education program, both programs to fit the needs of our school culture, raised our
expectations and behaviors for both students and staff. Students were explicitly taught
what it meant to be safe, respectful and responsible. The entire school staff spent several
hours each week, teaching students good character and civic values. School-wide focus
on character education has reduced suspension rates from 162 suspensions in 2004 to 106
suspensions in 2010 (Table 7). Students were taught collective responsibility for taking
care of their campus and taught to take pride in their school; the student discipline
referrals were less severe, graffiti around campus is almost non-existent, grounds were
clean because every class signed up for clean-up duty, thereby building responsibility and
ownership. Students were acknowledged for their hard work when attendance rates and
test scores increased, when discipline referrals were down, when compliments were given
by school visitors, or when the school received any positive publicity. Students took
immense pride and knew that is took collective effort to build a positive community.
Each teacher mentored one or two students that needed mentoring. Classes after school
to build self-esteem and etiquette were also run by teachers who did not want students
who were not involved in other after school activities to be latch-key students. As a
result of continued efforts of staff, students, and strong leadership, attendance improved
from 94.24% in 2004-2005 school year to 95.32% in 2009-2010 school year (Table 8),
while test scores have continued to increase each year.
For parents.
By inviting parents to join the principal for coffee once a month and greeting
every parent on campus personally, parents felt valued. This was proven by a strong
parent presence any time one walked on campus. As a result of parent request, the Adult
Education English as a Second Language (ESL) class, as well as Early Family Literacy
class began in the second year, enrolling about 36 parents and their toddlers from 8am 12am every day. Having been in operation for eight years at Pangani, many parents can
now help their students with homework, and be able to sit in for conferences with
teachers without the need for bi-lingual translation services. Additionally, parents were
volunteering their time to run ethnic dance classes, and sports activities after school.
Personal phone-calls to parents inviting them for awards and school events
increased parent involvement. Acknowledging parents one-by-one with a handshake and
a certificate for participation at each awards assembly showed they are valued. Because
dads were absent from most school functions, a program for dads, called WatchDOGS
was introduced. This increased participation from fathers and father-like figures with 75
to 170 days of volunteer time each year.
Building a Collaborative Culture by Building Capacity
Placing high premiums on relationships and on personal values had a big impact
on building capacity and developing a collaborative culture (Day, 2000; Fullan, 2011;
Leithwood, 2006).
For teachers.
Teacher development had the center stage. Students become actively engaged if
teachers know how to reach them (Sergiovanni, 2006). Getting to understand the needs
of the teachers and the barriers to student achievement helped me set my priorities. I first
began by acknowledging employees’ existing strengths and providing them with the staff
development they were requesting. Based on their needs and the school plan, the
teachers received training such as English Learner strategies, Culturally Responsive
Teaching, Marzano’s engagement strategies, Character Education, and Effective Direct
Instruction over the years. After the first year, I began creating grade level teams based
on strengths each teacher brought to the team.
Paying attention to teachers’ concerns, respecting their time by freeing them of
certain meaningless duties, and providing them with necessary supplies for special
projects, encouraged teachers to go the extra mile. Some may call this transactional
leadership but I recognize it as a necessary support for teachers. One of the teachers told
me, “When staff knows that administration cares about them, teachers work harder”. The
message to the teachers was that my job was to make them the best teachers they could
be, by providing them with needed staff development, supplies, intervention support for
students, and additional data while their job was to make sure students were learning.
Additionally, building teachers by providing them with specific and authentic feedback
during weekly walk-throughs, and not only during formal evaluation process improved
teaching practices.
Being part of a federal grant from 2003 to 2007, called Reading First, also helped
the staff with the necessary staff development needed because implementation of certain
research based practices were mandated. Although we adapted their training to fit the
needs of our students, it required teachers to plan their instruction based on student data.
The walk-throughs in the classrooms had clear goals (based on school improvement plan)
with the focus on implementation. This made teachers put their staff development into
practice. Because walk-throughs proved to be so successful, we have continued to focus
our walk-throughs on implementing our school improvement goals. Learning is not just
for students but for all people at all levels of education (Stoll et al., 2006). Learning must
lead to change and must be directed toward improvement and positive outcomes for
students. Developing individuals helps move us forward (Sergiovanni, 1992; Leithwood
& Riehl, 2003; Reeves, 2011; Fullan, 2011). Most teachers choose the teaching
profession to achieve moral purpose and to make a difference in the lives of children.
Teachers were called upon to respond morally to their work through stimulating
discussions and sharing of data and children’s’ stories. As leaders, it is our job to
support, encourage, and provide them with necessary skills.
Empower parents.
Pangani began Even Start classes in the second year because of the increasing
demand for classes by parents. The Even Start program for families provided vital
services to under-served families in our community. The program integrates a continuity
of academic services for low-income families with children ages 3-7 from underserved
families. The services include family literacy that links home and school through
interactive learning; adult basic education; classes for English Language Learners; early
childhood education; and job readiness and career applications. I spoke to parents in the
ESL classes and parents who attended the once a month breakfast meetings with me
about their rights and encouraging them to become more active with district and school
level meetings. This became an important forum for empowering parents and exposing
them to local community resources. It encouraged parents to begin after school sports
enrichment classes and join district advisory committees
Empower students.
