Issues, Efforts and Messages of an Urban Elementary Principal in Philadelphia

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Issues, Efforts and Messages of an Urban Elementary
Principal in Philadelphia

Julie Q. Bao

Shippensburg University


Based on the needs of preservice teachers in the Philadelphia Urban
Seminars, this case study focused on one urban principal to
gai n an i n
depth understandi ng of the compelli ng issues that an urban elementary
principal had to deal with, major efforts she was maki ng to meet the
State Curriculum Standards, and messages she had for preservice
teachers, teacher educators and the public
. The study was conducted
through the researcher’s observations and interviews in an urban
school i n Philadelphia. The obtained interview data were triangulated
with the researcher’s school observations, community input, and
preservice teachers’ reflection
s. The principal’s top issues, major efforts,
and messages were reported and analyzed.


This case study was part of the multi
faceted research on and for the Philadelphia
Urban Ini tiative, which is a two
week intensi ve urban classroom based c
immersion program, often referred to as t
he Phi ladelphia Urban Semi nars
. The Initiative
sponsored by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education

2007 alone,
430 preservice teachers from 20 uni versities participated in the Pro
(Vold, 2007).

Much research has been done on these Phi ladelphia Urban Seminars over the years
by participating faculty members, admi nistrators, and students, among which was the
year longitudinal study by

Bieger and Yu (2008) of Indiana Uni versi
ty of
. They examined whether participating i n the two
week immersion
experience in an i nner
city setti ng would produce changes in preservice teachers’
attitudes toward teaching i n urban schools. In their research, the preservice teachers’
es of attitude were indicated by their variations of concerns i n 4 major variables,
namely Concerns about Community and Cultural Differences, Concerns about
Conditions in Schools, Concerns about Their Teachi ng Ability, and Personal Concerns.
Bieger and Yu’
s research found
very significant positive changes of
students’ attitudes toward teachi ng in urban settings after Philadelphia Urban Seminars
in these four Categories of Concerns
(Bieger and Yu, 2008)

Bieger and Yu’s longitudinal research o
utcome is supported by multiple studies
conducted by participating faculty i n this Program. McGi nley
Armitage and Verden
(2008) conducted a qualitative study on students’ professional changes in their lives
based on 62 student reflection journals from Wes
t Chester and California Uni versities of
Pennsylvania. They found that
students were significantly more willing to teach in urban
settings and were more confident worki ng with inner
city students after the urban
classroom immersion.
Geraldine Jenny (2008) of Slippery Rock Uni versity used
students’ poems to compare their substantial change of perceptions before and after the
urban experience. In addition, hundreds of students’ reflections from multiple
universities overwhelmi ngly indic
ated a positi ve impact of the Semi nars on their
professional and personal growth i n urban settings
(Miller, 2008; Piercy, 2008 &
Thompson, 2008)

Nevertheless, whi le reading students’ reflections, the researcher noticed that some
urban semi nar participant
s revealed confusion and misunderstandi ngs pertai ning to the
expectations and roles of the pri ncipal in an urban setti ng. Some were unc
with principals’ “
eavy handed demands on cooperati ng teachers for their detailed
lesson plans and pressure th
ey gave them for high student test scores” (Student, 2007).

Because most of
SSHE students were brought up i n



small towns and
surburbs i n Pennsylvania (Bieger and Yu, 2008), it was difficult for many of them to fully
undertand the breadth an
d depth of the issues that urban principals had to deal with on
a daily basis. Some failed to see that urban principals were faci ng persistent problems
of low student achievement, high staff turnover, and i ncreasing demands for greater
accountability (Will
iamson, 2000). The accountability stress of pri ncipals was so
enormous that, according to an earlier study done in Chicago Public School District
since the passage of the Chicago School Reform Act of 1989, the one
year principal
turnover was about 30% (Chi
cago, 1990). With the No Child Left Behi nd legislation
(NCLB, 2002) and State mandates, the accountability pressure on principals was

Furthermore, principals were the c
hief school administrators

whom preservice
teachers would soon
report to

, it was imperati ve that they know their
principals’ concerns and school related issues. To this end,
this study focused on one
elementary pri ncipal in downtown Philadelphia to gain an in
depth understanding of
what major issues an urban princip
al was confronted with, what kind of efforts she was
exerting to meet State Standards, and what messages she had for preservice teachers
and teacher educators. The fi ndings of the study can be used to enhance preservice
teachers’ understanding of urban pri
ncipals and school environments, hence better
facilitating their
in urban settings.

The Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this case study was to obtain an i n
depth understandi ng of the major
issues, efforts, and messages of an urban elementary

school pri ncipal in meeting
Pennsylvania state standards

which were

by the PA System of School
Assessment (PSSA) scores and accomplishment of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)
targets i n compliance with No Child Left Behind (NCLB, 2002). Specifical
ly, the study
intended to find out what compelling issues an urban principal had to deal with on a
daily basis; what major efforts she was maki ng to meet the PSSA scores and AYP
mandates, and what her messages were for preservice teachers, teacher educator
s and
the public.

Research Methods

This study was mainly conducted through observations and i nterviews in an urban
school to obtain an in
depth understanding of the efforts, issues and messages of an
urban elementary pri ncipal. The

of the princip
al and her work environment were
observed by the researcher. The

were acquired through the
researcher’s interviews with the pri ncipal, teachers and community residents. The


observation and i nterview instrument was designed by the
researcher and consisted of
4 parts with 40 items/questions. The first part examined the school demographics,
general school environment and the principal’s background. The second part focused
on re
searcher observed efforts
pertaini ng

to behaviors that wen
t beyond a pri ncipal’s
routine call of duty. The third part dealt with issues a pri ncipal had to face, which
referred to the challenges observed by the researcher and expressed by the principal
through an interview process. The final part sought messages t
hat the pri ncipal wanted

to preservice teachers, college professors and the public, which were
also collected through the interview process. Apart from the above 40 items, the
researcher also i ncorporated preservice teachers’ reflections and

conducted a mi ni
neighborhood i nterview to add some

community voice to these school
issues. School observation data were triangulated with principal and staff interviews,
neighborhood feedback, and multiple students’ reflections. The top three

issues, major
efforts, and three messages of the principal are reported and analyzed in the Findings
and Discussions section.

Observing School Background

Selection of the School:

William Cramp School was selected for this research
mainly because: 1) it
was a typical urban school indicated by its geographic location and
parents’ low social and economic status according to the data of the school district; 2)
there was an outstandi ng principal in the school, whose efforts were observed earlier by
the resear
cher and who was willing to share her perspecti ves; and 3) the researcher
had supervised Urban Semi nar participants in the school for multiple years. The
researchers’ first hand experiences and the preservice teachers’ reflections might add
contextual subs
tance for interpreting the findings.

School Demographics:

Cramp School is located i n West Kensington in the
Northern section of Philadelphia, and is affiliated with the Central East Region of the
School District of Philadelphia. It was founded in 1964 and

named after a famous
shipbuilder William Cramp, who was a German immigrant born in 1807. The school
used to be his shipyard, which explained the huge rusty arch contour of the school. The
6 school had a total enrollment of 718 students for the 2006
07 s
chool year. Following
is the summary table based on data retrieved from the School District of Philadelphia
illustrating the racial breakdown in Cramp School during the 2005
2007 school years:

Table 1

Summary of Racial/Ethnic Composition of Cramp School
in School Years 2005


African American



















mer捥ntage of ptudent猠oe捥iving cree and oedu捥d iun捨

CrampW 9MB; City wideW T4.4B

(Philadelphia, 2007)

The data above are a summary of the School District’s Demographics, Attendance
and Supervision data. Under the
Percentage of Students Receiving Free and Reduced
the city
wide average was 74.4%, and Cramp was 90%, which put it
substantially higher than the city average, i ndicating that


students come from a
very low social and economic status. This table also supported Gary Orfield’s claim that
racial segregation is
strongly linked to segregation of class. Nearly 90% of i ntensely
segregated schools for Latinos were also schools i n which at least half of the student
body was economically disadvantaged (Orfield, 2004).

In Cramp School, all 3rd through 6th graders were
required to participate in PSSA
ding and Math Achievement Tests

and their correspondi ng bench mark
tests. The

PSSA test scores were also fed into the
Pennsylvania Value Added
Assessment System (PVAAS)

to analyze

annual academic progress for
, 5th, and
6th graders i n Cramp

For 2006, the State required 95% student participation in PSSA
tests, and the AYP test cutoff scores for Cramp were 54 for Readi ng and 45 for Math on
a 100
point scale. These cutoff scores were specific for each school
in 2006, but were
substantially raised as a State
wide threshold for all schools in 2007.

Observing the School Environment

School environment is an important
a principal’s efforts, so the
researcher started the i nquiry by observi ng the
school environment. Due to limited
observation time, she emphasi zed school physical conditions, the mission statement,
faculty and student morale, school activities, and the pri ncipal’s work relationship with
staff and community.

Following are observed i nd
ications and anecdotes of the Cramp
school environment.

