“They are working together for one purpose, and they can see that.”
— Principal Jackie Richardson
Crestwood Elementary School Principal Jackie Richardson leads a Title I school at the center of the Las Vegas Valley, just west of Eastern Avenue. The school’s student population is reflective of the valley’s demographic transformation of the past 20 years.
Richardson paints a picture of a vibrant building, a place where students, parents and educators feel empowered, respected.
“You hear students talking. You can feel the trust they have being able to take chances and risks. You see teachers working together and asking questions, researching, digging in. You see family members who feel welcomed and come in and speak without fear. It’s a place where everyone is open, and everyone is able to participate and give their input and feel value about what they share.”
What does it mean to be a leader within a school?
Richardson: I believe that my job as a leader is to bring out the best in all of the people who I work with and who work at my school, also in the district. Finding their qualities and their strengths and giving them the opportunities that they need to grow and feel good about what they’re doing so that their capacity is being built and they’re making an impact.
What does it look like from an instructional level when someone’s working at a high level?
Richardson: In the end you come up with the data of course and the data come out and you realize that they’re impacting student achievement, but it’s much more than that. It’s a very complicated process. It’s classroom culture and climate. It’s students who have buy-in and are willing to work hard. It’s using best strategies and getting professional development, growing, bringing all of the things together and making instruction high-quality is a complicated process. It isn’t just a type of person. It’s something that you have to foster in people and talk to them about. It’s not an easy fix. It takes getting to know that person, their strengths and weaknesses.
How do you describe a healthy school climate and culture?
Richardson: It’s where everyone’s supporting each other. They are working together for one purpose, and they can see that. There’s a strong vision. They’re finding ways to support each other. They’re happy, but they’re also working very hard. It’s just a matter of knowing each other well enough to get in there in the trenches and find ways to support your grade-level peers, finding ways to support students, everybody working as hard as everybody else.
How can you tell whether a school has a healthy climate and culture?
Richardson: I can walk into a building and know if there’s a healthy climate and culture. You have to feel out what’s going on in the classrooms. You can see it on people’s faces. You can see it in the students’ faces and the families’ faces. You can hear it through their conversations. You can feel it from the energy that’s in the building. It’s palpable, either way.
How do you start the process of building a healthy climate and culture?
Richardson: First of all you have to model it. That’s the first thing you’re going to have to do. Model being kind, model being respectful in every situation. The second thing you have to do is you have to get to know your staff so that you can find out where is there an issue if there is one. Who’s doing what? Who needs what? And you have to be able to invest time in order to do that and take risks. Put yourself out there because not everybody may love what you’re doing, but you have to find a way to figure out what makes them tick. In the meantime, it’s about making sure that the kids are in a respectful environment.