After school enrichment classes such as musical theater, Math, Science, band, and
Engineering (MESA) classes, began in the second year. Students acquired leadership
skills with the start of an active Student Council and Peer Mediation program. By my
fifth year, older students became involved with attending activities on the secondary
campuses so that they were exposed to a college going culture we were working toward
in our neighborhood. Principals in the region began seeing power of collective leadership
when working closely together to improve educational outputs for all students in the
region which consist of five elementary schools, and the feeder middle, and high school
(Seashore et al., 2010). Students, like their parents began seeing the school as their
school, one that they took pride in and protect from vandalism.
Setting Direction with a Focus on Implementation
The first project to set direction was aimed at creating a positive school climate.
School climate is an important part of the school’s culture and is quicker to change than
the culture. According to Wagner (2005), school climate can be improved within a month
or less because it typically represents appearance and outward indicators. The school had
years of obsolete furniture in the multi-purpose room, and storage units. Classrooms had
old curriculum that was not being used. Cleaning out the clutter was symbolic because it
gave the message that organizational changes were going to take place. Emphasis on
general cleanliness and asking all community members to collectively keep school
grounds trash-free helped build unity. Because of the mold issues, Pangani was issued
new buildings and furniture so we automatically used it as leverage to instill school pride.
It was deliberately used as the tipping point to set the tone on the climate of the school.
Next, implementing some changes that brought quick results that helped with the
organization of the school won me some credibility with staff (Leithwood and Strauss,
2009). Changes such as not allowing students to play before school (because they
resulted in student discipline issues that took up instructional time), but asking students
instead to line up for the school pledge each morning brought student unity.
Additionally, this act required teachers to greet each of their students on the blacktop
before the start of school. Another was to require teachers to walk their students out to
the front of the school at the end of each school day. Both these practices made teachers
more visible in front of parents and allowed them to be with their students at the
beginning and end of school without the distractions of the classroom.
The Mission, Vision, and Core values were not developed until after the first two
years after I had understood the culture of the school and the needs of the community. I
had built trust and by the third year when the two campuses were re-united again, the
staff was feeling confident because of a positive climate and a focus towards
achievement. The change in school culture and climate propelled the staff to feel more
confident about creating bold steps toward closing the achievement gap and increasing
access for students. Collectively, the staff and I brainstormed the vision and core values
for Pangani (Appendix D). Upon looking at the data, I realized that I had not used the
vision and values chart as consistently as I should have. It did lead me to update the
values chart collectively with my staff last month. The values should drive the work at
the school. The core values take into consideration our students’ backgrounds and are
My leadership practices during this time were a blend of both directive and
democratic leadership (Leithwood & Strauss, 2009). Requiring teachers to display
reading and math fluency scores, agenda’s for the day, lesson plans for the week and
student writing was a directive whereas the staff adopting the school wide
implementation of Doug Reeves (2003) 90-90-90 model and building a five year
implementation plan had a more collaborative approach. To have positive results, you
have to have teacher buy-in because they are the implementers (Day, 2000).
Children’s learning opportunities and chances for becoming successful citizens
are influenced by the decisions we make in our schools. Moral purpose alone, or our
good-will alone, does not cause increased student achievement (Fullan, 2011). Leaders
have to create systems in the organizational structure to make sure that all students have
what they need to be successful and that all teachers are maximizing their potential and
available resources. In other words, leaders have to pare down from multiple initiatives
to focus on what matters the most, the needs of the students in that community (Reeves,
In 2002-2003, when I took over the school, there were no effective organizational
systems in place to make sure that students’ needs were being met. Pangani teachers met
once or twice a month in the grade level teams which consisted of planning of field trips,
and assigning tasks such as laminating and photo copying. I was not sure at first how
restructuring happened and upon reflection and looking at data collected over the nine
years, I was the following themes that showed how changes in organizational structures
and accountability took place at Pangani emerged.
Organizational Change
The first step toward organizational change was to divert distracters by increasing
student learning time. This was done by implementing a school-wide discipline program
to fit the needs of our school culture so that all teachers, students, and parent community
understood what was expected of them and what the guidelines were. At the same time,
students were being taught explicitly how to be safe, respectful, and responsible as well
other character traits such as caring, and teamwork. Teachers were expected to model
these traits and were publicly recognized monthly while students were publicly
recognized weekly for drawings and monthly at assemblies. There was a uniform plan on
school wide expectation of students’ behavior and discipline process. Teachers also
received training in culturally responsive teaching and student engagement strategies,
keeping in mind the respective backgrounds each student came with, to build their
capacity. This focus increased instructional time, and kept more students in the
classroom learning rather than in time-out sessions, or on suspensions. The general
environment of the school culture was transformed into one of mutual respect.
