- Sonya Mora, principal of Samuel Houston Gates Elementary in San Antonio, Texas, transformed her school from one of the lowest performing in Texas to one with an "A" status, Edutopia reports. Much of the student population is from high-poverty, drug-infested neighborhoods.
- Mora improved teacher retention by working with them, rather than just telling them what to do. She demonstrated changes by teaching lessons herself. As the level of instruction improved, students became more engaged and disciplinary actions dropped.
- Thanks to Mora’s leadership, the school is set to become an in-district charter school, which will allow the school to modify the curriculum. Mora plans to alter the school’s balanced literacy, guided math and blended learning away from the district’s current format to better suit her students' needs.
Improving struggling schools comes down to effective leadership, which means inspiring teachers. The Brookings Institution broke down the qualities of strong school leaders to include the ability to identify priorities and develop a plan, having a clear mission and, like Mora, inspiring others to take on leadership roles.
In addition, teachers need time for collaboration, to review data and develop trust with other staff members.
Research shows that good school leadership is one of the most effective ways to retain teachers, which is especially challenging in high-poverty areas. Teachers need to be and feel like they are fully supported, both the novices and the veterans. Monthly new teacher meetings help, as well as regular, relevant professional development. Principals can also attend to whether teachers feel included in the social structure of the school.
Sometimes, taking an unconventional approach can spark positive change. In Rhode Island, for example, Pleasant View Elementary School’s principal Gara Field used blended learning as a strategy that helped the school emerge out of intervention status. Field is credited with understanding how blended learning fits in with the curriculum and championing its potential positive impacts. She encourages the teachers to try new things because she is willing to take that risk herself. If they fail, they will just try again. She also makes use of her experience as a soccer coach to build teams and motivate staff members.