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At AAMA Sanchez Charter School, Our Teachers Understand Their Students’ Struggles August 14, 2015

Posted by latinoschoolleaders in Cultural Relevance, Principal Effectiveness.
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By Bianca Arriazo, National Latino Institute for School Leaders Fellow, NCLR

A 19-year-old high school senior walks into an office: “I just got kicked out of class again, Miss.”

“What happened now?” asks the person behind the desk.

He responds, “I was just resting my eyes.”

In moments like this educators realize they are the keepers of a student’s academic life. They understand there is a reason for this student being sleepy and they have to share his story with fellow educators. As a team, they have to develop a plan to keep him awake and engaged in his classes so he can make it to Graduation Day.


From an outsider’s view, the question lingers as to why this student is still in school and why he’s received multiple opportunities after acting out and being disrespectful. However, there’s more to this young Latino boy who wears baggy pants, has tattoos in the most random places, hates wearing his school uniform, and has poor attendance. He is being raised by a single mother who works all night at a warehouse. She is only able to tell him he needs to go to school but not able to give him a good reason. He tries to help by working odd jobs but he is influenced by his classmates, buddies, and surroundings and ends up spending his money and time frivolously. Soon after he becomes a father and faced with the urgency to mature and become responsible for another person. He gets a steady job but works long hours, sometimes until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. He knows he needs to graduate yet he has to overcome so many obstacles, just like countless other students in the public school system.

At AAMA Sanchez Charter School, our school population is 98 percent Latino, 48 percent of whom are English language learners. We are an open enrollment charter school and often serve as a second-chance school for students. Our teachers and staff make it a priority to establish relationships with our kids so when a student joins us, they know they are now part of our familia. Most of the time our staff becomes the rock in our students’ lives. Our teachers are not able to be traditional. They have to incorporate art, technology, and a student’s personal interests into every lesson so kids can stay engaged and awake in their classrooms. Our campus has to be mi casa for every student.


Our Principal, John De La Cruz, frequently reminds us “parents are sending us their very best.” With that in mind, we are at the beginning of another year and we will invest all our efforts and emotions on preparing for the many English language learner newcomers, as well as all the other Latino youth who will walk through our door on the first day. We know they will come to us with many needs and gaps in all areas, especially in English language acquisition. We also know they will have to face many social challenges, becoming teenage parents, battling drug addictions, reporting to their parole officers, and just making mistakes and maturing in general. Nevertheless, we also know it will be our mijos and mijas who become our future leaders and parents.

In the end, we may not exceed expectations in all testing areas, but we sure help create and close a chapter in each one of our student’s lives.



A School Year in Review: Camino Nuevo Charter Academy June 24, 2015

Posted by latinoschoolleaders in Common Standards, Principal Effectiveness, School Year in Review.
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By Heather McManus, Principal, Camino Nuevo Charter Academy


As another school year winds down, educators throughout California will reflect on the last 10 months of student progress, overall growth toward goals, and how we have changed as individuals and professionals. This year’s evolution was memorable for us at Camino Nuevo Charter Academy (CNCA) as well as at many other schools across California.

This school year brought with it many celebrations and challenges. Wrapping up a $36 million construction project that was delayed for nearly a year, we packed up 15 years’ worth of school memories and moved into Belmont High School to experience a co-location. Co-location, also known as “Prop 39,” pairs up public charter schools with local public district schools that are under-enrolled to share the space and school facilities.

Co-location can be challenging for all parties involved. Due to the expensive nature of land and real estate in California, Prop 39 remains an important option for many public charter schools in underserved neighborhoods. This year, the California Supreme Court impacted the law’s implementation in some school districts. In April, the Court ruled that the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) had been violating Prop 39 and required LAUSD to make changes to ensure that its methods of allocating classrooms to all schools are lawful.

CaminoNuevo_Pic2The past year also brought an influx of revenue directed toward public schools and a new state funding mechanism: the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). Under this revolutionary model, schools receive a base amount of money, and those that serve a majority of students who live in poverty, are English language learners, or are foster youth receive a concentration and supplemental grant above the base amount. Historically, schools in the most needy areas operate on fewer dollars than schools in more affluent areas because they are funded by community tax dollars.

With the implementation of LCFF, schools are held accountable by creating a Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP). At Camino Nuevo Charter Academy, parents, staff, and students participated in budget meetings, surveys, and presentations related to the eight state priorities and CNCA-specific priorities. Our plan prioritized, among other things, providing mental health services, interventions for struggling students, and a well-rounded education. As the year winds down, schools are measuring progress toward the goals outlined in the accountability plan and writing updated versions of their plan for next year.

