When Tanya Green was tapped to turn around the once-beleaguered Calverton Middle School in 2008, she paid close attention to not only what the staff in her school had to say about their barriers, but how they said it -- or sometimes what they failed to say at all.
She noticed if they referred to students as, "these kids," or "the children." She noticed whether they took responsibility for their students' failures, or transferred it on someone else. She took note of whether a teacher was as concerned about whether their students had lunch as they were about their test scores.
"I knew I needed a team that had the same belief system about children, who had sympathy, empathy, and compassion -- who knew how to care," Green said in a recent interview. "That is the key to turning around."
That was also the philosophy that earned the principal of four years a White House honored title "Champion of Change," last week, where Green was among 12 education leaders recognized, and among more than 100 education leaders briefed on the efforts underway in struggling schools nationwide through the federal School Improvement Grants (SIG) program.
Green took the reins of what has been transformed into the Friendship Preparatory Academy at Calverton, a turnaround school The Sun featured in a national project that assessed the effectiveness of a billion-dollar infusion of federal funding to help get long-troubled schools on the path to success.
Calverton is among seven Baltimore schools benefiting from a $3 billion federal program that is focused on the worst of the nation's schools -- and its successes were clear. We found that under the program, Calverton had spent more than $1 million in federal money on mentoring new teachers, new science labs, two new computer labs, a laptop for every teacher and a white board in every classroom.
Green was honored for her role in building a culture of high expectations, improving instruction, creating safe environments for learning, and fostering professional collaboration, according to a release from the White House. The "Champion of Change" program, the release said, was "created to honor ordinary Americans doing great work in their communities."
Green, who was the assistant principal at Calverton in 2005 -- when students were throwing feces and hurling computers out of the window -- survived the overhaul of the school, a process that usually replaces leadership and staff, when it was taken over by Friendship Public Charter in 2010.
In addition to increased achievement, she has focused on the students who need the most attention through an at-risk-youth program -- the school has noted its successes without changing its demographic, which is not true for all turnaround schools -- and decreased suspensions from 300 to just 32.
The school is known for its strong belief system that everyone, from the principal to the secretaries, has a stake. For example, the secretary runs a book club, and the cafeteria manager goes out to canvass for truant students.
"I don't feel like I have reinvented the wheel, I don't feel like I have discovered something new," Green said. "I feel like I have supported the teachers and staff in the building, I feel like I've put in programs to really engage children. I feel like I've done what I'm supposed to do."