Sally Huber, recently retired from her successful education career, has valuable insights to share as we move forward in our efforts to increase achievement, implement programs and solve the school improvement problems that are before us. Here’s what she has to say:

Introduce yourself and explain your experience and your mission when you became the leader of University Park Elementary (UP). As an educator of three decades I had some amazing opportunities as an elementary teacher, district consultant, and elementary principal. Each of these opportunities provided me with unique insights into student and adult learning. My beginning years as a principal formulated my belief that all students–no matter of their economic status or ethnicity–can and MUST learn. My mission was to prove this belief to others who said that it was impossible for Title I schools to perform at comparable levels with non-Title I schools. It became my passion to prove all students can learn.

What are the top three accomplishments in literacy that you are most proud of at UP?
My proudest accomplishments are students can learn, students must learn and students did learn. Trite, but possible with implementing scientifically based programs and interventions with fidelity, understanding why fidelity was so important through a quality staff development program that supported leadership and staff members, and creating a collaborative environment of high expectations with no excuses for student and adult learning–data driven. Through our efforts in the aforementioned, a learning environment for students and adults transpired and a sustainable program evolved. It was safe for all of us to improve. These accomplishments have been recognized through District acknowledgement of University Park as an excelling school, 2008 National Title I Distinguished School, and 2010-2011 National Blue Ribbon award.

What were the top distracters as you were reforming the literacy efforts at the school? Our first years of implementation found us struggling with leaving behind poor past practices and adhering to a cohesive vision for our students’ learning. The fear of change and the unknown created times of dissension. It became imperative to maintain and revisit our motto–everyday, every child, no matter what it takes. We had to learn to trust that research driven instruction was our most efficient method for assuring all students would learn.

Also, during this time our building staff members were receiving intensive and scientifically based staff development. Not all of our central administration had the same knowledge base. Many times mandates from central office created problems. It became my responsibility to intervene and sometimes shield staff from these mandates and their possible adverse ripple effects on our reform efforts.

What do you know now that you wish you knew then? With the pressures of NCLB and meeting AYP, I wish that I had felt there was time to trust implementing scientifically based programs and interventions with fidelity would result in closing the achievement gap. I now understand all students will learn with quality scientifically based instruction.

When you think back to the process that you went through to implement and sustain a reading program, what advice do you have for other leaders doing the same thing? As the curriculum leader of the building, I would recommend researching and selecting a quality outside consultant for initial and ongoing training. This person becomes your confidante and support for your staff’s and your learning. This person provides the structure for reform and the principal, along with follow-up with this consultant, becomes the on-going support for maintaining your reform. Select someone who can communicate well with you and your staff. This communication must be candid. This person needs to be consistent in their message to you and your staff . They must be able to communicate where you are in terms of current student learning and how to improve student learning through knowledge and understanding of the most current research. Most importantly, they support you and staff in the process of change. This process may be expensive but in my viewpoint crucial for reform. Finding funding through collaboration with other buildings proved beneficial for us. An internal support group in our district existed and both schools had quality staff development.