A MAGNET FOR LEADERSHIP
THE BREAKTHROUGH COACH: Can you tell us a bit about your background, and how you came to be principal at OA Thorp Academy?
EFREN TOLEDO: I’ve been in education for 20 years, 16 of them as a teacher. I received my B.A. from Wheaton College in Philosophy and Literature and began teaching technology. I earned an M.A. from Aurora University in Teaching with Technology. I was a teaching Assistant Principal in a traditional neighborhood school for 5 years, and became principal of O.A. Thorp Scholastic Academy two years ago.
TBC: What ideals have guided you in your career as an educator?
ET: I realized early on that the things I learned as a child directly affected my future. I started programming in BASIC on an ATARI computer, never thinking that the passion I developed as a child would one day directly impact what I did as an adult. I became an administrator because I realized that teachers are more than just the purveyors of standards and traditional curriculum – their passion can be contagious and can inspire others. Learning is a collaborative experience; and, as a teacher, you truly have the power to impact a student’s future in a positive way.
TBC: Tell us about Thorp Academy.
ET: Thorp is a magnet school with a very diverse population: 15% African-American, 40% Hispanic, 30% White and 15% other. As a magnet school, we draw students from some of the poorest as well as some of the most affluent areas of Chicago. Students – and their parents – are drawn to us because of the high quality of instruction. All instruction at OA Thorp is centered around what we call the four Cs: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. We believe those are skills students will use throughout their lives, and therefore they should also be infused throughout their schooling.
TBC: Thorp’s educational approach obviously requires extensive interaction among all members of its community: students, staff, teachers, and parents. How do you manage that within the confines of a “normal” workweek?
ET: Parents choose to send their children to our school, so their expectations are very high. I realized from the beginning that the kind of rigor I wanted to establish at Thorp could only happen if the principal was out in the classrooms providing an extra pair of eyes and ears – acting as a coach. I needed to manage my time so that I could do that, and I began working with TBC almost immediately.
TBC: How does TBC’s approach differ from your previous professional development experiences?
ET: It’s completely different than any other professional development I have attended. TBC helped me to realize that I can’t do everything, so I should focus on building a community that can. Everyone has their role to play in running a successful school. Sometimes, the principal just has to learn how to get out of the way. I’m most effective when I am observing instruction and having conversations that result in continuous improvement – that is my job. Implementing TBC’s Management Methodology™ enabled me to focus on what I’m being paid to do – instructional leadership – and allowed my very competent front office staff to handle the daily “administrivia” that can get in the way of that.
TBC: Have you seen measurable progress in student achievement?
ET: Yes, 98% of our students grew faster than the rest of the country in Math and 90% in Reading on the NWEA MAP assessments. Implementation of TBC’s Management Methodology™ has brought about real changes in faculty outlook, and our most recent achievement numbers are higher than ever!