June 2018

Onward Leaders Blog: Cohort 2

Congratulations to Onward Leaders Cohort 2 on their new positions!  Lorraine Ovalle (St. Louis of France), Isela Martinez (St. Matthias), Elizabeth Teplitzky (St. Sebastian), Claro Nunez (St. Francis of Assisi and Ashley Giron (St. Jane Frances de Chantal). https://bit.ly/2llgxzJ

Each Onward Leader spoke to one of the five key areas explored throughout the residency year at our Celebration on June 18, 2018.

Elizabeth Teplitzky on Systemness

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is comprised of over 219 elementary schools. It could be easy to get overwhelmed as a new principal in this vast system, but thanks to Onward Leaders that is not my cohort’s reality. This year we had the privilege of experiencing how this system works first hand. Within the three pillars of the Archdiocese: faith, excellence, and stewardship, we learned how all the pieces of the machine work together to create a system that serves over 50,000 students.

We started the year with a picture sort of  job titles- a who’s who of the Archdiocese. In doing this,  we began to put together how all of the pieces worked. From there  we attended TIP- a program to facilitate activities in the Archdiocese for new teachers. We shared our experiences as teachers. We even put our acting skills to the test as we role-played  “worst case scenario” parent-teacher conferences. As lead learners we spent time using STAR, the assessment used throughout the diocese, to practice using the data to inform and guide the best teaching practices. As Onward Leaders we attended deanery meetings monthly,  and learned that each deanery is a collaboration within the larger system--there is the capacity within our schools to serve all students which eliminates the need for competition.

Claro on the Faith Pillar

When I reflect on my learning as an Onward Leader this past year, I am reminded of how much of a blessing and a gift it is to be a Catholic educator and now a Catholic school leader. Being a Catholic school leader is much more than being just a principal, administrator, or a manager. It is also being a spiritual leader and being a face of Christ to our students, our parents, and our teachers. As Pope Francis has said, “Education cannot be neutral. It is either positive or negative; either it enriches or impoverishes; either it enables people to grow or lessens it… The mission of schools is to develop a sense of truth, of what is good and beautiful...True education enables us to love life and opens us to the fullness of life.”

In order to create this true education, we learned this past year the importance of creating compassionate and trusting relationships with the teachers, students, and families we serve. In these relationships, we are called to help each other be the best version of ourselves. As principals, we recognize and help develop the talents of the teachers we work with. We allow students to take risks, to make mistakes, and to rise from their failures. And we treat our parents as true partners in their students’ education and to support them in any we can. Through these relationships, we can slowly transform our schools into tangible examples of God’s kingdom on earth.

Lorriane Ovalle on the Excellence Pillar

As I reflect on the past year, the opportunity that presented itself in excellence was the importance of data. According to Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey we cannot just gather data, we must use it to improve student learning. In one of the many books we have read, School Culture Recharged by Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker it discussed the importance of forming professional learning communities. We can no longer work in isolation. Collaboration and team effort is essential to help improve not only student learning but also teaching practice.

We must move away from the assumption that these are “my students, those are your students” to an assumption that these are “our students”. There must be goals demanding evidence of student learning. The shift in school culture from long-term strategic planning to planning for short-term wins. We must acknowledge the shift in professional development from learning individually through courses and workshops to learning collectively by working together.

As we each go on to our new school sites we take with us the strong foundation the Onward Leaders Cohort provided us. I am happy to know that we will have the support of each other to push our school’s forward in a positive direction. “So do not fear for I am with you: do not be dismayed for I am your God: I will strengthen you and help you: I will uphold you with my righteous hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

Isela Martinez on the Stewardship Pillar

Throughout the year we learned that as stewards of education we are responsible for making sure that every decision that is made is for the betterment of our students and our schools.  Most times we are faced with the difficult task of managing schools that are under resourced. It takes commitment, creativity and dedication to turn our schools into a viable institution for our students.  Working with our mentor principals allowed us to attain the fundamental tools needed to do this.

It was in working at our sites that we learned the importance of establishing a partnership with the parents of the children we serve.  We learned about the power of transparency in everything we do from balancing budgets, to collaborating and sharing effective strategies that will provide our students with yet another opportunity to succeed.  As lead learners we recognize that being an effective leader is not about fixing everything for everyone, but instead working together with all stakeholders to find solutions for what is not working, and then taking the time to celebrate those solutions that worked.  We learned that it is through empowering others that we build a strong foundation for our schools for years to come. While working at our sites, we were humbled by the opportunity to serve all families in a manner that is fair and just for all. We witnessed first hand that a school without solid practices and procedures will only live as long as its steward.  

Ashley Giron on Leadership

Timothy Kanold sums up leadership very neatly in his book, The Five Disciplines of PLC Leaders: “Service and Sacrifice. Meaningful Relationships. Giving more than you thought you could give, but not too much. Personal Humility and professional will. This [he says] is your leadership, your life, your serving and sharing legacy.” We know the first step in becoming a great leader is building relationships within the community. We know it is important to lead by example; beginning with prayer, having a positive outlook, always being a beacon of God’s love to others.

We know how to be the instructional coach of our sites. We read STAR scores like data analysts and hold high expectations for all our students. We know feedback is important. Even feedback on those never-ending  weekly lesson plans...

We know how to decipher financial statements and how to create a budget- something we are all very proud of learning this year!

Faith. Excellence. Stewardship.  These are the pillars of leadership in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles but those pillars and all of our lessons mean nothing. They mean nothing without a clear “why” to our mission. This year each of us have found a different but equally important North Star guiding us along our path.

As the Director of the program, I am often asked what are you looking for in Onward Leaders- my response is individuals who are probably ready to be principals on paper, but with the humilty to know what a great opportunity this residency year can be.  

I observed my husband direct a Family Practice Residency for 25 years- and thought-  this is how principals should be trained. Hands on is the only way to learn this work. Like medicine our field is a learning field.  We don’t use a knife to do surgery anymore- we use lasers and technology. One cannot rest on prior educational coursework to guide one’s way.   Like medicine, the field is often changing faster than we can learn- and the rules of running a school changing faster than we can memorize them.

One  gift of the program is the confidence it breeds from having done the job in real time with trusted colleagues-The most significant gift is the network it establishes.  One of Cohort 2 is walking into a dramatic decline in enrollment and was in need of devices to resturcture the small classes. I sent an email to all who have been involved with Onward Leaders- Mentors and OL’s and within an hour I had about 30 devices available for pick up.  These are not schools that are giving from their excess- but from their own need.

The Smet Foundation has provided the Archdiocese of Los Angeles a vehicle to revitalize communities by sending forth leaders who understand the system of which they are a part.  The school is not THE mission of the parish- but A mission of the parish. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is a complex system of intersecting ministries and to be a leader at one of it’s schools demands an understanding of that system.  The residency year provides the time and hands on experience to navigate that system efficiently, so the work of Faith Formation and Academic Excellence can flourish immediately at the school they lead. Congratulations to Cohort 2 and Welcome Cohort 3! https://bit.ly/2K6uWxI

Blessings on your summer!  

Meg Samaniego