What Proactive School Leadership Looks Like

How the annual New Leaders Roberts Award for School Innovation helps exceptional school leaders be proactive and respond to the specific needs of their school communities.
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Even amid mask mandates, staff turnover, hybrid learning, and ongoing pandemics of COVID and systemic racism, school leaders continue to step up to the plate. Galvanizing the entire school to solve problems, innovate, and serve their community. And they don't only concern themselves with the academic needs of students. They keep social and emotional needs front and center.

Since 2013, New Leaders has partnered with national board member Linnea Roberts on the Roberts Award for School Innovation. This partnership supports outstanding New Leaders alumni as they create solutions to specific challenges in their school communities. The video embedded below highlights how a few past awardees and their teams displayed leadership and ingenuity to respond to the immediate needs of the communities they serve.

Dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline

Across the nation, Black students are nearly four times as likely to be suspended from school than their white counterparts. “Our Black boys were not doing well academically. We knew that something drastic needed to be done,” explained Archie Moss, Jr., principal at Bruce Elementary School in Memphis, TN, and New Leaders alum (2016). This thinking led to the creation of the Gentleman’s League, a mentoring program to offer Black and Brown boys an opportunity to beat the odds through supportive relationships and enrichment.

“The Gentleman’s League was so much more important to them that they didn’t want to miss out on those opportunities. We decreased chronic absenteeism, and we started seeing a huge increase in parent involvement,” said Moss about the success of the program.

Getting food to the entire community

When COVID-19 hit, many families lost work and access to reliable income. “People needed to eat. People needed to get the resources they relied on through attending school”, said Lola Bloom, Director of Food and Wellness at DC Bilingual Public Charter Schools in Washington, DC. With this realization, New Leaders alum and instructional advisor at DC Bilingual, Alina Thouyaret (2016), knew it wouldn’t be enough to just serve their students. They needed to support the food and wellness needs of the entire community. So Thouyaret appointed Bloom to extend their meal distribution to all students in the neighborhood. The DC Bilingual leadership team also recognized the need for connection during the shutdown and embedded mental health components into their culinary and gardening education curriculum.

Assessing literacy gains from a distance

Like most schools around the country and beyond, the staff at Coliseum College Prep Academy (CCPA) in Oakland, CA, scrambled to adapt their reading intervention program for distance learning. But with reading instruction happening virtually, educators couldn't assess student progress. “We were not sure how much kids were learning”, said Amy Carozza, principal and New Leaders alum (2011). With Carozza at the helm, CCPA added periodic in-person assessments to their intensive reading intervention program for sixth and seventh graders. These assessments allowed staff to see that kids were actually learning. Many students had achieved two levels of reading growth, which is what was expected, while some achieved more. “[The impact] for us is having the data to place kids for next year and knowing it’s accurate,” said Carozza.

Creating a sense of belonging

New Leaders alum (2012) and principal of the Chicago-based McAuliffe Elementary School Ryan Belville recognized the need for a strong sense of belonging and community during remote learning. Along with the help of his leadership team and school counselor, Belville led the development of an incentive system designed to increase attendance, encourage family bonding at home, and show appreciation to educators who were nearing burnout in the thick of it all. This ingenious use of incentives allowed McAuliffe Elementary to maintain a positive, supportive environment and create the conditions for student success during remote learning.

These impactful stories feature only four out of 91 winners since the award’s conception. And those 91 winners are only a small subset of thousands of examples of how principals lead change in their schools every day.

What does your school community need now?

"The Roberts Award is special because it gives alumni the opportunity to either innovate or replicate success for our the children they serve," says Michelle Pierre-Farid, a New Leaders alum and currently our National Senior Executive Director of Strategic Partnerships and Alumni Engagement at New Leaders. "Sometimes, you have an idea and want to see it come to life. At New Leaders, we are proud that we have this opportunity to give our alumni that chance to try something news. To think differently and make a change."

What are you waiting for? The time is now. If you are a New Leaders Alum who wants to see your idea come to life, apply for the Roberts Award. Project applications are due January 5, 2022.

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