The second easy strategy was to restructure the school day to increase
instructional time. For example, one simple change was to have students to line up in the
morning to say the morning pledge which built school-wide unity and focus to begin the
day in a positive manner. The other was to have two hours of uninterrupted reading
block. Computer time, library time, and assemblies were not scheduled during the
reading block.
A third strategy was to monitor every student’s achievement (Reeves, 2011). All
students were assessed during the first two weeks of the school year. Teachers then met
with the instructional coach after those two weeks to create groups of students who were
not up to grade level standards. An instructional coach was hired to keep track of all
student interventions, assessments, placement in appropriate programs, and providing
teachers with necessary support. Intervention teachers were hired, and together with the
learning resource teachers, they targeted small-group instruction to bring students up to
grade level standards. This model has proved to be a successful response to intervention
because the groups are fluid and instruction is targeted on the needs of the students.
After six weeks of school, individual teachers met with the principal, the resource
teachers, the school psychologist, speech therapist, Healthy Start coordinator and
instructional coach to talk about each student in their class and whether additional
supports were needed for student success. This group, called a Collaborative Academic
Support Team (CAST), brainstorms supports for student success, whether it is to provide
the student with counseling services, bi-lingual support, hearing, speech, or vision
screening, behavior contracts, or academic interventions. The process is repeated again
in January to check on individual student progress and to provide any needed support to
the teacher. Additionally, students have goal-setting conferences with their classroom
teachers and together they set personal, academic and/or behavior goals for themselves.
Fourth was to give teachers more time to plan. At leadership meetings we
evaluated all teacher duties and removed certain adjunct duties and evening events that
did not impact student learning, to free teachers’ time to plan. One simple example that
freed teachers of the responsibility of doing their own laminating and making copies was
to give the task to an office clerk. The release of these duties gave teachers more time to
plan for their instruction. In return, teachers had to create a year-long curriculum pacing
guide for their grade level and implement school-wide focus on strategies and skills
received during professional development.
Finally, a major lesson I learned was not to get involved in sweeping initiatives by
the district and to remain focused on the school vision and goals that the school
community believed in. I soon learned what Reeves (2011) meant by the term initiative
fatigue. It is when leaders tend to follow too many initiatives, thereby becoming
fragmented with the school focus. I have learned to protect myself and my staff from
new initiatives and instead learn to stay the course outlined in the school improvement
plan because the plan is specific to the school’s culture and needs. For example, when
the school was under the Reading First guidelines, we had to adapt to the mandates of
Reading First to serve the needs of our school. Additionally, when the school became a
Program Improvement (PI) school, and the school district mandated classroom visitations
by district officials, we came up with creative ways to use those visitations to serve the
purpose of our school goals and staff needs. The visits by district officials were seen as a
way to show off the progress the school was making rather than an evaluative visit which
is how these visits were perceived by schools in PI status.
Equal Opportunities for All
With distractions out of the way, and creating an environment that was student
centered and teacher supported, teachers were expected to implement staff development
practices and expected to adhere to certain rules such as daily practice of math facts and
reading fluencies, and posting of student writing across the curriculum. Teachers were
also expected to be advocates not just for their students but also their families. Weekly
walk-throughs (Appendix A) which targeted school-wide expectations (Appendix E) and
staff development practices became an expectation. Teachers received at least one
written feedback per week. This kept relentless pressure on teachers as well as the
administrative team to become familiar with teacher practices as well as students
Because of weekly walk-throughs, we were able to notice changes in teaching
strategies and were able to acknowledge teachers implementing changes (Leithwood and
Riehl, 2003). The successes that the teachers were experiencing from the organizational
changes, staff development, and a positive, supportive school environment, resulted in a
change in teachers’ attitudes as well. Collectively teachers adopted The Pangani Way
(Appendix F) because the new experiences in nonthreatening environment created a
change in teacher beliefs and frame of reference. No longer was it acceptable to blame
parents for poor student scores. Collectively, teachers were accountable for all students
and Pangani students became known as “our kids”. This change in belief connected
teachers with purpose, thereby helping their moral purpose to be realized (Sergiovanni,
1997; Fullan, 2011).
Building a collective vision, Pangani developed a five-year plan based on
researched practices of Doug Reeves (2003) 90-90-90 model. Over the next five years, a
clear vision, a staff development plan, and evidence-based decision making by teachers,
connected teachers to a purpose. Teachers were trained on how to lead effective team
meetings which focused the teachers on creating norms for their teams, on analyzing
data, and finally on how to plan for instruction based on student data. This was a slow
process because we were all learning together on building efficacy. When mistakes were
made, they were acknowledged and mid-course, corrections were handled (Reeves,
2011). A few times I had to back up and slow down my demands and expectations.
Without giving enough training to teachers, giving them time to digest new information,
and time put it into practice, expectations cannot be met.
