A principal discovers that the first
step to changing student behaviors
is changing the behaviors
of the adults in the school.
Angel L. Rodriguez
When I first arrived five years ago as the new principal at Ruth Owens Krusé Edu- cational Center, I brought all the enthu- siasm, expertise, and confidence I had acquired at the A-rated schools in which
I had previously worked. Well versed in data-driven decision
making, I was ready to transform this underperforming
Ruth Owens Krusé Educational Center, in Florida’s Miami-Dade County, is a K–adult day school for students diagnosed
with emotional and behavioral disabilities. All students
are in the Students with Disabilities accountability group,
and 82 percent are economically disadvantaged. The year I
arrived, the school had barely reached 50 percent proficiency
in reading or math on standardized or alternate assessments.
Walking through the halls and classrooms those first days,
I observed things I had only heard about. Students were
attacking teachers. Some were being physically restrained.
Parents waited to get prescriptions from the psychiatrist. Even
in my days as a high school teacher, I had never experienced
such a high-energy, crisis-driven, adrenaline-rushing environment. Some days it felt more like a hospital emergency
room than a school. If the Response to Intervention (RTI)
pyramid included a Tier 4, this would be it.
© SCOTT LAUMANN/ THEISPOT
A Recipe for Disaster
My initial idea was to implement everything I had tried
at former sites and wait for change to occur. So I bombarded staff members with e-mails, articles, piles of data,
and guidelines. But this approach only frustrated everyone
and reinforced the perception that I was out of touch. Most
teachers just wanted me to leave them alone. They needed all
their resilience to survive one crisis, one IEP (individualized
education program) meeting, one day at a time.
A turning point came three years ago. I was participating
in a yearlong program—the Superintendent’s Urban Principal
Initiative—which provided intensive training for adminis-
trators in struggling schools. One of the key components was
for participants to identify a major problem at their schools
and create an intervention plan to remedy it. It was difficult
for the participants from my school to identify a single deficit;
we had so many. Three of us—an assistant principal, a school
clinician, and I—decided to focus on suspension rates. These
data opened our eyes.