Native Village Youth and Education News
November, 2009   Volume 2

Exceptional leaders can change schools

For children from poor and fractured families, education can be a challenge. Many of these kids lack the domestic stability and work ethic to be exceptionally successful in school. Too often, the schools that serve these children struggle to recruit teachers and inspire better academic performance.

One exception is the elementary school in Tohatchi, New Mexico where student performance has made incredible gains the last few years.

In Tohatchi,
83% of the students are poor. Some rural homes lack electricity and running water. The town is in the middle of Navajo country, and 80% of students are of American Indian descent and use English as a second language.

Poverty and language in Tohatchi combined for some of the worst test scores in New Mexico -- until an upbeat principal named George Bickert showed up four years ago.

Here are the results: In
2006, only 15% of Tohatchi’s students rated proficient in math. This year it was 78%. In math, the numbers went from 28% to 70%.

Bickert’s strategies were pretty simple:
   He got to know the students and learned who needed extra help.
  He had teachers assign homework, and made them more accessible to parents.
  Weekly tests  like “Math Monsters” and “Cougar Readers” measured student progress. Kids who answered all
10 questions correctly got their names read during the morning announcements. Classes earned a pizza party if everyone scored 100%.

Bickert said that some faculty members first thought his ideas were crazy. Now they applaud it, as does the entire community.  He said it was lucky that everyone embraced “the vision of excellence” that he thought possible.

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