The principal of an inner-city junior high school has been chosen to be part of an elite group of remarkable administrators.
Sharon Pekrul, principal at Isaac Newton School, is one of the 51 chosen from around the country for The Learning Partnership’s annual Canada’s Outstanding Principals award.
Pekrul is one of only three Manitobans chosen this year, including principals Neil Moffatt of Heritage School in St. James, and Tom Gallant of West Lynn Heights School in Lynn Lake.
When Pekrul first joined the school’s staff seven years ago, she didn’t have any particular changes in mind. But that changed after a trip to a local conference with the school’s vice-principal at the time, and teachers Stephani Bourbonnais and Kelly DeKlerck.
That conference re-affirmed to them the importance of energizing and engaging the school’s staff and students. Shortly afterward, Pekrul took a close look at the school’s report cards, and didn’t like what she saw.
"I saw what the marks were. We had more kids failing than we thought," she said.
An impassioned presentation by Bourbonnais and DeKlerck to the school’s other teachers led to big changes.
It began with the math and English teachers, as the school wanted to focus on essential skills, such as literacy and numeracy, first. They then began to focus on the essentials of the school’s curriculum, to make sure kids were absorbing the content before moving to the next level.
"It created a phenomenal (reaction) in the school among teachers," Pekrul said.
Through it all, Pekrul said her role was to be supportive of the staff’s efforts, and help to facilitate their success.
"Sometimes you lead from the front, many times you lead from behind. I like to get down into it with them," she said.
Many students were performing poorly in part because of numerous incomplete assignments, and so the school created Assignment Catch Up (ACU).
During the noon-hour work period, the kids could have a simple lunch and get the work done under the supervision of teachers.
The results speak for themselves. The failure rate among students has been cut by more than half since the 2006-07 year, and the number of kids scoring 80% and higher has more than doubled.
"You keep looking at this kind of stuff, and it’s motivation," Pekrul said.
The school’s philosophy is built on the metaphor "Getting on the bus" inspired by the Jim Collins book, Good to Great. The metaphor translates to the process of getting the right people involved in a project, getting them on board with it, and making sure they’re all in the right "seat" or role.
The Outstanding Principals honour means a trip to Toronto for an executive leadership training program at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, as well as a gala event on Feb. 26.
Pekrul said she looks forward to learning from other educators and the top-notch speakers attending, and bringing that knowledge home to share.