Developing People, Building Professional Learning Communities
As principals, we have to build teams to enact change. Relationships, trust
between teams, and staff development are key ingredients to bring forth the change
needed for sustainable growth (Day, 2000; Fullan, 2011; Leithwood, 2006; Sergiovanni,
1992). Structures for weekly meeting times had been established for teachers. Teachers
used this time to improve instruction and increase student learning. Having laid the
ground work for collective vision, cooperation, developing people, and creating trust,
professional learning communities were formed. It took Pangani at least six years of
these practices to bring about effective learning communities.
Teachers began seeing a sense of ownership when they began examining evidence
to improve student achievement. After agreeing school-wide to give students common
assessments every six weeks, according to the five-year plan we had implemented, and
having given teachers relevant training, what seemed impossible at the beginning was not
that hard in retrospect. The groundwork in skill development, trust, and a collaborative
culture, paid off when teachers began sharing their assessment data with each other and
shared strategies during their grade level meetings. This collaboration built lateral
capacity and teachers began observing each other. The data also helped guide decision
making when they learned how to use the Decision Making Framework (Appendix B)
and SMART goals which we learned by networking with other schools. When
improvements in system energize motion, it accelerates positive change (Fullan, 2010).
Connecting with the outside-Sharing Best Strategies
Through Reading First training and staff development at school, Pangani teachers
became quite adept at collecting and examining data. Although teachers were mandated
to test students every six weeks in English Language Arts, they did not believe in the
common assessments they were mandated to take by Reading First, so many of them did
not use the results of the test to plan for instruction. By attending conferences with my
leadership team and networking with educators outside of the school district, we realized
that there were common assessments that were being used successfully in schools that
had exited Program Improvement. Because common assessments were part of our fiveyear plan, we began using the common assessments of which the teachers approved.
Another way to connect with the outside was through friendly competition with
all the Title 1 schools boosted teacher morale. Each year, I make a comparative chart
listing CST scores of all the Title 1 schools in the district, then rank each school in the
subject and grade level. Teachers hold each other accountable for test scores and
continuously challenge each other to do better.
A third connection that proved to propel school-wide changes was a visit to award
winning Title 1 schools in a nearby school district with my leadership team. Teachers
became energized and asked to be trained in SMART goals as well as Hollingsworth and
Ybarra’s (2009) Explicit Direct Instruction (EDI) strategies. The teachers’ moral purpose
had been ignited.
Finally, the biggest impact from outside connections has been from the regional
collaboration with the five elementary schools, and feeder middle and high school. The
collaboration allowed us to pool resources during tough budget times and provided our
schools with needed staff development in writing. It also led to the adoption of the
Decision Making Framework (DMF) (Appendix B) which the feeder high school had
been using for its sustainable growth model successfully. Effective collaboration requires
actions on multiple fronts (Bolman & Deal, 1997). The collaboration began when I asked
the feeder high school principal on the secret of their sustained growth despite the change
in leadership over the years. The principal then invited us to the training for the DMF. I
invited two key teacher leaders, (one from primary grades and one from intermediate
grades) to the training that went back and implemented the tool immediately using their
grade level data. Using this tool effectively gave teachers ownership and decision
making tools for their data and for needed supports. Instead of me asking teams to adopt
this model, they were asking me to bring the training to our school because they had
heard from their peers that it was working well for them. Grade level teams became
independent and began owning their data and making decisions for student learning.
Soon other elementary schools heard about this tool, and now, all the Title 1 schools in
the district under program improvement are using this DMF. The peer-to-peer
collaboration and connecting peers to purpose is a powerful way to spread good practices.
According to Fullan (2010), Motion Leadership is when the power of the collective
capacity enacts change faster.
Other ways we have collaborated with our region’s schools is by focusing on
expository writing. We pool our resources to train our teachers in grade level teams.
There is lateral articulation among grade levels from all five elementary schools in the
region, and there is vertical articulation between grades six to twelve. Teachers are
released together for training and collaborative scoring. The results of one year’s
collaborative efforts on regional writing are documented (Appendix I). When a group is
mobilized, collaborative leadership is more impactful than individual leadership
(Seashore et al., 2010).
Collectively, all of the region’s schools have created a college going culture and
are working hard to create seamless transitions to the feeder middle and high schools with
the hope of increasing high school graduation rates. All of the region’s sixth grade
students visit their secondary schools to attend assemblies and information sessions with
their parents; to develop familiarity with the campus and programs, to develop
connections to high school, to identify and administer timely student support after
transition. Principals also attend high school graduation to celebrate the successes of the
region’s students collectively. Finally, when students move from school to school,
teachers track their students and inform the new students about needs of the student or
needs of the family. The responsibility of educating students does not stop in the
teacher’s classroom or at one school site, but the responsibility of a student’s academic
trajectory is carried all the way to the high school. Putting organizational systems in
place has built efficacy and sustainability for long lasting changes.
