Building a school culture that staff members don’t want to leave is a long process that takes a real commitment from administrators, but the hard work pays off, according to one Texas principal who’s dedicated his career to doing just that.
At Colleyville Middle School, staff have been known to turn down job offers that would have bumped up their salaries by as much as $10,000 or significantly cut their commute time.
What makes Colleyville so special?
During an EdWeek forum on Aug. 17, Principal David Arencibia said it’s all about balancing high expectations with truly valuing employees.
“I’ve been in a lot of places where it’s high standards—data, data, data, state testing scores, accountability—and that’s where the focus only stays,” Arencibia said. “I’ve also been in other places where it’s all about the people—keep people happy, relational—and that’s great as well. However, once there was a little accountability ... people didn’t like that. What we’ve done is we’ve been able to marry the two.”
During the event, Arencibia said school leaders should focus first on determining a set of “core values” to guide the school community, which could include things like ensuring all students achieve academically or a commitment to student and staff members’ physical and mental well-being.
Once the core values are established, hiring people who truly believe in and support them is critical, Arencibia said.
Once people are hired, supporting their professional development through relevant and engaging annual trainings that align with the school’s core values can go a long way, he said. Also key: celebrating their successes often and genuinely.
“It doesn’t matter how small the success is or how big it is, we are constantly lifting our teachers up and lifting our students up to say, ‘Hey, you see, you can do it, you can be successful,’ ” Arencibia said. “What that does is it just breeds more success, more positivity.”
It takes time to infuse a positive culture into a school, Arencibia said. Some people may not be a good fit, and there will be some turnover, as there is at any job. But because of his work at Colleyville, the 615-student school in the Dallas-Fort Worth area only had five teachers out of about 65 leave at the end of the 2022-23 school year, Arencibia said. Before Arencibia took over at Colleyville, the school routinely had to fill more than a dozen vacant positions each year, he said.
The full recording of Arencibia’s session during the EdWeek event is above.