Heart and the genuine desire to support children at an at-risk school—those were two qualities that Principal Dennis Stewart and his leadership team held essential when recruiting the staff who would help transform Alexandria Middle Magnet School (AMMS) in 2015. At the time, AMMS was an F-rated school in an underprivileged community; it was deep in debt and even lacked graduation ceremonies for students. Stewart was a first-time principal then, but he was ready and willing to take on the challenge of transforming AMMS. Under his leadership, AMMS transformed from an F school to a C school in three years.
What actions did Stewart take to make this change happen? With the support of turnaround specialists Judith Rozier and Kelly Self, as well as the accountability and leadership provided by International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) consultant Dr. Andrea Tottossy, Stewart focused on the following three components to turnaround AMMS:
- Strong leadership development
- A firm foundation in Data Team Powered PLCs
- A culture that prioritized student well-being above all else
When hiring and training staff, Stewart and his leadership team prioritized a commitment to student interests above credentials. The leadership team was tasked with training 17 new teachers to replace those who were unwilling to accept necessary change. Although initially teacher certification was not required at AMMS, 15 of the new teachers who were uncredentialed in 2016 eventually achieved their credentials.
Data Team Powered PLCs
Stewart insisted on instituting the Data Team Powered PLCs process with more accountability at AMMS after seeing its success in his previous role. From their first day of teaching, all new teachers were trained rigorously in the Data Team Powered PLCs process. This consists of continuous collaboration to review data and make instructional adjustments, based on that data, to improve student learning. Teachers met four times a week to have constructive conversations across grade levels, share effective strategies, and design creative solutions with their peers.
Finally, Stewart strove for a cultural shift at AMMS, where the whole student would be appreciated. Stewart successfully advocated for:
- A graduation ceremony
- New bleachers
- A new school bus
- A health center
- Yearly trips to Washington, D.C., and New York City
AMMS became a second family to students. And students, in return, yearned to achieve in such an environment.
Read more about Alexandria Middle Magnet School’s success story in this case study:
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