Reflections and Inspiration from Growth Accelerator Leaders

More than 500 school leaders’ ability to lead. Over 133,000 students’ life trajectories. Those are the numbers when it comes to the remarkable impact Accelerate Institute has made since our team first set out on our mission of delivering equity in education more than 30 years ago.

Looking back on the 2022-23 school year, we see some of the latest evidence of just how meaningful our efforts have been. Our advisors, Velia Soto and Erin Slack, have built strong relationships with principals and their supervisors to create and deliver programming and individualized advisory that aligns with each leader’s unique needs.

We are incredibly proud of the hard work our leaders put in last year to build healthy teams and school cultures, create clear and focused strategic plans, and use data to drive decision making and instruction. 

Help us to celebrate some incredible successes from the 2022-23 school year!

Among them are:

    • 100% of Growth Accelerator principals reported that Accelerate Institute’s strategic planning process and tools supported them in creating the vision, strategies, and measures needed to achieve their school goals
    • Teacher satisfaction rates averaged 84% in Growth Accelerator schools, compared to 69% for under-resourced schools nationally
    • 86% of our Growth Accelerator schools shifted students out of the below grade-level tier for reading or math and into the grade-level tier (40th percentile)
    • 82% of Growth Accelerator schools shifted students above grade level for reading or math (60th percentile)
    • 100% of principals reported that they would recommend the Growth Accelerator to potential school leaders
    • 100% of principals reported that the overall organizational support at Accelerate Institute has been effective in supporting their growth as a leader

Over the summer, Growth Accelerator principals attended our annual strategic planning retreat, which helped set them up with the plan and focus to put students first in the 2023-24 school year. We closed out the event with our celebratory bell-ringing ceremony, in which Accelerate advisors, cohort members, and alumni honored graduates of the three-year Growth Accelerator program, and graduates reflected on the impact it’s helped them make on their school communities.

As we celebrate Principal Appreciation Month this October, read on below to learn about a few of these leaders’ incredibly inspiring stories.

Yalil Nieves, Mary Gage Peterson Elementary School

Looking at recent national data, it’s clear to see that school leaders have lots of work to do for getting students at or above grade level in reading and math following pandemic-era interrupted learning. That’s because in the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress results, all states saw score declines, and not a single state saw clear gains on any test.

In Illinois, Black and brown fourth and eighth grade students posted especially troubling reading and math results that exacerbated pre-pandemic achievement gaps in almost all cases. For Latinx students, this meant underperforming their white peers by approximately 25 points in all testing other than eighth grade reading.

Thankfully, at Mary Gage Peterson Elementary, Growth Accelerator Principal Yalil Nieves is proving that it is possible to accelerate student growth to reverse these alarming trends. The mid-year data at Peterson Elementary revealed some impressive progress, with students’ one-year average growth rate beating the national average growth rate by 118%. And that’s not all — 35% of students were moving up a category in reading, and 34% of students were doing the same in math.

How are Principal Nieves and her team helping students to achieve these truly commendable academic results? It’s all been about prioritizing student engagement and leveraging her advisor’s coaching to place a greater emphasis on using data to drive instruction.

Rocio Tovar, principal of Namaste Charter School

Rocio Tovar, Namaste Charter School

In her first year as principal at Namaste Charter School, Growth Accelerator Principal Rocio Tovar focused on leveling up systems for “change management,” which is the first objective in the Accelerate Framework. When it comes down to it, a leader really “can’t pass ‘go’” until this type of system is in place at their school.

Principal Tovar focused on change management because, when she stepped into her role, it was clear to her that her staff needed clarity on goals and the necessary plan for achieving them. To that end, she and her team analyzed the previous school year’s data to set goals and then also created a strategic plan and worked to select priority strategies for how they would achieve their goals.

Principal Tovar’s efforts didn’t stop there. To make sure the plan she and her team created was a living document that was guiding them,  she implemented structures for regular leadership team and individual team members to collect data and measure progress toward goals. She improved the consistency of data collection systems through monitoring the usage of the Accelerate Scoreboard for both ELA and math, LiveSchool for behavior response, and the Accelerate Comprehensive Tracker to collect walkthrough data.

Throughout the year, the Namaste team was able to gauge progress and make course corrections, including providing targeted professional development for staff that improved teacher practice. As a result, Principal Tovar and her team successfully elevated more students to grade level in reading and math by the end of the school year.

This is a tremendous example of what a transformational school leader in action looks like — congratulations to Principal Tovar and her team! 

Yadira Guzman, Whittier Elementary School

Growth Accelerator Principal Yadira Guzman transformed the instructional rigor for all students by implementing the Accelerate Framework’s “change management,” “high-performing team,” data-driven instruction,” and “black belt teaching” objectives. 

