Project Description

A Conversation With

Dana West

Past Principal, Estacado Junior High School, Plainview, Texas
THE BREAKTHROUGH COACH:

What was your experience before you came to Estacado?

DR. WEST

I came to education by chance, really. I married very young and knew I needed a career, but had no idea what I wanted to do. My husband suggested I try teaching, and it seemed like a good idea. I went to Wayland Baptist University, received a B.A. in Elementary Education and English, and an M.A. in Mid-Management. In 2000, I earned an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership from Texas Tech.

THE BREAKTHROUGH COACH:

It sounds as though you found your calling.

DR. WEST

Oh, yes! I loved it! I taught for five years, spent four years as a middle school instructional coordinator, then returned to my own alma mater – Plainview High School – as an assistant principal. After two years there, I became principal of Estacado Junior High School.

THE BREAKTHROUGH COACH:

You brought a lot of experience to your new position. What challenges did you face?

DR. WEST

Estacado was a single grade campus with a large number of economically disadvantaged students. Test scores were low, and there were no broad strategies in place to deal with that. I set out to prove that economic disadvantage did not have to equal low achievement. I began to see some positive results, but I felt that everything had to come from me – there was no organizationally-based approach to turning things around.

THE BREAKTHROUGH COACH:

What brought you to TBC’s 2-Day Program?

DR. WEST

After four years as principal, I was nearly burned out, trying to do everything that I thought needed doing. I had no time anymore to do what I loved – educating kids. My staff needed a leader, and I wasn’t leading – just moving paper. In short, I felt I wasn’t making as much difference as I could.

THE BREAKTHROUGH COACH:

Was there a specific point in the two days when TBC’s methodology began to resonate with you?

DR. WEST

Frankly, I was skeptical from start to finish. But I had invested the two days so I thought to myself, “Why not give this a try? What do I have to lose?”

THE BREAKTHROUGH COACH:

What happened?

DR. WEST

I went back to my building and gradually began to implement the changes Malachi had suggested. It was amazing! I had so much more time to spend in classrooms! Once you’re out and about, you see so many little things and they all add up.

For example: when a parent dropped off something for a student, our standard procedure was to send someone to the classroom, bring the student to the office to claim the item, and escort him or her back to the classroom. I never noticed that until I began to spend time in classrooms and realized how disruptive it was. So, we immediately revamped this process and now it’s much simpler all the way around. And – most important – the student doesn’t miss any instructional time.

Such a small thing, but, taken all together, those small things make a big difference! You just aren’t aware of what’s happening in your building when you spend all of your time in your office.

THE BREAKTHROUGH COACH:

You have extensive academic training in educational leadership. How does TBC’s approach differ from the academic approach?

DR. WEST

Academic programs emphasize talking, reading, writing and research. TBC’s practices are applied and designed to produce quantifiable results. It’s a matter of theory vs. practice – the difference between understanding and doing. In my new position as principal of Travis Middle School in Amarillo, I have four assistant principals, and I’m developing each of them using TBC’s methodology.

THE BREAKTHROUGH COACH:

You mentioned quantifiable results. Can you cite some for Estacado?

DR. WEST

In Texas, “Exemplary” is the highest rating a school can achieve. TBC allowed me the time to focus on what I considered the four elements necessary to achieve that: Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment, and Intervention.

In 2008, after two years of practice with TBC’s organizational model, 94% of our students scored Exemplary in Math – an increase of nearly 30% over 2005-06!

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