Physical Conditions:

Because Cramp used to be a shipyard; it had a dome on its
main building structure. Coupled with the surrounding worn
out row houses and narrow
streets, it clearly looked like an
old and rusty urban school for any one walking by. Yet,
there was a big contrast between the i nside and outside of the school. Enteri ng into a
huge arched hallway, the researcher was impressed by the colorful murals and
streaming banners li ning all the way

to the school office, which was located way ahead
at the other end of the hallway raised by a few steps and a platform. A large 100%
Attendance Chart and a student award showcase wi ndow were displayed on the walls
outside of the office. Apparently, making

a consistent 100 day attendance was a big
challenge in urban schools, but so many students made it here.

Next to the security desk just before enteri ng into the office, there stood a huge


dog in a
fit school uniform. “It’

two students told the
researcher. This was a gift given to the pri ncipal by her sister, and the principal brought
her here, and dressed her i n a school uniform to demonstrate the school spirit. The
researcher was told that the pri ncipal also wore a school
uniform every day, but most of
the time she had to wear it inside her suit.

The Mission Statement:

The Mission was written both in English and Spanish. It
stated: “The William Cramp School will provide its students with a safe and secure
learning environm
ent that reflects high expectations for teaching and learning across
the curriculum to meet the challenges of a citi zenry for a global and technological
society.” The Mission was a standard elementary school mission statement, but the fact
that it was writ
ten in both English and Spanish made it more appreciable and relevant to
most parents.

Faculty and Student Morale:

At 8:00 am,

all teachers were waiti ng at or near the
hall gate with broad smiles for students to come in. Then they led them i n an orderly
ashion into classrooms through side stairs. All students wore school uniforms. The
researcher could see that in each group there were a few hyperactive students. The
moment a teacher looked aside, two or three of them would get into some kind of

or scuffle, but teachers could always bri ng them back quickly and lead them
quietly i nto a classroom. The principal was also waiting for students and parents near
the hall gate. When parents sent students i n, they greeted teachers and chatted with the
ncipal. All teachers looked warmly toward students, and most students were quite
excited about coming to school.

School Activities:

It was not until all classes started that the researcher finally had
a chance to meet the pri ncipal, Dr. Adrienne Carpenter
, at her office. Sure enough, she
was wearing a uniform inside her suit. But she was so busy at the beginni ng of a school
day; she simply didn’t have any time for the i nterview. So she took out over 600 school
photos and asked the researcher to use them as

an introduction to the school, which
gave her a good visual access to school acti vity records and an excellent background
for her i nterviews. Those photos i llustrated in detail classroom teachi ng and learni ng,
teachers’ professional development, community

activities, students’ extra curriculum
activities, prizes students had won, academic achievements of all kinds, and so on.
Many of them had dates and notes written on them. They provided a good scope and
contextual information for the researcher’s intervi
ew with the principal.

Working Relationship:

The pri ncipal apparently had a good working relationship
with faculty, parents, students and community representati ves. Whi le waiti ng i n the
hallway of the school, she

chatted with faculty, smiled

students, and listened to
parents. On the first day of the observation, the school


regular security person was
sick, so the regional lieutenant took his place. She chatted with him, gave him a big hug
and presented him with a small Oscar
like award. She

told the researcher that she had
to pay good attention to community relations and support.

Interviewing the Principal




Duri ng the first hour on the first school observation day,
the researcher basically followed the pri ncipal ever
ywhere and then sorted out those
school acti vity photos. About two hours after students started lessons, she was able to
sit with the principal for the i nterview. The researcher started the conversation by asking
about the pri ncipal’s background. Dr. Carpe

is a principal with African
heritage. She earned a Doctorate i n
Education Admi nistration/Urban Education
Temple Uni versity and had been a principal for the last 15 years. She had received
multiple awards that i ncluded Pennsylvania
Department of Education’s Incenti ve Award
for Academic Progress, and Recognition by Temple University for her roles i n teacher
education programs. She also participated in the 2005
06 Fulbright Admi nistrators’
Exchange Program, and spent a summer in Mooret
own Primary School in England.

When asked why she stayed for so long as a principal at a time when the turnover of
principals i n the nation was so high (Chicago, 1990), Dr. Carpenter said that schools
were a valuable

investment for our future and
Teachi ng students required a
special type of growi ng, care and nurture. People working in schools need to have a
heavy dose of love. In today’s challenges of pop culture, violence, crime, alienations,
disintegration of families, rap music, unemployment, an
d attractions of commercial
society, we were losi ng children. School was the gate keeper and the base from which
to pass on our valued cultures.