Recommendations for Action
Serving students who are affected by poverty, homelessness, hunger, second
language needs, and socio-emotional problems while dealing with parents who have been
incarcerated or are in gangs, require educators with a strong sense of moral purpose and
desire to improve living conditions for the community they serve. However, moral
purpose itself is not enough to bring about the changes needed for school reform which is
to raise the bar and close the achievement gap. School principals influence student
achievement, recruitment and motivation of quality teachers, effective allocation of
resources, articulating vision, and development of organizational structures. It is no
wonder that Title 1 schools have the highest turnover rates of teachers and principals
(Rice, 2010; Branch et al., 2012; Beteille, Kalogrides & Loeb, 2011). Therefore, it is
imperative that special thought be given to the selection and recruitment of high quality
principals and the resources they need. Superintendents should build leadership capacity
that targets high -needs schools and provide such schools with leaders who are social
justice leaders as well as transformative leaders.
To increase sustainability at schools, superintendents should build capacity at all
levels by succession planning and grooming for successors as schools and districts that
had a succession plan were rare (Hargreaves & Fink, 2006); hire Level 5 leaders within
the organization over charismatic leaders who tend to move to the next big promotion
(Collins, 2001); refrain from rotating principals every two to three years as high turnover
rates of principals are particularly detrimental to low achieving schools (Beteille et al.,
2011); place experienced leaders who can commit to transform the culture of the schools
to one that is high achieving and inclusive of all families; and finally, provide necessary
resources for principals so that they are allowed time to share networks, and learn from
each other.
Schools of Education
Leadership training and development must prepare principals for their challenging
jobs. Besides training principals to be instructional leaders, training should incorporate
specific strategies in organizational leadership, trust-building, creating collaborative
communities, and creating efficient systems based on data-driven decision making.
Principals in high poverty schools must know how to motivate their staff and build
capacity for improved student achievement, preventing teacher burn-out and increasing
teacher retention and advocacy for poor and minority children. They should be taught
how to connect and be involved with available resources in the community they serve.
Policy Makers
California principals are underpaid and over-worked relative to their counterparts
in other parts of the nation. California ranked 49th in the principal/vice-principal to
student ratio when compared to other states (Loeb et al. 2010). Additionally, schools
with high minority, high poverty populations have a revolving door of principals and
teachers because of all the additional needs of Title 1 students (Fuller, 2007; Branch et
al.; 2012; Beteille et al., 2011). Schools, particularly those serving at-risk populations
should be small and adequately staffed to prevent principal and teacher burn-out. High
poverty schools should house between 250-300 students because larger schools increase
organizational complexities thereby creating a bigger challenge to lead an already
challenging population (Leithwood, Louis, Anderson & Wahlstrom, 2004).
Title 1 students have the greatest need to have strong leadership because it is the
poor, Latino, and African American students who have the largest achievement gaps.
Public service must be delivered with a moral purpose that is socially just. Yet, school
districts in California spend less than the state average on such schools because they lack
the funding (Loeb et al., 2010). Schools are functioning on bare-bones as students miss
out on science, social studies, music, and art classes. Moreover, for a population needing
counseling and school psych services, many school districts do not have the funding to
provide services to their students. These disparities in funding also lead to disparities in
working conditions. Because of the high needs of the students, additional supports such
as counseling services, Healthy-Start services, bilingual services for parent conferences,
and other such services should be a priority for these schools.
Finally, character education should also be required in all schools. Moral
leadership is to develop equity and democratic decision-making in our students, teaching
them good habits, compassion, honesty, civic mindedness – in essence character
education to parallel good academic education. I believe, deep in my heart, that all
schools need to spend time teaching their students character education that meets the
needs of their school culture. Each school should take the responsibility of teaching their
students good citizenship and how to distinguish between right and wrong behaviors as
seriously as teaching them how to become better thinkers. Schools with high poverty
rates should clearly spend more time on it because many of our students come from
single family homes or from homes where a parent is on drugs or is incarcerated. I
believe in it because I have witnessed firsthand in its power to change student behaviors
to those of kinder, gentler, thoughtful students. I would rather be a neighbor to, or do
business with, a person of character rather than a brilliant person who is ruthless.
Recommendations for Further Study
Pangani elementary, the four elementary schools is the region, and the feeder
middle and high school have built a collaborative community to collectively serve the
needs of the families in their neighborhood. Through these collaborative communities,
the region has adopted common assessments. There is vertical and horizontal articulation
between teachers and administrators. With just one year’s worth of data on regional
efforts on expository writing, gains in writing were noted across the region’s seven
schools (Appendix J). The region’s middle and high schools are working together with
each other and the elementary schools for seamless transitions from elementary, middle,
and high schools with the hopes of increasing high school graduation rates. Additionally
resources are pooled together during tough times to create a summer institute that serves
the elementary, middle, and high school students together on one campus, with high
school students mentoring their younger counter-parts. Teachers and students share a
college-going culture and regional pride across the region. A principal’s moral
imperative is stunted if it is only applied to his/her school (Fullan, 2010). By using wellled peer-learning strategies, moral imperative can become systemic and lead to largescale reform. A study to follow the achievement of schools that are working together,
accepting collective responsibility and shared accountability by setting measurable goals
is recommended. According to Fullan (2011), collective leadership or whole system
reform enacts change faster.