CaminoNuevo_pic5Finally, this school year saw the first full-year implementation of the new California Common Core State Standards. These standards require schools to dramatically shift classroom instruction. This spring, students throughout the state engaged in the first round of the Smarter Balanced Assessments. At CNCA, students in grades 3–8 took four assessments over eight days and a total of 16 hours. They had to successfully navigate the new technology testing platform as well as more rigorous standards. While California will not use this year’s results in calculating the state’s accountability tool, the Academic Performance Index, at CNCA we are anxiously awaiting our scores to help us push our work forward.

In these final few days of the school year, we’re working to close it out while moving swiftly toward the next. We are already planning and hiring for 2015–2016 and look forward to continuing to provide students with an excellent education.

Here’s to a great school year and a restful summer!

The Effective Teacher May 1, 2015

Posted by stclaireadriaan in Principal Effectiveness.
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Mr. Andrew Persin, Effective English Teacher at Academia Avance edutaining his 8th grade class.

Mr. Andrew Persin (standing, center), Effective English Teacher at Academia Avance “edutaining” his 8th grade class.

Effective – describes a particular teacher who has been most successful in helping students gain knowledge and skills to be successful academically, personally, and plays a major role in forming their character. An effective teacher can be summed up in 3’E’s; educator, edutainer and an edumedic.

The Educator: reaches out to students and their families before the start of the school year to introduce themselves and gather important information about the students he is about to teach. They inspire and build positive relationships with their students on day one. The educator makes sure that on day one they have an enticing way of sharing his expectations. Key to creating an environment of learning where students feel welcome, and forming a pact with them regarding their success in class. In the classroom, I used to get all of us standing on our desk singing a modified version of the Monkee’s song, “I’m a Believer”.

The effective teacher also enjoys teaching and seeks to find the root cause of student’s misbehavior or academic performance. They work to restore relationships instead of pushing children out of class or school. It all starts with a well -planned differentiated lesson that the teacher designed himself keeping each of their students in mind. The execution of the lesson plan is delivered meticulously with the teacher not being afraid to adjust the lesson based on the data, checking for understanding, and ensuring that students are learning. The effective teacher knows how to correctively instruct in various settings; such as individually (one to one), in small groups and whole class based on observation, data and self-reflection.

The Edutainer: describes the effective teacher who educates their students while entertaining them as they participate actively in their own learning. Their classes are riddled with the “joy factor.” The effective teacher creates and presents the instructional materials in a fun and novel way that will help the students’ master and remember the materials.

The short video shows how I infused music, art, humor and fun into Math lessons as a teacher. By using this method, English Language Learners experienced and learned to conceptualize many math concepts. An effective edutainer uses whatever it takes to motivate, excite, stimulate and peek students’ interest in their lesson presentations. The eudtainer is not shy, nor afraid of organized chaos where students are learning while having fun. All forms of media that students are engaged with every day, whether video games or social media is exciting and fun, the edutainer is able to hold their attention in class and help the students to have focused fun while learning.

The Edumedic: – describes the effective teacher who identifies the needs of the student’s earlier learning experience and digs into their repertoire of tricks to rebuild and close the gap through targeted explicit corrective instruction. Each Friday, the Edumedic prepares a targeted packet for each individual student based on the data from the weeks classwork, homework and exit tickets. The goal is to provide practice and support to strengthen each student’s achievement in the areas that they were having difficulty in.

Classes can be divided into homogenous groupings during independent work time. This allows the teacher to work with each group at a pace that will enhance mastery. Struggling students can meet with their teacher before or afterschool, as this allows an opportunity to pre-teach the day’s lessons and prepare them for class later in the day. The recovery process in terms of academic gains will be enhanced because it leads to greater participation, self-confidence, and mastery of the material. The edumedic knows exactly what each student requires and provides each student with access to learning through differentiated instruction.

There are only two types of teachers, the effective teacher and the ineffective teacher. The effective teacher narrows the achievement gap because he is an educator, an edutainer and an edumedic. He believes in the potential of every student and sets out to make sure that every student learns in his class daily.

Creating a Climate of Possibility for Latino Youth February 19, 2014

Posted by latinoschoolleaders in Common Standards, Principal Effectiveness.
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By Jennifer Mayer-Glenn, Assistant Principal, Glendale Middle School, NILSL Fellow, NCLR


I recently watched Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk on school leadership for the fourth time. Each time I understand more deeply and clearly the role of a school leader. Robinson says the “real role of leadership” is to create a climate of possibility. As I reflect on student populations like the one at the school where I am a leader, there has not been a climate of possibility for most students for many years. Our diverse population of refugees, children of refugees, new immigrants, children of new immigrants, English learners, and generations of under-served students need us to create that climate of possibility.