Asked what her rewards were for stayi ng as an elementary Principal for 15 years,
she replied that she had the
best students i n the world. Knowi ng this statement would
certainly be challenged by many; the researcher probed further and asked why she felt
that way. She answered that her students had the most potential to create a new
society. They were fine and lovi n
g students. Once you bonded with them, they clung to
you. They waited for you to come every day. They looked up to you, and their parents
had high expectations for them to make it in society. She was very proud of her
students. As she was praising her stud
ents, she poi nted to an English writi ng pri ze and
a sport

trophy i n the show wi ndow which some students had just received one week
earlier. Among her students, 90% were from Latino fami lies, many of whom were recent
immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Puer
to Rico, Costa Rica, and Cuba.

Finding Major Issues:
When the researcher asked Dr. Carpenter to list the major
issues that posed the biggest challenges for an urban pri ncipal to lead the school to
meet State Standards, she started off with the faculty iss
ues. She said she had a great
faculty, but not enough. She added that the successful urban teachers were a special
group of faculty that could bond wi
th urban students as well as
adequately prepared in
content and pedagogical areas. She emphasized the bond
ing effect in teachi ng. She
pointed out that these students could tell who cared for them. If teachers did not care for
them, they were not able to teach them. Nevertheless, recruiti ng and retaining the right
teachers were great challenges for urban pri nci
pals, and the requirements of asking
every urban teacher to pass

Praxis tests added more difficulties in retaini ng some

demographics was the second toughest issue that concerned her. The fact
that many students spoke English as a second
language added much time and
workload for faculty to accomplish the required curriculum i n time. The third issue she
listed was student mobility, which was related to changing demographics. The frequent
movi ng of students i n urban schools was especially se
rious. In Cramp, about 20% of
students moved every year. In some classes, by the end of an academic year, nearly
half of the students in a class changed.

Asked why she did not list the budget as one of the toughest issues, she said, of
course, Cramp neede
d money; the more the better. But money was something you
could spend creatively, and mi nimum money was guaranteed. Yet, the three thi ngs she
mentioned above were harder to change and they posed greater challenges for school

As the intervi
ew went on, she also mentioned class si ze and classroom discipline as
challenging issues. Again, she emphasi zed, that for her, the recruitment and retaining of
the right teachers, student demographics and student mobility remained the toughest

erving Efforts and Strategies:

The first day’s i nterview with the principal
practically lasted the entire day because it was interrupted many times. Teachers,
parents and students popped in frequently plus she had to answer dozens of telephone
calls. These

i nterruptions turned out to be good opportunities for the researcher to
reflect, make more observations and ask further questions. In waiting for the principal
from time to time, the researcher had the opportunity to visit ten classrooms, nine
teachers an
d two curriculum trai ners, whose input enabled her to see a more
comprehensi ve picture of the school. On the first day, the researcher ate a school lunch
in the school cafeteria. The student lunch was very simple but the cafeteria was clean.
The pri ncipal
promised the researcher a better working lunch at the street corner diner
outside of the school the followi ng day, but that never happened. On the second
observation day, the principal was even busier. The researcher literarily conducted
interviews on the
go. After a few apologies from the principal, finally, the researcher had
to call off the lunch and they both skipped lunch.

To meet the PA State Curriculum Standards, Dr. Carpenter and the school district
created many special programs for faculty and stu
dents, among which were the
Curriculum Trainers, who offered workshops and helped i ndividual teachers to improve
their lesson plans and i nstructional strategies. The researcher talked with two trainers in
the school. Apart from their own teaching load, the

trainers’ job was to visit classrooms
and provide curriculum support for teachers. The principal also frequently visited
classes to work with faculty individually.

Cramp School’s special activities for students ran a wide spectrum. To set high

expectations for students, the school even sent a group of students to
England and had a lesson in the British Museum to expand the urban students’ horizons
and uplift their school spirit. To address the fitness issue, the school organi zed Eat Well,
a nut
rition program to tackle nutrition and obesity issues. Because most of the students
were from a Lati n American background, i n order to understand their cultural heritage
and better prepare immigrant students, the school used a grant, much of which was
ributed by the principal, teachers, and other administrators, to sen
fi ve

teachers to
Puerto Rico in 2004. They made good connections with Puerto Rican teachers, shared
each others’ expectations, and learned from each other their preferred teaching

Of all the strategies designed to meet the State Standards and observed by the
researcher, the War Room was undoubtedly the unique one. The room was so called
because it did look like a military headquarters. In the War Room, hundreds of student
were written on dozens of posters covering all four walls from ceiling to floor.
The researcher looked around: Marked texts were everywhere, which included the
Eliminating Strategies, Post
Its, Talk across Your Fingers, and so on. On
the chalk
board was th
e remind
i ng

information that detailed each text, each room, and each
student that needed special help. Faculty assignments were indi vidually written. A book
entitled “Fifty Strategies for Teachi ng English Language Learners” written by Adrienne
Harrell and
Michael Jordan was placed i n front of the chalkboard. Four file cabinets
were full of documents. A TV combo, a clock, a worki ng table, seven chairs, and a
coffee stand were also placed i n the room. Faculty and staff came and left the room
swiftly, it was i
ndeed a military headquarters. Their slogan was
Fight to Make

