Heroes in low-income schools: Part 2

William Woods EDU

In our last Look Into Education blog, we discussed the great need in Missouri and all across the U.S. for education leaders — heroes — to step into low-income schools and enact change.

Linda Cliatt-Wayman grew up attending Strawberry Mansion High School, a low-income school in Philadelphia, and shares her story in a TED Talk. Acting as their fourth principal in four years, Cliatt-Wayman saw only one option: radical change.

Her first act of business was assembling a strong team of leaders within the school. Leaders who were passionate about the students and seeing change.

At first the team tackled the “small stuff,” including everything from resetting every locker combination by hand so that every student would have a secure locker; changing dim light bulbs, decorating bulletin boards with colorful and positive messages, and recycling all unused materials to de-clutter classrooms and add structure and organization to the building.

Cliatt-Wayman and her team tackled the big things too, like assessing the school budget and relocating funds to hire more teachers and support staff; restricting the school day schedule to add remediation, honors courses, extracurricular activities and counseling throughout the day; creating a development plan to know where every support person and police officer would be throughout the day; and devising a school-wide discipline program designed to promote positive behavior at all times.

The outcome?

“Strawberry Mansion was removed from the Persistently Dangerous List our first year after being on the Persistently Dangerous List for five consecutive years,” Cliatt-Wayman says. “Leaders make the impossible possible.”

Another problem the team at Strawberry Mansion faced was that although teachers knew what to teach, they did not know how to teach so many children with such a wide range of abilities — many of which were at different levels of proficiency in math and literature.

So the team developed lesson-delivery models and intervention approaches, techniques bachelors in education students are taught throughout their time at William Woods University.

The results?

In one year the school’s state scores grew by 171 percent in Algebra and 107 percent in literature.

“For those of us who are privileged and have the responsibility of leading a school that serves children in poverty, we must truly lead, and when we are faced with unbelievable challenges, we must stop and ask ourselves, “So what? Now what? What are we going to do about it?”  Cliatt-Wayman explains.

Beyond the power of unity, strong leadership and firm discipline, the approach to seeing her students succeed, that Cliatt-Wayman believes in above all else is showing her students that they are loved and that they are worth knowing.

“And as we lead, we must never forget that every single one of our students is just a child, often scared by what the world tells them they should be, and no matter what the rest of the world tells them… we should always provide them with hope, our undivided attention, unwavering belief in their potential, consistent expectations, and we must tell them often, if nobody told them they loved them today, remember we do, and we always will.”

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