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"Can Effective Schools Be Created in Just One Year?"

It may seem far-fetched, but creating effective schools within a year is within the realm of possibility. My journey through every echelon of K12 education, from a classroom teacher to an assistant superintendent, has equipped me with a unique perspective. The current strategies employed in schools are failing to impact the education of our most disadvantaged students significantly. In my 2012 book, “Inner-City Public Schools Still Work: How One Principal’s Life is Living Proof,” I chronicled this phenomenon. If I retitle the book today, it would be “Inner-City Public Schools CAN Still Work.” My recent experiences as a school leader have challenged my long-held beliefs about public education, prompting a period of profound reflection and discovery.

During my tenure as a campus principal, I often found myself bemused by the advice dispensed at principal meetings by central office leaders. “Believe in the power of your students,” they’d say, or “Put yourself in your students’ shoes.” Such platitudes, while well-intentioned, did little to advance our academic objectives. Of course, we believed in our students—otherwise, we wouldn’t be in this profession. Moreover, having grown up in the same neighborhood where I served as principal, I had literally walked in my students’ shoes. Yet, in over two decades as an educator, I never encountered a presentation that offered a viable blueprint for school improvement.

My initial foray into school leadership at the elementary level was marked by enthusiasm and a desire to address the systemic issues facing black male students. Despite the widespread discourse on the disproportionate suspension and failure rates of black boys, I found myself contributing to the problem through the very suspensions I was issuing. Desperate for solutions, I attended an education conference session titled “Strategies to Improve the Success of Black Males,” only to be met with researchers who, when pressed, could not provide actionable strategies to reduce suspensions.

As a high school principal, I revisited this pressing issue with district central office leaders, only to be told, “Dr. Diop, you are on your own.” Despite their willingness to provide resources, they lacked the expertise to guide us in improving our STAAR test scores. This stark realization was paradoxically liberating; it became clear that the onus was on my staff and me to initiate change. And we did just that. From a dismal 20% success rate on the STAAR test, we soared to an 80% passing rate across all subjects within a year. Our approach was straightforward: we doubled down on effective strategies and abandoned those that yielded no results.

Stay tuned for next week’s update, where I’ll reveal Part One of our journey from the bottom to the top in under a year.

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