Dr. Dana WestA Conversation with Dr. Dana West, Seven Years as Principal
Estacado Junior High School, Plainview, Texas

THE BREAKTHROUGH COACH: What was your experience before you came to Estacado?

DR. WEST: I came to education by chance, really. I married very young and knew I needed a career, but had no idea what I wanted to do. My husband suggested I try teaching, and it seemed like a good idea. I went to Wayland Baptist University, received a B.A. in Elementary Education and English, and an M.A. in Mid-Management. In 2000, I earned an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership from Texas Tech.

TBC: It sounds as though you found your calling.

DW: Oh, yes! I loved it! I taught for five years, spent four years as a middle school instructional coordinator, then returned to my own alma mater – Plainview High School – as an assistant principal. After two years there, I became principal of Estacado Junior High School.

TBC: You brought a lot of experience to your new position. What challenges did you face?

DW: Estacado was a single grade campus with a large number of economically disadvantaged students. Test scores were low, and there were no broad strategies in place to deal with that. I set out to prove that economic disadvantage did not have to equal low achievement. I began to see some positive results, but I felt that everything had to come from me – there was no organizationally-based approach to turning things around.

TBC: What brought you to TBC’s 2-Day Program?

DW: After four years as principal, I was nearly burned out, trying to do everything that I thought needed doing. I had no time anymore to do what I loved – educating kids. My staff needed a leader, and I wasn’t leading – just moving paper. In short, I felt I wasn’t making as much difference as I could.

TBC: Was there a specific point in the two days when TBC’s methodology began to resonate with you?

DW: Frankly, I was skeptical from start to finish. But I had invested the two days so I thought to myself, “Why not give this a try? What do I have to lose?”

TBC: What happened?

DW: I went back to my building and gradually began to implement the changes Malachi had suggested. It was amazing! I had so much more time to spend in classrooms! Once you’re out and about, you see so many little things and they all add up.

For example: when a parent dropped off something for a student, our standard procedure was to send someone to the classroom, bring the student to the office to claim the item, and escort him or her back to the classroom. I never noticed that until I began to spend time in classrooms and realized how disruptive it was. So, we immediately revamped this process and now it’s much simpler all the way around. And – most important – the student doesn’t miss any instructional time.

Such a small thing, but, taken all together, those small things make a big difference! You just aren’t aware of what’s happening in your building when you spend all of your time in your office.

TBC: You have extensive academic training in educational leadership. How does TBC’s approach differ from the academic approach?

DW: Academic programs emphasize talking, reading, writing and research. TBC’s practices are applied and designed to produce quantifiable results. It’s a matter of theory vs. practice – the difference between understanding and doing. In my new position as principal of Travis Middle School in Amarillo, I have four assistant principals, and I’m developing each of them using TBC’s methodology.

TBC: You mentioned quantifiable results. Can you cite some for Estacado?

DW: In Texas, “Exemplary” is the highest rating a school can achieve. TBC allowed me the time to focus on what I considered the four elements necessary to achieve that: Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment, and Intervention.

In 2008, after two years of practice with TBC’s organizational model, 94% of our students scored Exemplary in Math – an increase of nearly 30% over 2005-06!

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