Leadership Focus on School Climate


Transforming a school from low performing to high performing is one of the most difficult challenges faced by campus principals. The overwhelming issues that plague schools in need of improvement is even more challenging for principals who are new to the position. Every turnaround process starts with an assessment of all the data sources that can adequately describe all the aspects of the school organization. The pivotal moment in the school’s change process happens when the principal uses the data to initiate the planning and implementation toward a vision of teacher effectiveness toward the goal of improved student achievement improvement.

This chapter will introduce the newly appointed principal of Pilgreen Middle school, Jean Roberts, and her journey of interpreting demographic, academic, human capital, and perception data to plan and initiate a change process with school improvement as the goal. She is supported in this process by leadership coach Chuck King. Together they analyze the data from student achievement scores and results from an organizational health assessment completed by the teachers and former principal prior to her appointment to Pilgreen. This information is used to develop a plan for the improvement of the school’s culture and climate that will lead to the goal of making Pilgreen a school that fosters an environment of high expectations for all.

A Principal’s Experience

Jean Roberts was appointed principal of Pilgreen Middle School in early July. She knew the school was in desperate need of improvements. Prior to interviewing for the position, Jean had done her homework, researching the demographics of the school and community:

The student population of 890 students in grades 6-8 was very diverse and consisted of 31 percent African American, 55 percent Hispanic, 12 percent Asian and 2 percent white students.

Thirty-three percent of the students were English Language Learners (ELL). Sixty-one percent of the student population qualified as economically disadvantaged. Seventy-four percent were considered at risk. The annual attendance rate was 90 percent, well below expectations. Student Achievement based on state testing and accountability showed that the students at Pilgreen struggled to meet the state required standards. End-of-the-year state assessments revealed that across all grade levels the average percentage of students demonstrating proficiency was below 50 percent in both reading and mathematics. Teacher turnover was high with approximately 20 percent of the 88 faculty members resigning over the previous two years. Most of the new teachers hired had fewer than five years of experience. The community surrounding Pilgreen was urban with multiple apartment complexes and low-income housing. Parent involvement was at a minimum and the once strong parent/teacher organization had disbanded the previous year due to a lack of participation. Jean knew that the job would require discovering the systemic dynamics that were contributing to poor student performance and developing strategies to overcome the challenging student demographics.

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