population that had a myriad of challenges. Many
of the students’ parents worked as migrant farm
laborers and held down two or three jobs. Ninety-five percent of students were eligible for free and
reduced-price lunch, and 14. 5 percent were designated as English language learners.
At the point when Chuck started at Sunnyside,
teachers and the support staff were discouraged,
students had lost their focus, and administrators’
time was consumed by crises. Blaming and finger-
pointing were widespread among administrators,
staff, and students. Perhaps saddest of all was
that the students blamed themselves and had low
expectations for their school and for their future.
As one student said to Chuck, “This is Sunnyside,
mister. What do you expect?”
But over the next four years, the graduation rate
at Sunnyside rose from 49 percent to 85 percent,
and attendance and morale increased while
dropout rates and disciplinary actions diminished.
At the beginning of the 2010 school year, just
18 percent of the seniors and 20 percent of the
juniors had been on track to graduate. Yet at the
end of the school year, 70. 9 percent of the seniors
graduated, and the following year 78. 4 percent of
the junior class graduated. By 2016, the graduation
rate stood at 91 percent. That meant that between
2010 and 2016, 468 students graduated from Sunnyside who likely wouldn’t have graduated if the
school hadn’t changed.
The change came about when the leadership
team exhibited new behaviors based on new
thinking. Sunnyside applied for a federally funded
School Improvement Grant in the 2009–2010
school year, and Chuck Salina became the turnaround principal. Chuck and his leadership team
first worked to build a conceptual framework to
serve as the north star of the school’s improvement
work and to ensure that decisions were intentional, not haphazard. The framework included
three components (see fig. 1): academic press
(high expectations); social supports (helping
others achieve desired results); and relational
A Call for Tolerance
Since the recent presidential election, the United
States has become a markedly less safe place for
my students. I am a Jew who teaches high school science in
an Islamic parochial school.
Mosques have been burned, hate crimes have been on the
rise, and the attempted travel bans have sought to keep people
from majority Muslim countries out of the United States. It’s a
difficult time in which we live.
After a recent anti-Muslim hate crime, our headmaster spoke
to our students: “Be brave, and do not apologize for your faith.
Live as Allah would have. We are an ancient faith, a faith of
peace that has weathered many storms. Be alert. Let your
teachers know of anything that concerns you.”
I shared a message from the local Jewish community:
“We stand side by side with our Muslim brothers and sisters.
We, too, have known the evil of hatred. We’re committed to
justice and to ensuring that evil against our Muslim neighbors
will not stand.”
I talked with my students, and they told me about the names
they are called and the whispers they hear. We discussed how
to resist—how to deal with threats and violence, how to walk
away, and how to stand one’s ground with dignity. As class
came to an end, my students decided they were not leaving
my room. “We claim this as a sanctuary space,” one said.
“We feel safe with you.”
It’s not about being Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Catholic, or
Methodist. It’s about being a decent human being. That’s all,
just decent. We can do this.
—David Stanley, teacher, Genesee Academy,
Swartz Creek, Michigan
getting input from the
people whose daily jobs
will be impacted is a
recipe for distrust and
What I Learned this Year “