Her decision to implement a new English language arts curriculum at her school ensured that rigorous instruction was presented by teachers to all students. Principal Guzman knew this would require a well-thought-out process and that teachers needed targeted support if they were going to get it right.

Let’s look at the three key steps to her process that ensured success.

Step 1: First, she collected observational data on teachers’ ability to use the curriculum with fidelity.

Step 2: Next, she analyzed the data to make an action plan. Her leadership team was committed to meeting weekly to review the data, which showed them exactly where teachers needed support in delivering the new curriculum.

Step 3: Finally, she and her team followed the data to provide the resources and support that teachers needed to effectively transition to the new curriculum. One example was providing additional planning days to ensure that teachers felt supported in understanding and unpacking the curriculum and that they had sufficient time to create the pacing guides for the year.

By leveling up her proficiency in her four Accelerate Framework objectives, Principal Guzman and her leadership team successfully increased the percentage of teachers using the curriculum with fidelity to 100% by the end of the year, ensuring all students received rigorous instruction.

Congratulations to Principal Guzman and her team!

Juwana Foster-Wells, principal of Carroll-Rosenwald Elementary SchoolJuwana Foster-Wells, Carroll-Rosenwald Elementary School

Juwana Foster-Wells, Growth Accelerator principal of Carroll-Rosenwald Elementary School, transformed teaching and learning throughout her school with her focus on two Accelerate Framework objectives: “data-driven culture” and “black belt teaching.”

In her first year as principal at Carroll-Rosenwald — as well as her first year in the Growth Accelerator program — Principal Foster-Wells made strong adjustments to the instructional systems and structures that were in place at her school.

First, she selected a rigorous English language arts curriculum: Skyline English Language Arts. Next, she worked to ensure cohesion with the implementation of the new curriculum. To do this, she implemented a strong walkthrough culture utilizing the RigorWalk® Learning Sciences International rubric.

By monitoring teachers’ execution of the indicators focused on objective, standard, and task alignment, Principal Foster-Wells was able to coach and support leaders in making necessary adjustments to ensure lessons met grade-level expectations. Consistency in rolling out this three-step walkthrough process, a key driver in the Accelerate Framework “black belt teaching” objective, had a powerful impact.

As a result, 70% of students met reading growth targets on the i-Ready assessment, growing 1.24 years. For math, 66% of students met growth targets and grew 1.16 years. Additionally, Carroll-Rosenwald achieved a “well-organized” grade on the Illinois State Board of Education’s 5Essentials survey, and Principal Foster-Wells received 100%/“strongly agree” on almost all Accelerate Institute end-of-year staff survey questions.

Congratulations to Principal Foster-Wells on a transformational first year in her role!

Introducing our second- and third-year cohort members

With the 2023-24 school year now underway, our advisory team members have truly enjoyed getting to be in the school buildings with leaders walking classrooms during the first month of the year.

Growth Accelerator cohort 5 (in the third and final year of support):

Marquita Curry

Marquita Curry

KIPP Ascend Primary

Karem Gomez

Erie Elementary Charter School

JW Kuebler

JW Kuebler

Chicago International
Charter School – Irving Park

Jasmine Morales

Perspectives Charter Schools –
Middle Academy

Growth Accelerator cohort 6 (in the second year of support)

Dorienne Canada Pendleton, principal of Perspectives Charter School, Rodney D. Joslin

Dorienne Canada-Pendleton

Perspectives Charter Schools – Joslin Campus

Edward Collins, principal of Luther Burbank Elementary School

Edward Collins

Burbank Elementary

Juwana Foster-Wells, principal of Carroll-Rosenwald Elementary School

Juwana Foster-Wells

Carroll-Rosenwald Elementary School

Yadira Guzman

Whittier Elementary School

Carolyn Jones, instructional leader at Perkins Bass Elementary School

Carolyn Jones

Perkins Bass Elementar

Natasha Jones, principal of Lawndale Community Academy

Natasha Jones

Lawndale Community Academy

Claudia Lopez, principal of Fairfield Academy

Claudia Lopez

Fairfield Academy

Yalil Nieves

Mary Gage Peterson Elementary School

Patrina Singleton, principal of Brenneman Elementary School

Patrina Singleton

Joseph Brennemann Elementary School

Keviyona Smith-Ray, principal of Asa Phillip Randolph Elementary School

Keviyona Smith-Ray

Randolph Elementary School

Lawrence Spaulding, principal of Percy L. Julian High School

Lawrence Spaulding

Percy L. Julian High School

Rocio Tovar, principal of Namaste Charter School

Rocio Tovar

Namaste Charter School