When parents came to complain about somethi ng, they would be taken to the War
Room. The principal would explain to them why and where the student needed special
help and how he or
she could be helped. The parent usually accepted the guidance
pretty well. She explained that when parents saw a child’s name of their neighbor, they
would pass on the message: “Your child’s name is on the wall, too.” So, the second
parent would come to sc
hool and talk with the teacher or pri ncipal. In this way, more
and more parents understood the school and were i nvolved i n school acti vities. On the
second day of the observation, she turned two complaining parents into partners.

As a result of the huge
efforts of the principal, faculty and students, in 2005 Cramp
met PSSA test requirements both in Math and Reading. In 2006, however, it only made
Math, but missed Reading. At the time of the interview, the 2007 data had not been
released. Due to all the so
cial and linguistic challenges of the school, the principal
honestly wasn’t sure where that school stood on the PSSA scale that year. She was
more eager to find it out than the researcher. “We pulled off one year for the AYP,” she
said, but she did not kno
w whether they would make it i n 2007. She said she was only
trying her best.

Coming out of the school, the researcher interviewed 10 middle aged people from an
area one block around the school. Questions were whether they had a child or children
in Cramp
and how much they liked or disliked the school. The feedback was
overwhelmi ngly positi ve. Four of the 10 people had at least one chi ld in the school, two
had relati ves that had a child i n it, but all of them liked the school. Asked what they liked
about th
e school, the top fi ve items they listed were: they liked the school because
“They took care of students;” “The school was clean;” “They asked kids to wear
uniforms;” “Teachers talked with us (parents) politely;” and “They taught good thi ngs to

Seeking Messages:
The fi nal part of the interview was about the Pri ncipal’s
messages to preservice teachers, teacher educators, and the public. Her first message
for preservice teachers was the need for bonding. She wanted teachers that could bond
with st
udents. She said: “Not all teachers could teach well in urban schools. It is those
teachers that can bond with students that can deliver instruction and develop students’
knowledge and skills.” She advised student teachers not to take this job lightly. It
was a
profession that could impact the life of students.

Asked what she wanted to tell college professors in teacher education
i nstitutions,
she said teachers

colleges needed to work with schools and communities and have
high expectations for urban studen
ts. For the general public and society she deli vered a
strong message of hope. She said that there were multiple social issues reflected here,
many of which were beyond her control, such as disintegration of families,
unemployment, poverty, and so on. Ther
efore, she could only say it was a message of
hope. She needed the help of the whole society.

Data Triangulation

The purpose of this case study w

to gai n an i n
depth understanding of major
issues that confronted an urban pri ncipal, major efforts she wa
s making to meet the
State Curriculum Standards, and messages she had for preservice teachers, teacher
educators, and the public. The researcher designed an observation and i nterview
instrument that focused on the school environment, the pri ncipal’s major
issues, efforts,
and messages. Though the researcher visited the school multiple times before the
research, all observations and interviews for the case study were conducted during two
school days i n May 2007. Data collected i ncluded the researcher’s obser
vation notes,

interview shorthand notes,

website data, comments made by
teachers, preservice teachers’ reflections, and feedback from neighborhood residents.

The summary table of the racial and social economic statu
s of students w
as based
on the
istrict’s website and confirmed by the pri ncipal. Compared with 74% of students
wide who were qualified for free and reduced lunch, Cramp’s 90% certai nly
indicated a substantially lower social and economic status for the students’


The school environment notes were coded into
Physical Conditions, Mission
Statement, Student and Faculty Morale, Student Activities, and Principal’s Relationship
wi th Staff.

Issues, Efforts,


were both from the interviews of t
principal and the researcher’s observations. PASSHE preservice teachers’ reflections
and feedback from a mini neighborhood interview were also triangulated into the data
analyses. Since much of the school efforts were aligned with meeti ng the State
iculum Standards, and at the time of research, the 2007 PSSA scores and AYP
performance outcomes had not been released, the researcher interviewed the principal
again i n January of 2008 to find out the result of the measured school performance.
Major findi
ngs of the research are reported and analyzed in the following section.

Findings and Discussions

This case study was conducted to expand understanding of an urban pri ncipal’s
compelli ng issues and major efforts to meet State Standards, and messages she h
for preservice teachers, college professors, and the public. To this end, the researcher
reported and analyzed the principal’s top three issues, major efforts, and messages in
this section.