Another recommendation would be to study the effects of character education in a
community where it has been a focus in elementary, middle and high school and how it
affects communities. By its impact on a kinder gentler student body over the last eight
years in Pangani, it would be interesting to see its influence on an entire neighborhood.
A third recommendation for study would be other autoethnographic works in the
area of moral purpose being a driver for transformational leadership in high poverty
schools. Just as I hope my experiences will support the contributions of other principals
and researchers, I would like to learn from other insider perspectives as well.
NCLB’s reform effort of firing teachers and shutting down schools is punitive and
does not work. Schools in program improvement where such expensive reforms have
taken place may show temporary gains when a charismatic transformational leader takes
over the school but the gains decline as soon as the leader leaves. NCLB has reduced the
education of poor and minority children to basic reading and mathematics and test taking
strategies. For our students to become active citizens in a democratic society, they
deserve rich educational experiences.
Economic and social barriers play a major role in upward mobility for many of
our students. Districts should staff high poverty schools with transformational leaders
who are aware of the inequities of our socio-political system and are strong advocates of
the families they serve, principals with a strong moral purpose. Schools that serve
minority and poor children need to have the resources to service the whole child so that
teachers and leaders can focus on teaching instead of worrying about whether their
student will be receiving counseling services they desperately need or whether their
student will be able to afford glasses for improved vision.
Strong leaders using their moral imperative as a strategy can transform low
achieving schools to become a professional learning community that improves the
performance of teachers and students. Treating teachers with respect and providing them
with necessary staff development helps teacher retention and increases their drive, their
collective moral purpose for raising the bar and closing the achievement gap.
Sustainable and meaningful changes take time and are an evolutionary process
toward higher achievement. Maintaining status quo is not an option. A leaders’
commitment to stay at least five years, create a socially just environment for all,
providing teachers with necessary tools, tapping into their dignity and moral purpose,
setting direction in organizational systems, having relentless focus, diverting distracters,
and creating accountable collaborative communities are what works in school reform. A
good education and strong civic values can be an equalizer for student as their ticket to a
democratic society. I strongly believe that we have to educate our students not just to
become good thinkers but also to be moral and ethical individuals. When we enact our
moral purpose, we can change lives for a better future.
“Dr. King once said that the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards
justice...but…it bends because each of us in our own ways put our hand on that arc and
we bend it in the direction of justice…”
Barack Obama
Appendix A
Pangani Elementary Walk Through-Observation Feedback
Rigor, Relevance & Relationships
Teacher: ___________________________
Date: _________________________________
Time In: ____________Time Out: ___________Observer: ____________________________
Daily Schedule:
Lesson Plan Bk:
Student writing:
Math & rdg fluencies
Are students engaged, (Time on Task)?
Most Some Few
Do students understand what they are learning today? No
Most Some Few
Evidence that students understand both the content and related concepts:
Questions to Ask Students:
1. What are you learning, (standard)(CSTP #3):
2. Why are you learning this, (lesson objective)?
The following effective instructional practices were evident as I walked through your
□ Communicate objective to students. (CSTP #5)
□ Activate or construct prior knowledge. (CSTP #4)
□ Provide support for conceptual development(charts, language frames, gestures,
manipulatives, visuals, etc.) (CSTP #3 & # 4)
□ Provide direct instruction in specific skill/s. EDI models and checking for
understanding. (CSTP1&4)
□ Provide effective models. (problems, completed writing assignment, completed
projects, etc.) (CSTP 4 & 5)
□ Check for understanding consistently and frequently (TAPPLE, RAJ). (CSTP #4 & # 5)
□ Provide appropriate wait time to allow students to process information & formulate
responses. (CSTP 4 & 5)
□ Provide appropriate practice (guided, independent). (CSTP #4)
□ Provide closure (students review/reflect on learning and evaluate success in meeting
objectives (CSTP 1 &4)
□ Differentiate instruction (small group, assignment modification, alternate materials,
etc.) (CSTP # 4 & #5)
□ Establish clear standards for behavior and management. (CSTP #2)
□ Support the development of academic language and require use of complete
sentences. (CSTP 3&4)
□ Engage students and promote accountability (TPS, quickwrites, quizzes, random
calling, etc.) (CSTP #1)
□ Maintain high expectations and provide continuous academic challenge. (CSTP #2 &
□ Establish routines and provide smooth transitions. (CSTP#2 & #4)
Lesson Content:
_____________ Whole Group
Direct Instruction
Small group
Standard Being Taught: ___________________ COGNITIVE LEVEL:
Analysis or Evaluation
Comments/Questions and Quotes are located on the back of this page
Please respond to any questions via e-mail or in person
Appendix B
Decision Making Framework
Data Analysis
Knowing What
to Look for:
What essential
data sources
have been
Converting data
to meaningful
When is the data
analyzed and by
How and When
is the data
Gap Analysis:
What is the data
What is the
desired level of
What is the
current or actual
level of
Who is
responsible for
gathering and
the data?
