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A Seattle Principal’s Story of School Turnaround

Mia Williams became principal of Aki Kurose Middle School in 2008. At the time, the Seattle school was failing its students. Around that time, only 31 percent of African American students were proficient  in math, while 80 percent of white students in Seattle performed at that level.

Williams made it her mission to turn around this reality by creating a new learning environment for her students.

She shared her story of her school’s transformation  on Thursday at an AASA conference session, Miracle in the Middle: Leading the Way in Closing Gaps. Listeners learned how Williams put her students back on track to success.

“Turn to your neighbor, give them a high five, and tell them, you are a gap closing educator,” Williams said.

Accompanied by Larry Nyland, superintendent of Seattle Public Schools, she addressed what teachers must achieve to impact their students.

“For most of our schools, it is an African America male gap,” Nyland said. “We have to figure out a way to close gaps and make a difference for each and every one of our students.”

The educators said researchers found that positive student-teacher relationships will help close these gaps. In addition to improving student education, Williams designed what she called “six levers to growth:” high-quality leaders and teacher leadership, strong culture and climate, excellent standards-based instruction and intervention based on data, strategic alignment of community partners to close gaps, teacher collaboration time, and focusing on family engagement.

One of the methods the principal developed to cultivate healthy exchanges between instructors and intellectuals was by conducting weekly surveys. “We want to hear student voice and the teachers want to know how the students are feeling,” Williams said. “This is another piece to adding growth learning competency with teachers.”

Next, Williams said the focal point for Aki Kurose Middle School was to develop improvement plans for each individual. Williams began the My Brother’s Keeper program to allow African American school faculty members to mentor African American male students. Faculty members assist students with their homework or help them grow in their personal life. “They are empowering them and this is another way we are partnering with students to get better,” Williams said.

Nyland  said this new approach to education helped eight schools in Seattle improve their minority students’ academic standing. However, Williams added,  this is no miracle. “(Students) work hard, families work hard, and communities work really hard,” she  said. “We are on a journey of acceleration.”

(By Prinsey Walker, a sophomore at Xavier University)

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