Principal’s Three Major Issues

During the interview, the
first issue the principal brought up was the need for
bonding between teachers and their students, which was i nterpreted as teachers that
were well trained and could establish rapport with urban students. She said finding and
retaini ng the right teachers w
as the top challengi ng issue for her. This challenge also
included too many burned
out teachers and a shortage of qualified substitute teachers.
Cramp was not alone. Nationwide, the number of new teachers that left the profession
withi n fi ve years, and tea
cher turnover rates, were 50 percent higher in high
than i n low
poverty schools

(Ingersoll, 2001)
. Dr. Carpenter’s need for teachers who
could relate to the students was also highlighted by Salome Thomas
EL, a middle
school pri ncipal i n i nner
Philadelphia and the author of
I Choose to Stay

EL, 2003)
. In his speech to the preservice teachers i n Philadelphia, he repeatedly
emphasized the importance of teachers that could bond with urban students.

Student reflections also attested to the
need for strong student/teacher relations.
Many students mentioned i n their reflection journals that teachers who could effecti vely
deliver the curriculum were those who could bond with their students. This was an issue
that was especially important for PA
SSHE students who were mostly
brought up i n rural,
small town
, or suburban areas of Pennsylvania. The researcher remembers on the first
day of the Philadelphia Seminar 2006, all PASSH
E students were to gather at

Washington Middle School of Philadelphia to start their two
week immersion program.
As PASSHE preservice teachers
arri v

students were leav
i ng

the school.
Right outside the School Auditorium there formed two dynamic human currents: O
n the
one side were hundreds of predomi nantly African
American and Latino
students comi ng out of the building; on the other side, about 350 almost all white
preservice teachers were entering into the buildi ng. Two human groups of completely
ent color crossed each other at that moment, and nobody talked with the other
group. The
stunning and
surreal picture of the racial juxtaposition, which occurred a half
century after the Brown v. Board of Educa
tion decision,

her forever


asked herself

many times

since, in her own method courses

Shippensburg University
, how her predominantly Caucasian students could successfully
teach these urban students with such different cultural, linguistic and social
backgrounds. Witho
ut serious bonding experiences and efforts, it would be very difficult
for them to deliver the curriculum and develop students’ knowledge, skills, and
dispositions as required by the state or national teacher traini ng standards. As Principal
Carpenter put
it, “No bonding, and no teaching in urban schools.”

Demographics were the second issue the pri ncipal mentioned. In her school, 90% of
students came from a Lati no background. Many of them were first generation
immigrants. As Gary Orfield (2004) pointed out
, Lati no students were the most
segregated minority group in American schools. They were segregated by race and
poverty. Immigrant Lati nos were also at risk of experiencing linguistic segregation

Cramp was a good example of this, and Pri ncipal Carpenter h
ad certainly felt the
enormous linguistic challenges of Latino students in reaching the State Standards.

The third issue she listed was student mobility which is related to demographics. As
Harold Hodgkinson (2001) said in
Educational Demographics

when he

described the
student mobility issue: “Many teachers have 22 students i n the fall and 22 in the
following spring, but 20 out of the 22 are different students” (P.7). A twenty out of
two mobility ratio seemed a little higher than most of the urban c
lassrooms that
the researcher visited, but the mobility issue was clearly there. In Cramp, the principal
quoted a 20% mobility ratio. Even 20% of students changing schools annually made it
hard enough for teachers to cover or make up their required curricu
lum content i n time
and provide much needed differentiated and i ndividualized i nstruction. The researcher
did not know how the student mobility factor was weighed i n calculating PSSA score
outcomes or considered in meeting the AYP targets, but one thing wa
s clear

school, bilingual, and social support programs were needed here.

Apart from the above three issues, Dr. Carpenter also listed parent issues, the
district, and of course the budget issues. The fact that the budget issues did not make
her top

three was a little surprising for the researcher. Dr. Carpenter explained that a
minimum budget was guaranteed per student and she was able to use it creati vely, but
she had little control on faculty turnover, changing demographics, and student mobility

Observed Major Efforts

Dr. Carpenter’s efforts to meet the State Standards were clearly demonstrated
duri ng the researcher’s two
day observations and interviews i n Cramp. To address
aligned curriculum content and teaching methods, the
principal and district
established the role of Faculty Curriculum Trai ners, who visited classrooms and
provided curriculum support for teachers. The pri ncipal also frequently visited classes to
mentor individual teachers, especially new teachers. She under
stood what was
suggested by research, that mentoring in the early years was one of the four effective
factors influencing teacher attrition (Darling
Hammond, 2003).