Cause Analysis:
What is the cause
of the gap
identified in the
previous step? Is
it related to
financial, or
human resources?
Development and
Knowing what to
Selection: What
modifications will
be implemented,
monitored, and/or
evaluated as a
result of the data
indicators and gap
What is current
research telling
us related to the
Can we replicate?
Do we have to
What needs do
we have?
How do we
sequence and
assign the tasks?
Who will
monitor, and or
How will we know
when the project
is complete?
Learning Needs
Knowing how
you’re doing:
Resources - What
resources are
being utilized and
what programs,
products, and/or
services are being
Outcomes – What
are the intended,
What are the
program evaluation
data points
When will data be
What is the
Is there a need
for formative
Is there a need
for summative
(state): Specific,
Relevant, Timebound
Making sure we
have what it
takes to get the
job done
Throughout the
process, what
learning needs
have been
 Knowledgebased: content
or research
 Skill-based:
programs or
Are there costs
associated with
the needs?
Can TOT, Site
support or
resources be
utilized to
support the
Appendix C
Region Writing Graph
One Year Growth from Regional
Target for Writing Strategies
Appendix D
Vision Mission
Bold Steps Chart
Mission Statement:
All students will meet or exceed grade level standards. The achievement gap will be eliminated.
Qualities and behaviors that are highly regarded at Prairie
instructional minutes
We address student specific
Continual Professional
Strong professional learning
Treat each other the way you
want to be treated
School Community
Positive Attitude
Inviting, caring culture
Use of data for informed
decision making
Accountability and high
expectations for all
Open to Change
Appreciate diversity
Collaborative Culture
(Academic and Physical)
“It Takes a Village” attitude
We don’t allow our kids to
What do we see in Pangani’s Future?
100% Attendance
Students will be at school.
Students will take initiative in their education and will be independent
learners that are self-directed and motivated. Students’ academic skills
will meet or exceed grade level standards. Their language skills will be
at grade level and instruction in data driven.
Students will make good choices and will act responsibly. The actions
Exemplary Character
of students and staff will reflect a state of being emotionally and
physically healthy.
Students and staff will be accepting of each other’s differences.
Teachers, students, staff, the community and administration will work
together to achieve common goals.
Parents will be active partners in their child’s education. Parents will be seen
Parent Involvement
on campus and provide encouragement to their children. There is a clear
partnership between the staff and the parents at home.
Positive Attitude
Staff and Students will have a positive attitude and will be eager to learn.
Appendix E
Pangani Teacher Expectations for 2011/2012
Academic Expectations:
 Post objectives on the front board and refer students to them in the opening and closing
of lessons
 Post a daily schedule including topic covered
 Develop in collaboration with your grade level team a year-long scope and sequence of
all key grade level standards in ELA and Math taught to mastery before Star Testing
 Lesson plans prepared prior to the week taught. Weekly lesson plans book visible on
front table or teacher desk.
 Benchmark assessments given during the time suggested on staff calendar. SMART
goals created and targeted based on identified and prioritized student needs.
 Teams coming prepared to actively discuss student performance data during grade level
meetings/team time.
Climate Expectations:
 Post Classroom rules and collaborate with students to build buy-in with rules and establish
classroom norms and procedures
 Teach the school wide behavior expectations for each area in the first two weeks of school
and again if the need arises
 Teach character education explicitly throughout the day.
 Have an introductory conversation by phone or in person with the family of every student in
your class within their first two weeks with you. Share information about a goal the student
has for this year and how you plan to help them meet it. Ask the family for any information
you need to know to help there student be successful and document contact in communication
 Do a survey of student’s likes and interests and learning strengths, styles at the beginning of
the year to use in lesson design and to make personal connections.
 Contact families by phone or note to be returned signed. Enter student behaviors in SISWEB.
 Correspond with families monthly by e-mail, grave level/class newsletter, weekly progress
notes. Include principal on your distribution list.
Intervention Expectations:
 Collaborate with track partner or grade level to provide small group instruction for student for
math or ELA workshop.
 Collaborate with learning center to maximize special education student’s access to core
curriculum in class including them in your grade level meetings as needed.
 At SST and IEP meetings bring evidence of student’s strengths and weaknesses and be able
to articulate the support or skill development you believe is needed to increase that student’s
academic or behavioral success in the format of a grid of nine.
Classroom Wall expectations:
Writing for every student displayed and updated every 6-8 weeks.
Reading and Math fluencies displayed and updated as needed.
Student generated work displayed.
Evidence of Character Education.
Appendix F
The Pangani Way
What are 10 things that you can do to improve the equity gap?
