Several years ago when I accepted the job of principal at Yuba Feather Elementary School, a K-8 school in Northern California, I was told by a colleague that I was crazy to take the job. She told me that the atmosphere was hopelessly negative, that the staff was demoralized, and that students’ pride and interest in school were dismally low.
Having been given this advice and background information, I guess I was a little crazy, for I took the job. Despite the poor condition of the school, I sensed a powerful reservoir of potential. I saw a butterfly inside a tightly closed cocoon and believed a metamorphosis could happen. The metamorphosis of Yuba Feather School is something of a miracle? Today it is a school recognized through Northern California for its academic excellence, positive climate, and innovative atmosphere. The school has an award-winning writing program, a successful mastery learning “levels” math program, intense peer collaboration, a peer observation program, a highly successful literature-based reading program, a staff trained in teaching critical thinking, and an adult learning and problem solving environment for the teachers. Teachers from our school are sought out to make presentations locally and for other districts through Northern California. Two video films which focus on the Yuba Feather Writing Project have been distributed nationally and won first place in the 1986 National Education Film Festival. In 1986 the school was chosen as a California Distinguished School as a result of our students’ improved performance on the California Assessment Program test and our outstanding pride in their school.
What happened to bring about this miracle? How did demoralized teachers become a team who enjoy creating education as a quality product? How did the students become successful? It came about through my discovery of a new role of leadership and through teachers becoming empowered participants in improving the school. It came about because innovation was encouraged and excellence was the goal.
Through the entire experience of Yuba Feather School’s metamorphosis from a cocoon to a butterfly, I have been a learner. When I took the job of principal seven years ago, overlooking the advice of my colleague, I did not have answers to the problems facing the school. The answers came in recognizing that it is people, enthusiastic about what they are doing, who bring about renewal. I learned that teachers get enthusiastic when the principal becomes intensely involved in the process of delivering a quality product to students, when teachers participate in setting goals and then receive support and tools to reach those goals, and when teachers have opportunities to work together observing each other, sharing and solving problems. I learned that what is needed in schools is fundamental change in the way people work together. A sign hangs in our multi-purpose room which says it all: “A School Is Only As Good As Its People.”
In working with the outstanding staff at Yuba Feather, I have developed some strong beliefs:
- The belief that the singular purpose of the school is the delivery of a product which enables students to acquire a set of skills which will ensure their successful entry into higher education or the world of work.
- The belief that the staff, if given the opportunity and support, will work to ensure that students successfully achieve this goal.
- The belief in the desire of teachers and all of the staff to be personally successful, to achieve higher and higher levels of competency, and to be on a winning team.
It is these things which I have learned from this dedicated staff that I wish to share with you.
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