To address the changing demographic issues, the school provided i ndividualized
parent workshops, cultural activities, and nutrition programs. They even sent
teachers to Puerto Rico to study students’ cultural heritage, local curricula, and
establish communications with Puerto Rican teachers to help them with immigrant

To a
ddress students’ self esteem and high expectation issues, the principal raised
money to send a group of students to visit the British Museum and had a class there, so
urban students could broaden their hori zons and be more motivated in academic
subjects. T
he War Room was clearly a strategic plan to tackle the academic
achievement issues, where all names of at risk students were written and strategies
specified. As their slogan said, they had to fight to accomplish academic successes.

The principal had turn
ed many parents i nto allies, which was observed by the
researcher and supported by comments of the neighborhood residents through a mi ni
interview. The community residents generally supported the school’s efforts. When
asked what school
related things they

liked or disliked most, their top fi ve statements
were “They took care of students;” “The school was clean;” “They asked kids to wear
uniforms;” “Teachers talked with parents politely,” and “They taught good thi ngs to
students” (Residents, 2007).


these i nterviews were conducted in May of 2007, when the outcome of
2007 PSSA scores and AYP targets had not been released,
the researcher i nterviewed
the principal

again via telephone in January 2008 t
o fi nd out the outcome of

2007 performance.

Dr. Carpenter
proudly reported that t
chool made it in Math, but then said with
regret that they narrowly missed in Readi ng again. She explained that this result
actually demonstrated a huge improvement in school performance. In 2006, Cramp’s
specific c
utoff score was 54 for Reading and 45 for Math, but in 2007, the bar was
substantially raised. Instead of using school specific cutoff scores, Pennsylvania
mandated a threshold for all schools, which required 63 for Readi ng and 56 for Math.
The new cutoff
score i ndicated a substantial jump i n criteria for Cramp, which met the
new requirement in Math, but narrowly missed in Reading. Of all the 25 mandated AYP
targets, which included Indi vidual Educational Program students, academic subgroups,
gender distribu
tions, and so on, Cramp met 24, just short of one target. Following is a
summary table from the PA Department of Education onli ne report card, which
illustrates the progress in the percentage of Cramp students who scored on the PSSA
at Proficient and Advan
ced levels:

Table 2


(% of Cramp School students scoring Proficient & Advanced)




Grade 3



Grade 4



Grade 5




Grade 6



All Students




Report Card Summary Source:

PDE, 2008


(% of Cramp School students scoring Proficient & Advanced)




Grade 3



Grade 4



Grade 5




Grade 6



All Students




Report Card Summary Source:

PDE, 2008

The above data indicate conti nued growth of Cramp students who were achieving at
the proficient and advanced levels. Exami ning the onli ne Report Card data further, the
researcher n
oticed that every student group, i ncludi ng subgroups, made gains in
reading and math with the exception of the students i n the IEP subgroup, which did not
make adequate progress i n math. On the Pennsylvania Value Adde
d Assessment
System (PVAAS)
, w
hich measured annual academic progress for 4th, 5th, and
6th graders in Cramp in relation to each student’s previous performance, Cramp had
met all expectations.

Looking at the very hard
earned, or narrowly
missed, achievement data, the
researcher wondere
d how the State and society should evaluate the performances and
efforts of urban schools like Cramp. A requirement of 63% for Reading and 56% for
math in a middle class school district, where many academically well
educated parents
could readily serve as
pri vate tutors for their children, was not a hard target at all;
whereas i n Cramp, where 90% of students were labeled as from low social classes and
many of whom spoke English as a second language, it could be a daunti ng struggle.
Moreover, urban schools’
faculty dilemmas also add to the predicament. One
researcher pointed out that “
ore than 20 percent of schools in California had more
than 20 percent of their staff teachi ng without credentials. These inexperienced
teachers are assigned almost exclusi vely
to low
i ncome schools serving students of
(Shields et al., 2001).
Nevertheless, Cramp made it, or almost made it. What an
effort! Cramp’s parents also demonstrated that they, too, had great expectations for
their children.

But Cramp’s struggle was

far from over. In this school, the principal
and teachers
were deep i n the trenches, preparing for each battle with all their heart and might.
view of all the forces i n society that were worki ng against urban schools like Cramp, the
researcher wondered
, instead of criticizi ng urban pri ncipals and teachers, how society
should appreciate their assets and efforts, and more importantly how society should
help them.