1. “Treat them like they are rich” – We don’t let rich kids fail. Rich kids have high
expectation, intensive assistance, and immediate intervention when they are in
trouble, and every student from every ethnic and socioeconomic group deserves the
2. Equity is not equal – Equity is meeting the needs of each individual student.
3. Challenge, not sympathy – Listen to the elders of every culture. They do not ask
for sympathy. They demand challenge and a chance for their children and
grandchildren to have a better opportunity and greater achievement than previous
4. The “culture of success” for every student – Define what successful students and
adults do and then model these successful behaviors and insist on them every day in
every setting.
5. Time and project management – keys to effective self-discipline.
6. Balanced extrinsic and intrinsic motivation – Yes, it really is OK to reward
students for great academic performance and superior behavior.
7. Resilience – Multiple opportunities for success. When students are playing sports,
we tell them “It’s not how you start the season that counts, but how you finish. We
encourage them to rebound from every disappointment and failure. Great scientists,
mathematicians, writers, and readers do the same.
8. Appropriate consequences – The consequence for failing to turn in work is neither
a zero nor an F, but the appropriate consequence is DOING THE WORK.
9. Notification writing – One of the best ways for students to engage in the lifelong
skills of thinking, reasoning, and analysis. Specifically students at every grade level
must write to inform, persuade, and analyze.
10. Relentless teachers – The refrain of teachers and leaders who close the equity gap
is, “We just don’t let our kids fail.”
Appendix G
History Chart
Appendix H
Similar Schools Rank
Similar schools rank
We have a similar schools rank of 9.
We are compared to 100 similar schools statewide in order to gain this rank. These schools are picked
based on student and parent background. Only six schools statewide did better than Pangani with API.
Number of students tested
School A
Northern CA
School B
Southern CA
School C
Southern CA
School D
Southern CA
School E.
Northern CA
School F
Northern CA
Northern CA
If you notice, ALL schools above us are much smaller and probably not on a year round
While we are not where we want to be, we should be VERY proud of our gains.
We will be celebrating with our community this Thursday during our community Barbeque,
with our students next week, and with teachers during our next track change day, October 1 st.
Thank you again for all the extra hours you put in and for placing our students first. Next year
it is 800 or BUST!
Appendix I
Regional Writing
Year 1
 DONE: Begin to address writing strategies standards weaknesses by initiating a regional
approach/model for PL, communication/collaboration K-12.
 DONE: Provide professional learning on the power of collaboratively viewing student
 DONE: Offer opportunities for regional grade specific sharing and collaboration.
 DONE: Create a grade 6-12 Professional Learning Community.
Year 2
Year 2
2- Year 2
4-5 Year 2
Introduce and
Introduce and
Introduce and
provide PL for a
Introduce and
provide PL for a
provide PL for a
provide PL for a
Response to
Response to
Response to
Literature (CCSS
Response to
Literature (CCSS
Literature (CCSS
Writing Standard
Writing Standard
1) rubric.
(CCSS Writing
Standard 1)
1) rubric.
Standard 1)
Write common,
Write common,
grade level specific  COMPLETED:
Write common,
grade level
Response to
Write common,
grade level
specific Response
Literature prompts
grade level
to Literature
and administer a
Response to
prompts and
regional common
Response to
administer a
prompts and
regional common
prompts and
administer a
administer a
Calibrate among
grade level teams
Calibrate among
and collaboratively
grade level teams
score student
 In Progress:
 In Progress:
Begin to
Begin to
examine lesson
score student
 In Progress:
examine lesson
plan design for
Begin to
plan design for
examine lesson
 In Progress: Begin
plan design for
to examine lesson
 In Progress:
plan design for
 In Progress:
Agree on
 In Progress:
Agree on
language and
vocabulary for
instruction of
writing and
information to
every teacher
in the region.
Agree on
language and
vocabulary for
instruction of
writing and
information to
every teacher
in the region.
language and
vocabulary for
instruction of
writing and
information to
every teacher in
the region.
among grade
among grade
level teams and
level teams
score student
score student
 In Progress: Agree
on common
language and
vocabulary for
instruction of
writing and
disseminate that
information to
every teacher in
the region.
Year 3
 Create PLCs for grade K-5.
 Refine and create a routine for collaborative scoring processes and create timelines for
ongoing collaborative scoring.
 Provide opportunities for cross grade level examination and scoring of student work.
 Provide PL and sharing opportunities for creating replicable lessons plans based on
standards and a common writing scoring rubric.
Year 4
 Discuss and create possible instructional calendar, instructional sequences, and pacing
guides to support instruction and ensure sustainability.
 Examine trend data from collaborative scoring sessions in order to inform instructional
 Strengthen writing in the content areas by exploring Writing Standard 2 (informational)
and create a sequence for reviewing the rubric, discuss instruction and creating
common prompts and scoring opportunities for the standard.
Year 5
 Create, utilize, and refine a bank of resources (plans, exemplars, video clips, etc.) in a
central accessible location.
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