The secret behind one school’s success

Brian Jones

Brian Jones, (BF '12) membership development manager – Louisville, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce

Bingham Fellows 2012 February program day

Rather than an exhaustive list of things learned, snazzy quotes, or a rundown of items accomplished during our February program day, I’d like focus on something shared by someone outside our Bingham Fellows class. Here’s what I consider one of the most memorable insights from the last program day.

We had a discussion with Lisa from Atkinson Elementaryʼs Family Resource and Youth Services Center, a school that has seen tremendous improvement in the last five years under the leadership of Principal Dewey Hensley.  During the conversation, I asked her what was not working prior to his arrival and what did they change?

She shared that “pre-Dewey,” the school was “siloed”.  There was no cohesion, no collaboration between principals, teachers and students. After his arrival, Dewey asked all teachers to buy into the mission, “all of our students can and will learn and achieve at the highest levels.”  Everything became focused on student achievement at Atkinson Elementary. In short, Dewey Hensley got the right people on the bus and set its course accordingly and the school’s performance improved as a direct result.

Now, this strategy might seem fairly obvious and the most common sense answer to turning things around in a persistently low-achieving school, especially when the relatively easy answer to dealing with adversity is usually focused on ‘inputsʼ rather than ‘outcomes.ʼ In fact, the actions of Atkinson Elementary seem so simple, it’s a wonder they havenʼt been replicated throughout the rest of the district, state, and country.

However, you have to look a bit deeper into what Atkinson’s leadership decided to ‘doʼ despite all of the challenges and barriers faculty, staff and students face daily. In short, this is a school that says, “Regardless of the hand we (principals, teachers AND students) are dealt, we will deal with it, because all of our students can and will learn and achieve at the highest level. Our definition of SUCCESS is Hard Work + Resiliency + Teamwork = SUCCESS,” said Lisa.

Resiliency, as Julia Inman of the Greater Louisville Project defined it for the Bingham Fellows, is the ability to readily recover from adversity; to rebound after being bent, stretched, or compressed. Atkinson Elementary models the very definition of resiliency in principle and practice; truly a lesson for all of us in Louisville that goes beyond the ABC’s and 123’s.

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