Principal’s Three Messages

In the message session of the interview, the principal clearly
passed on t
messages. The first

was delivered to preservice teachers who needed to treat
teachi ng as a passionate life career and establish bonds with urban students. She said
that not all teachers could teach well i n urban schools, and urban stude
nts could tell
who cared for them and who did not. Deli vering curriculum to urban students needed
more dedication and enthusiasm. Dr. Carpenter’s views were echoe
d earlier by
Haberman (1995): “
Whatever the reasons for children’s behavior

whether poverty,

personality, a handicapping condition, a dysfunctional home, or an abusi ve environment

classroom teachers are responsible for managi ng children, seeing that they work
together i n a confi ned space for long periods, and ensuri ng that they learn” (p. 22).
Confronted with enormous social, economic and li nguistic disadvantages, urban
teachers were apparently facing greater challenges. Consequently, those teachers who
could bond with urban students as well as professionally deliver i nstruction were in high

The principal’s second message was addressed to teacher educators who she felt
needed to work more closely with urban schools and communities. She said that college
professors not only needed to teach content knowledge i n teacher preparation
, they also needed to teach preservice teachers how to bond with culturally
different students. Asked how they could teach bondi ng, she noted that what PASSHE
was doi ng i n the Phi ladelphia Urban Semi nars was one of the good examples of
exposing future teac
hers to urban students.

Dr. Carpenter wanted to send the third message to the public. She appealed to the
public that schools needed the support of the whole society. With today’s challenges of
changing demographics, rapid student mobility, budget reducti
on, unemployment, and
disintegration of families, it was hard for schools to do it alone.

In the middle of the interview on the second day, the school secretary tiptoed i n and
told her that the brother of a boy she cared for and helped so much, had been k
Upon hearing this news, the pri ncipal choked on these words, and tears welled up i n her
eyes. After a few mi nutes, she swallowed her sorrow. Just as the researcher was going
to continue, the principal burst out: “It is always like this; it happens e
very weekend. If it
is not somebody’s brother, than it’s somebody’s uncle, or mother’s brother. It doesn’t
have to be like this, but we don’t have control outside. Then she calmed herself down
and said, “Th
erefore, I can only say I hope
I hope and I hope.

Dr. Carpenter’s anger and anguish were shared by Roger Jackson, who was a high
school pri ncipal in Philadelphia. In his
I Ain’t Scared to Say It,
he listed dozens of
suggestions of what students, parents and society should do to address the urban
stances, such as taking personal responsibilities in the
Just Do It Chapter
, and
addressing politics and social justice issues in the
Justice Chapter

(Jackson, 2005)

Principal Carpenter’s appeal to society was sincere and urgent. Urban schools are
not an

easy fix. Excessi ve State mandates without looking at specific circumstances of
a school are burning out many urban teachers and pri ncipals. Other unintended
consequences are equally serious. For example, growi ng evidence has indicated that
schools are gi
ving short thrift to other subjects, especially science and social studies
(Wallis & Steptoe, 2007). Since many urban school issues are social issues, maybe
more creative and powerful social remedies are needed, such as requiri ng school board
members and l
egislators to teach reading once a month i n urban schools where 90% of
students are in free lunch programs and most of them speak English as a second
language. Then maybe more budget sustained, comprehensive social and academic
support programs would follo


The purpose of this case study was to obtain an in
depth understanding of an urban
elementary pri ncipal’s major issues and efforts to meet the State Standards and
messages she had for preservice teachers, teacher educators, and the public. The

three issues facing Dr. Carpenter were the need for more qualified teachers that could
bond with urban students, the impact of changi ng demographics, and excessi ve mobility
of students. Her major efforts to meet the State Standards were curriculum fac
for teachers, multiple programs to motivate students and strategic plans, such as the
War Room, and to conduct differentiated and indi viduali zed instruction for at
students. The major messages Dr. Carpenter sent to preservice teachers were t
o treat
teachi ng as a passionate career and to bond with culturally different students. For
teacher educators, she wanted them to work with urban schools and communities. For
the public, she appealed to the whole society to understand and help urban school

This case study depicted an outstandi ng urban elementary school pri ncipal who was
both thri ving and
struggling in a challenging urban setting. Pressured by national and
state requirements and overpowered by runaway social forces, she managed to win
some major battles, but she was not sure whether she would be able to win the war. In
the process,
while ma
ny urban pri ncipals were being burned out,
amazi ngly
hanging i n

there, doing her best

urban children
. She understood that many of her
school issues were social issues; therefore, she appealed to the whole society to help
urban schools. The rese
archer held that urban schools like Cramp need Standards, but
they need more support. Urban schools need to be mandated, but their efforts need to
be understood and appreciated more.

Though this case study is limited i n its generali zability, it could be u
sed as
background information to understand urban school pri ncipals and the learning
environment for
SSHE and other preservice teachers when they are worki ng with
cooperating teachers and students in urban schools. It could also provide insight for
er educators to better prepare their preservice teachers, and serve as a reference
for policymakers to analyze and evaluate urban school performance.


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