MOVING UP THE LEADERSHIP LADDER

Dr. Dana WestA Conversation with Dr. Dana West, Executive Director for Student Performance Caprock Cluster, Amarillo School District Amarillo, Texas

THE BREAKTHROUGH COACH: When we spoke last (in January of 2009), you had just finished your 7-year tenure as principal at Estacado Jr. High School in Plainview, and were preparing to move to Travis Middle School in Amarillo. Can you bring us up to date on what you’ve been doing since then?

DR. WEST: I spent 4 years as principal at Travis, followed by 1 year as principal at Caprock High School. My new position, beginning with the 2013-14 school year, involves oversight of all the schools in the cluster: 10 elementary schools, 2 middle schools, an alternative high school, a technical high school and Caprock High School.

TBC: That sounds like a very large undertaking. How many students does the cluster serve?

DW: There are approximately 2,000 students at the high school, and about 8,000 students in the Caprock Cluster.

TBC: How did your experiences at Travis and Caprock High School prepare you for this substantial increase in responsibility?

DW: Let me say at the outset that Travis was a great experience. It is a middle school (grades 6-8) serving about 900 children, 92% of whom are economically disadvantaged. A large number are immigrants, which means a high percentage of English Language Learners. I saw a real opportunity to make a difference, but it was not a place where you could sit in your office – the kids had to see you and know you.

When I arrived, Travis was a difficult school to teach in. There were not a lot of systems or structure in place. It was necessary to set about building beliefs and high expectations for our students: “After high school comes college”.

TBC: Did your TBC training help you meet this challenge?

DW: Oh, yes, definitely! It helped me train and empower others (including my assistant principals) to act and make decisions so that I could be out in the hallways and classrooms, getting to know the teachers and students and generally being visible. We made steady gains in student performance, reduced discipline incidents, and substantially reduced the number of requests to transfer out of Travis.

When I moved to Caprock High School, which was larger than Travis, it was even more apparent to me that the principal can’t do it all. You impede progress if everybody is waiting for you to act or make a decision. In all respects, visibility is key, which means you just can’t spend most of your time in your office.

TBC: What will your new position entail?

DW: It’s similar to an Assistant Superintendent, with a focus on student performance and supporting all of the schools in the Caprock cluster. I will be working with principals, assistant principals and curriculum supervisors.

TBC: Do you expect resistance to some of the changes you will be implementing?

DW: No, not really. My approach will be, “I’ll come to you”, because, using The Breakthrough Coach Management Methodology™, I will be able to be responsive to people’s needs. I will be empowering and working through my secretary to schedule my time. People will come to realize that they are part of a system that, to a large extent, eliminates last-minute situations and the accompanying stress. TBC has taught me that, when all of that is in place, the organization should be able to function without you because your staff is empowered to move forward and make decisions. I will serve as a manager and coach.

TBC: You have just completed TBC training with your 3rd secretary, so you must feel that is an important part of meeting your administrative goals. Can you tell us a bit about that?

DW: Training my secretary is so ingrained in the way I work! I tell them, “You’re the other part of my brain and my professional colleague.” They don’t understand their power, and TBC training changes the dynamic so that they have more control over their jobs and realize that they are invaluable members of the administrative team.

TBC: You’ve moved so quickly up the administrative ladder. What do you attribute that to?

DW: People often ask me why I am sometimes different than other education administrators. It’s because my TBC training has given me the opportunity to be really involved. I’m happy, optimistic, not stressed out. I feel in control of my work. I like to get the ball rolling, then empower others to move it forward. Everyone gains professionally and – most important – our students succeed!

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