Our students need schools that provide an education that is individualized and personalized. At Glendale Middle School in Salt Lake City we work to create varied personalized programs or projects that “hook” our students to their learning so that they can see the purpose and possibility. What is more culturally relevant for a student than working on a project to improve one’s own community or making a movie about a current issue at school?

School leaders must also create a climate of possibility for their teachers. Students have been conditioned into believing that they cannot achieve at high academic levels, as have many teachers. They too believe that their students are not able to achieve at high academic levels. If teachers and students alike do not believe it is possible, then it is not possible. Our job is to create a system to support teachers to know what is possible and to develop the heart, the will and the skill to make the change necessary for our Latino students and English learners to achieve at high levels.

In addition to creating a climate of possibility is the necessity to create a well run system that insists on high quality instruction and assessment, and the use of data to drive instruction, intervention and professional development. The Common Core State Standards are a rigorous tool to focus teachers and students on high expectations. Forbes Magazine’s list of The Eight Characteristics of Effective School Leaders mirrors what is possible and what our students need: high expectations, relentlessness, personal development of every student, rich opportunity within and out of the classroom, partnerships with parents and the community, and rigorous data analysis.

As we continue the work to create climates of possibilities for our students and teachers we may find ourselves achieving things we never would have expected.

Go Slow to Go Fast February 19, 2014

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By Kevin Myers, NILSL Fellow, NCLR

NILSL_Feb14_blogpic1Students walk into a classroom with an innate trust in teachers. They trust teachers to educate, to support academically and emotionally, and they trust teachers to guide them through a year of overall development. With all of the different facets of teaching and the pressure of testing accountability bearing down on them, balancing the needs of all students is a difficult undertaking. To be effective, teachers need to juggle many different tasks, countless student needs, and hundreds of varying resources.

When working with populations of students with a high percentage of English learners, maintaining focus and balancing all of these plates at once is even more important. It’s easy to get lost in the myriad of “To Dos” that pop onto a teachers task list, but I believe there are important strategies that teachers need to use on a daily basis to ensure that they are effective with their English learners and with all of their students. In order to maintain that innate trust students have in educators, we must initiate frequent checks for understanding, provide meaningful and immediate feedback, and build relationships with kids.

As the kids pile through the classroom door, a million different cues and must-dos run through a teacher’s head. Attendance, Do Nows, passing back work, classroom procedures, correcting behavior, and starting a lesson are all thoughts zooming around in a teacher’s mind, colliding with each other and creating a lot of internal chaos. When this happens to me, I like to think back to something I heard during an Inquiry by Design professional development session. The trainer said to the class, “You need to go slow so you can go fast.” This seems like a paradox at first, but in actuality, it’s wonderful advice! When all of the tasks and stresses of teaching start to collide, it’s imperative for teachers to take a breath and slow down. One strategy for slowing down is to plan frequent checks for understanding into a lesson.

NILSL_Feb14_blogpic2Kids need for teachers to focus on the lesson and what is currently being taught, not what else still needs to be done during that period. When teachers use strategies like Think-Pair-Share, Thumbs-Up/Thumbs-Down, or evaluating an idea by showing a number of fingers (1-4 seems to be effective), kids have time to process what is being taught during the lesson. By intentionally taking the time to pause and check in with students, teachers are ensuring that kids are ready to move on to the next step. When the kids are ready to move on, teachers won’t have to spend stressful minutes going back and re-teaching. If teachers take time to make sure kids are with them through checks for understanding, they will definitely be more effective with all students, including our English learners.

With a million things on our minds, it would be easy for an educator to get bogged down in the stress and the obligation of everyday work. But if we peel back the curtain to get a glimpse of the reason we all got into this field, we will see the students. We all want to be effective educators so our kids can be successful, and if we take the time to go slow- to check for understanding, to provide feedback, and to build relationships- we will be effective indeed.

Got Parents? December 24, 2013

Posted by latinoschoolleaders in Parent Engagement, Principal Effectiveness.
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By Crystal J. Gallegos, Assistant Principal, Chavez/Huerta K-12 Preparatory Academy, Pueblo, CO

NILSL_parentspost_CrystalGallegosSchools across the country are working diligently to get parents more involved in their students’ education. As educators look for innovative ways to engage parents in their schools they are also seeking assistance from the outside community.

