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We are Growing: A St. Louis Hub!

We at the Santa Fe Center are excited to announce an exciting new partnership that has emerged from our work the last two years in St. Louis. Beginning in July, 2018, we will be establishing a formal hub in the St. Louis region known as the St. Louis Transformational Leadership Initiative (TLI), located within the Washington University Institute for School Partnership. We could not be more thrilled to be affiliated with this outstanding institution. Vicki May, the Executive Director of the Institute, has been an important colleague in bringing this partnership to fruition, and has served as an active member of the leadership team that directs our current projects in St. Louis.

We have now hired a project director, Audrey Jackson, who has extensive experience in both leadership and school transformation. Audrey has worked across a broad spectrum of schools and serves as a transformational coach for two of the schools in our current project. Her experience and skillfulness offer tremendous assets to our work, and she will be reporting to Vicki who has a great understanding and appreciation for human-centered school transformation.

Adding Five New Schools

This year we added five schools to our St. Louis fold in addition to the three elementary schools in Ferguson-Florissant who have been studying with us for a year. All eight of our partner schools serve a population that is primarily black and poor. In all of the cases, school leaders want more for their children than what the typical reform agenda offers them.

Sharonica Hardin, the dynamic young superintendent of University City, took the helm a year ago and immediately sought out our organization to support her as she determinedly took on the struggle to transform a poorly performing school into a rich learning environment for students and teachers alike.

You will be hearing much more about Dr. Hardin and her teams’ work on our website as our partnership unfolds. In the first year of her work at University City, she restructured school personnel at the four elementary schools in the district to include two teacher leaders at each school who support their principals on leadership teams. As a part of our partnership with the district, all of these leadership teams have participated in the introductory training for Elena Aguilar’s Coaching for Transformation. This training is a component of a three-year process to implement distributed leadership in the district, giving classroom teachers close access to leaders who can support their work in a much more focused and intentional way than traditional leadership models. (For more information about distributed leadership, see the Bain Report in our Reading Recommendations.)

Each of these eight school teams is assigned a transformational coach who meets with them throughout the year to support their work and who joins them in our seven-day Transformational Team Training that is held monthly throughout the school year.

University City’s outstanding teams are joined by teams from three terrific elementary schools in Ferguson-Florissant: Walnut Grove, Duchesne, and Bermuda. Each of the FF schools’ leadership teams participated in a three-day leadership retreat at the Santa Fe Center this fall where they built their team capacity to work together, explored deeper learning—the heart of our human-centered model—and studied an aspect of the model that was most interesting to them. Matt Hinzpeter, principal of Bermuda, and his team studied and practiced high-level collaborative skills; Jen Andrade, principal of Walnut Grove and her team dug into appreciative inquiry to nurture collective aspiration; and Sheila Ward and her team from Duchesne worked hard to build their understandings of growth mindset as a high leverage theory for transforming their school. These areas of focus remind us again that we are not seeking to develop cookie cutter schools. Instead we are helping leaders and their schools to explore the fundamental question, “What do we want to create together?” And then, our organization supports them in developing a tailored plan using the human-centered model to nurture that vision.

Every team leaving the retreats this fall commented on the critical nature of extended time to discuss important issues, to read, to enjoy one another’s company, and to build their own capacities and resilience for the hard work of genuine transformation. Sara Tehan, an experienced teacher at Bermuda, sent this follow-up note:

 Linda has high expectations. She has high expectations for us as professionals, our school, and the demographics of the students that we serve; and she believes in our transformational plan we developed for our school. She helped us make it specific and manageable for all of the participants. Everyone around the table had a voice, and the voices were honored and respected throughout some difficult and courageous conversations. At moments during the retreat, I become very uncomfortable with our dialogue since I am not an administrator; but Linda and our coach, Audrey, always made me feel cherished. They often reminded me that in order to transform schools, teacher voices must be heard and validated.

 In the end, the retreat experience has brought our principal and our ISL (Instructional Support Leader) and me closer in many ways. I see us trusting in each other by being more transparent in our dialogue, respecting each other’s ideas and thoughts, being more vigilant in our work, as well as keeping a sense of humor with each other. We had an experience and developed a bond that I will never forget or take for granted as an educator. The overall experience has made me more patient and reflective with my student, parents, and staff members, as well. In order to do this work and to do it well, it is important to see and respect the entire organization of a school.

 The final school to join our team this year is our only middle school/high school partner in the St. Louis Project, St Louis College Prep, a charter school in the city of St. Louis. Since its inception five years ago, the school has struggled with a purpose that seems at odds with the diverse student population that enrolled in the school. This year Lauren Chaney and her Executive Director, Mike Malone, decided to dig into the transformative agenda in a big way. They moved two capable part-time coaches to full-time instructional leaders, and each member of their leadership team (including the director of curriculum and the director of special education), took on a group of eight teachers to support with weekly coaching observations and conferences. Following some experimentation, the leadership team developed an effective coaching format that builds on Aguilar’s work. After only a semester with this structure, the leaders are seeing results from weekly, personalized conversations about instruction with every teacher.

 As our family expands, we are so proud of the courageous work our teams are doing. Genuine transformation is difficult work—but the rewards are breath- taking. Our goal is to insure our partners are supported in changing the learning landscape for every child they serve. We believe that together we can make it happen!

For more information about the St. Louis Transformational Leadership Initiative, check out the Transformational Leadership Initiative brochure.