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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

How Principal Bill Perkins Creates a Caring School Community

The head of Frederick Law Olmsted Academy North discusses how the CARE for Kids program has transformed students at his all-boys Louisville middle school.

How Principal Bill Perkins Creates a Caring School Community (Transcript)

Bill Perkins: We’re at the age of accountability in schools with No Child Left Behind. And- and schools, you know, schools have, you know, have goals to meet with their testing. But I really feel that students, unless they feel a sense of connectedness to school and unless they, you know, if they don't feel a sense of belonging, they’re not gonna achieve at the academic level that you want them to achieve. You know, there are a lot of things out there right now in school reform quick-- what I call a quick fix, you know, for test scores. And those things are things that I don't feel are long-lasting or in the best interest of- of the school. I think that you have to lay the foundation and build the sense of community within the school and put the systems in place of how you do business and how you operate. And once that foundation is laid, the test scores will come. But that cultural piece has to be there. You know, you- you can't have one I don't believe, without the other.

One of the things that I like to do as principal is, I like to have conversations with teachers about ideas and say “Now could you go and share this with other teachers in your department or could you share it with your team?” Because I think a lot of times principals get more resistance from teachers if feel like that it’s coming from the top down. I think you know, you-- I think you get a much greater sense of buy-in when teachers are taking ideas to other teachers. And- and so I think your job as principal, needs to be to support teacher leaders and teachers wanting to- to develop creative and innovative things within your school. And so I think that is a key component. I also think that-- because you know, you’ve got to get buy-in from everybody before you do something like this.

I think my leadership style is one where I’ve always been a person that’s welcomed debate. I’ve always been one that I do not feel that, you know, I have to be the center of the universe as principal. I enjoy other people stepping up and taking- taking on the responsibilities and jobs that need to be performed in schools because I think true greatness comes when everybody is involved, when it’s a- when it’s a collaborative effort. And you know, everybody feels that they’re a partner in- in the great work. And not only staff but students as well and parents and community members. And so I think when you get all of those pieces together, you have the ingredients, you have the recipe for- for great things. And that’s- that’s where we’re at. You know, we’re very early on in our work. This is the-- in fact, this is just year two of a- of a new school. But the- the ingredients, the recipes that need to be there, the interaction the way that business is done within the school, the way that people can speak up and debate and share issues and talk about things. Those things are vital to continual growth.

We became an all boys’ school this year as well. And so in doing that and- and for us, the boys had received the majority of the referrals over girls. So we doubled our boys' population when we be- when we became all boys. And we reduced our referrals in half. We reduced our placements of in-school suspensions in half. Reduced suspensions overall, out of school suspensions. And- and we have increased our attendance, our pupil attendance, every single people month as compared to the previous year. We’re going on 12 months now. So created a- a- an environment I think, of- of less problems in the classroom and in the school in terms of behavior and a sense of students wanting to- to be at school. We also do surveys as a district, comprehensive school surveys. And before Care For Kids, about 56, 57 percent of the students felt like their teachers care about them, a little over half. When we surveyed our boys last year, that number turned to 85 percent. And so we saw a huge increase in terms of how the boys saw their teachers and how they looked upon school as a whole and they wanted to be here more.

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Video Credits

Directed by

  • Ken Ellis


  • Karen Sutherland

Associate Producer

  • Doug Keely

Camera Crew

  • Rob Weller
  • Mark Crowner

Coordinating Producer

  • Amy Erin Borovoy

Support for Edutopia's Schools That Work series is provided, in part, by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

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