When I met Linda Henke in Clayton School District in the late 90’s, I immediately knew that I was in the company of an exceptional person. So when she told me that she was going to Maplewood Richmond Heights District just outside of St. Louis, I was thrilled. If anyone could do the near-impossible—transition a traditional, failing district into one in which students and adults thrive—it would be Linda. And it happened.
Through amazing daring and grit, she used creative, unique pathways to transformation while being willing to be judged on narrow testing protocols and NCLB. Investing in pre-school, poverty and homelessness, engagement through action metaphors (e.g. the middle school as expeditionary, the high school as apprenticeship), teacher and parent development, and shared leadership, this district was turned around. Dramatically so. For instance, a computer in the hands of each secondary student resulted in a 75% drop in discipline referrals. The district values of diversity, collaboration, and imagination embrace every inhabitant of MRH.
Two years ago, I had an opportunity to witness these successes first hand and can testify, without hesitation, that the MRH School District is a place where students love to learn and adults love to teach. For those who would say it can’t be done, just talk to Linda Henke.
-Linda Lambert, author of Building Leadership Capacity and Constructivist Leader, consultant, professor emeritus, California State University, East Bay