There are numerous reasons parents are not engaging in the educational process. These include, but are not limited to: transportation, work, money, intimidation, a feeling of the unknown, insecurities, language, and socio-economic status. Each of these factors must be taken into account when encouraging parents to come and participate at school.

There are numerous outside programs that can be replicated with success at a school, such as: Padres Comprometidos (an NCLR program), Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students), Parent Teacher Organizations (PTO), Family Nights, Classroom Parents, Parent Volunteer Groups, and Conversation Groups between parents and administration. The partnership between schools and families are the driving force of student success.  (more…)

Accountability – Texas Style June 17, 2013

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PLC’s at work reviewing assessment data

In Texas, we recently passed the 45th day of state assessments. In literal terms, that means half a semester of school.

At the middle school level, our seventh graders have already taken the English Language Arts (ELA) and Math tests while our eighth graders have taken ELA, Math, Science and American History I tests. At the high school level, our 11th graders have already taken their versions of the same four tests: English III, Algebra II, Physics, and American History II. This past week, our ninth graders took Algebra 1, Biology and World Geography tests. Next week, our 10th graders will finish the testing season by taking their English II, Chemistry, and World History tests. To those of you not from Texas, I welcome you to State Assessments 101 – Texas style!

Did I mention that we started the school year with almost 40 twelfth graders who still needed to pass at least one of the 11th grade tests in order to graduate this school year? Over the course of those laste 45 days, we whittled that number of seniors down to about a dozen. In Texas, for most students, it doesn’t matter if you pass all your classes, receive all your credits or have a high GPA. If you don’t pass all your 11th grade state assessments you cannot graduate.


Common Core and the Productive Struggle: Paving the Way for Latino Students April 4, 2013

Posted by latinoschoolleaders in Common Standards, Principal Effectiveness.
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By Ingrid Anderson, Instructional Leadership Coach-PUC Schools, Los Angeles, CA

According to the 2010 census, the Latino population had a 37 percent increase since 2000, boasting the largest growth of any ethnic group. In support of social justice in our country, Latino students deserve equal access to the college and career of their choice. However, only 56 percent of Latino students graduate from high school on time compared to 77% of their White peers. By uniting together in an effort to tackle this challenge, states are adopting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) as a way to set the bar high for all. The CCSS is an exciting opportunity for all Latino students to be held to high expectations and have access to the educational resources and support they deserve. Across the nation, school districts and charter management organizations are analyzing how the adoption of CCSS will demand significant shifts in the way teachers think about, design and deliver instruction to students. At Partnerships to Uplift Communities (PUC) in Los Angeles, they are working together to embrace this transition.

In the awareness phase of the Common Core transition, PUC Schools have engaged in a few key actions on the road to full implementation in 2014-2015.  (more…)

Culturally Relevant Practice: What This Means for a K-8 School in Colorado Striving to Make Learning Meaningful March 25, 2013

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By Carolyn Gery, Ed.D., Principal, Scholars to Leaders AcademyMLK_Memorial_LaitnoSchoolLeaders

He tossed my renewal application across the table and stared at me, with a pointed look, rubbed his head and spat, “How can you state in this that your kids can think critically.” What could I say? I had to sit quietly, knowing what I know, and knowing it was neither the time nor place for a heated debate.

He is a board member of our authorizer and the power dynamic is clear. I was told one metric alone counted as the primary measurement of the quality of our school – our standardized test scores. I work between the rock and the hard place of using the once-a-year test scores to guide instructional practice in a way that results in meaningful learning for our students.


Teaching and Learning — A Principal’s Perspective March 15, 2013

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By John De La Cruz, Principal, George I. Sanchez Charter School

I don’t know if there has ever been a time when public schools only had to concern themselves with teaching and learning academic content but I can say with certainty that now is definitely not that time. At my inner city charter school everyday brings new challenges that have nothing to do with academic content.

George I. Sanchez studentsIf you were a principal at my school, a typical day on for you might look something like this: You start the morning dealing with some high school students who were brought in reeking of the marijuana they smoked on their way to school that morning. Shortly thereafter you deal with some middle-school students who were bullying each other because of something that was posted to Facebook. Just as that is resolved, you are made aware that the young lady from yesterday’s bullying incident is having a crisis and has indicated to staff that she is contemplating suicide. While addressing this issue, it is brought to your attention that a pregnant girl in 10th grade is possibly experiencing contractions and needs medical attention. Efforts to reach any of the parents or family members of any the students involved in these incidents have not been met with success. Phone numbers that were provided to the school are no longer active or are answered by the wrong party. Therefore, the responsibility of what to do with those students falls squarely on your shoulders.