“I could have used the personalized, performance-based system growing up.”
Jaime Robles, Principal of Lindsay High School, understands why we need to transform our schools. He grew up just a bit south of Lindsay in an agricultural community, a first-generation resident and the first in his family to go to college. He saw many of his high school friends disengage from school.
Here are a few of the highlights of our conversation. You can also hear from Robles directly on this video.
What does it mean to be a principal in a performance-based system?
As an instructional leader, I focus my job on three goals. First, my job is to keep the compelling purpose of supporting our learners alive. It’s easy to slip back into doing things just because that’s the way we’ve always done them. Second, my job is to empower our staff. They need to have the freedom to do their jobs in supporting our learners. Third, I operate from a position of service and collaboration. This is very important because if I used top-down leadership, I wouldn’t be able to empower staff. These three elements go hand in hand.
The reason that Lindsay is able to make this transformation is because of the structure of shared leadership. The process we use to arrive at decisions reduces mistakes because we make sure to gather input and address all the issues. We seldom have to cut and recut because we are measuring every step of the way.
My job as a principal is to make sure our decision-making processes are managed effectively. At times I may need to step in to remind the team of our compelling purpose – our learners. When we have a shared goal, it makes decisions a lot easier. Collaboration is also a lot easier.
We always empower our staff, so we need to make sure we hire individuals who share our belief systems on how learners learn and what motivates them. As a result, our hiring process has become more intensive. A prospective employee will have a six-hour introduction to our model. If they are still interested, we’ll ask them to model a lesson. The final step is an in depth conversation with the principal – it’s a discussion on the philosophy of our school. Most teachers we meet tend to be enthusiastic about the model. One candidate said to me, ‘This is the way it should be.”
When Students Take Ownership
We want our learners to be empowered. We support our learning facilitators in developing their own leadership capacity to empower learners. Everyone on this campus shares this goal, and we can see the difference everywhere.
Empowering learners and staff has had a huge impact on the culture of the school. Learners and staff recognize that they have an impact on the school community. Our disciplinary issues have dropped dramatically and our school spirit has increased dramatically. Learners feel respected. They feel empowered to hold each other accountable.
How Life Skills Relate to Academic Achievement
We have created a school-wide focus on progress. This starts with frequent check-ins. We do not wait until the end of the semester; we are constantly checking. We review learner progress and indicate whether they are at a 3 (on pace), 2 (indicating they can catch up), or 1 (indicating that the learner needs additional support). However, we do more than look at learner pace – we are also taking a look at their life skills every six weeks, as well. That way we can see if there are any early indicators of learners needing extra attention. In addition, eligibility for extracurricular activities is based on learners being on pace. If you are in trouble, then we need to make sure your time is focused on your studies.
Our learners need to develop pacing skills so they can succeed as independent learners. Our learning facilitators provide guidance for learners to demonstrate their learning. We expect learners to use the capacity matrix and learning plans to organize their learning. We want them to tap into the learning styles that are the most effective for them. And we depend on our code of cooperation to keep everyone on track and accountable.
Our lifelong learning competencies have been developed around the whole-child. This allows us to talk about the issues that may be getting in a learner’s way. We also have a quick form at the six-week check-in point to allow us to engage with learners about their behavior.
On Responding to Students Who Are Struggling
No matter how well-aligned a performance-based system is, there will be learners transferring into a high school with gaps in their skills. We are trying new ways to engage learners who are behind pace academically when they enter high school.
We tried something new last year to help the learners who are the most behind. We took the sixty who were the most behind and had them participate in a computer science program. They were able to create animation and design apps. They are now teaching other kids how to do animation. They began to see that they can learn and that they have the ability to contribute.
Our learning facilitators (LFs) also know to develop strong relationships with the learners who are the most behind. They encourage learners to take advantage of the blended learning to access resources online and start working on new standards ahead of time so they are familiar with it before they get to the classroom. The chatrooms are a great way to continue to encourage learners.
We provide a wide array of supports and interventions, particularly for those trying to improve their foundational skills while simultaneously progressing through the high school curriculum.
On Graduating College and Career Ready
In California, the state has narrowly linked the definition of college ready to a specific set of courses needed to apply to the California university system. We believe in preparing our learners for life, which means thinking about careers and being able to access higher education – including community colleges – to build the skills needed for the workplace. So we had to figure out how to create a system that was meaningful to all of our learners.
We have designed a system so that all learners take at least two career-related courses as well as core academic courses that are of the same quality as the A-G. However, learners who want to build up their career skills can do so without taking all the A-G courses, as they limit the ability of learners to take high-interest electives. We want to make sure that learners have options open to them so if they decide in their junior year they want to take the A-G courses, we will work with them even if it takes them a bit longer to complete everything. Thus, all of our learners are prepared for college and thinking about careers, but not everyone is taking all the A-G required courses.
We believe that we successfully raised the bar for graduation requirements while keeping our graduation rates steady. It’s an enormous change when we told learners that a C is no longer good enough.
However, our graduation rates are not exactly where we want them yet. For many of our kids, they are the first one in their family to graduate from high school, so obviously it’s a big deal. We need to create more opportunities for learners and more options to keep them engaged so they get through high school successfully, despite the many challenges. A logical next step would be to create partnerships with community colleges and four year universities so learners can start taking college courses while in high school to better utilize the time they are with us.
You can find more videos about Lindsay Unified School District here.