Published Online: May 26, 1999
Published in Print: May 26, 1999, as Administrators



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Leadership Rewarded: Seven principals heading schools with enviable achievement results revealed the secret of their success at a recent gathering in Washington. The secret: There is no secret.

But there are a few touchstones, agreed the principals, who had been assembled by the Heritage Foundation. Together, the seven won the conservative think tank's Salvatori Prize for American Citizenship. Each oversees a school that beats the odds for poor children--meaning that more than two-thirds of its students are poor and score in the 65th percentile or above on national exams.

The administrators cited a belief in hard work, a clear and ambitious aim linked to sensible ideas embodied in a plan of action, and follow-through.

"You have to work hard," said Irwin Kurz, the principal of the 1,350-student, K-8 public Crown School in New York City's Brooklyn borough. "We really believe that effort creates ability--principal, teachers, students, parents."

Hellen DeBerry, the former principal of the pre-K-6 Amelia Earhart School in Chicago and now a trouble-shooter for the district, said she drew up a five-year plan at the beginning of her tenure, but she didn't discuss it right away. "I knew teachers would need staff development, and we'd have to work that summer"--without pay. Most did.

Work and planning help create schools that are different from almost every other place in these students' lives. They need to be, the principals said.

"We simply say to the students, 'When you come through that door, we do not want to hear about the drug deals, who got shot, that you didn't have a place to sleep last night; we want you to come ready to do the business of education,' " said Gregory Hodge, the principal of Frederick Douglass Academy, a public 7-12 school in New York's Harlem.

"It's not enough to say all children can learn. We say all children will learn" said Michael Feinberg, who heads the KIPP Academy in Houston, a charter middle school that he founded with David Levin, another of the prize winners

The principals--including also Nancy Ichinaga of Bennett-Kew Elementary School in Inglewood, Calif., and Ernestine Sanders, the president and CEO of the private Cornerstone Schools in Detroit--have won $35,000, to be divided evenly among them.

A copy of the report "No Excuses: Seven Principals of Low-Income Schools Set the Standard for High Achievement" is available from the Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Ave. N.E., Washington DC 20002; or at


Vol. 18, Issue 39, Page 5

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