Several years ago, one of the news programs detailed a school in Kansas City that had swimming pools, fabulous gymnasiums, magnificent classrooms, well-lighted hallways — in short, everything educators have always dreamed schools should have to make certain the students excel. The Martin Luther King school, also in Kansas City, was painted and cleaned up on the surface. Educational improvements at both schools were similar.
Thaddeus Lott is the principal of Mabel B. Wesley Elementary School in a crime-infested area of inner-city Houston, where single-parent homes abound, over 90 percent of the students are black and most of the rest are Hispanic. Virtually all of them qualify for Title I money for disadvantaged children. When Lott took over in 1975, only 18 percent of the third-graders scored at or above grade level in reading comprehension. By 1980, that was up to 85 percent, and in 1996, all of the kids at Wesley's third-grade level passed the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills and Reading tests. The additional irony is that these kids are scoring higher than students in some of the "fancy" suburban schools. Leadership is the difference.
Lott arrives before any of the students and makes it a point to know most of their names. He greets them warmly and makes each child feel important. He expects a great deal from his teachers yet is a loving taskmaster. They, too, are to arrive early, work through lunch and, on occasion, stay late in the day.
Lott gives both teachers and students the disciplinary support they need and runs a tight ship loaded with hard work and common sense. He creates an environment where the kids feel safe, knowing there will be no disruptions or violence. If other educators would follow Lott's example, we would see dramatic improvement in other schools. See you at the top!
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