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Thank you for supporting great principals

Shawn Benjamin 2
What if every child attended a great public school? What if there were a team of leaders in each school with the skills to support academic excellence for ALL students? By supporting New Leaders this holiday season, you have joined a movement to recruit outstanding educators from across the country and develop them into transformational principals and leaders for students in high-poverty schools.

In the Bay Area, one such outstanding leader is Shawn Benjamin of Leadership Public Schools- Richmond. Shawn is a veteran New Leader who exemplifies the school turnaround that can occur with dedication, tenacity and strong preparation. Shawn joined the New Leaders program after completing her master’s degree at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, attracted by the mission and the practical ‘on-the-job’ training New Leaders provided. She immediately landed at LPS-Richmond during her Residency year and then became principal of the school in 2007.

Shawn was entering a school where the culture was broken: students had seen a churn of principals and violence was common. Parents felt angry and betrayed by the school. Shawn spent her first two years focusing on school culture, creating an environment that was safe and nurturing for students. Once she had established trust in her staff, students and families, she then drilled down into learning and teaching, raising the bar of instruction and challenging her students and staff to make sure that every child was pushed to his or her fullest potential.

Today, LPS is unrecognizable as the school it was before Shawn took the helm. The school was recently awarded a silver medal in U.S. News and World Report’s “Best High Schools in the US,” a designation given to only 1,790 high schools out of more than 21,000 assessed across the country. The school is safe, nurturing, and students are actively engaged in learning. Every classroom has a system that helps students track their own progress.

LPS also has a college counselor on staff to help students navigate the college application process, as virtually every student will be the first in their families to go to college. At a three-day retreat at the start of the school year for freshmen to start their orientation towards college, students join an academic advisory group that they stick with for all four years, and the school offers tutoring twice a week. LPS–Richmond is now a place where over 200 AP exams are taken each year and 98% of seniors are accepted into college.

Shawn drove a 179-point gain in the school’s Academic Performance Index (API), and the school has held an API over 800 for the past two years (the number that the state of California says marks a “quality” public school). LPS-Richmond is now one of only four high-poverty high schools in California to achieve an API of 800 and is the highest-performing high-poverty high school in northern California. In just one year (from 2009 to 2010), Shawn drove proficiency gains among her students that totaled 18 percentage points in math and 21 percentage points in English language arts.

“LPS Richmond has helped me by getting me ready for college,” says student Tiye Gordon, “even though I didn’t think I was going to make it.”

Every student deserves a Shawn in his or her school. New Leaders believes that supporting education is the most important thing we can do for our children and for our country–and that making sure every school has a great leader and leadership team is the best way to start. We already serve 250,000 children and their families in high-need neighborhoods across the country, and, thanks to your support, we’re growing to serve 500,000 children over the next three years. Thank you for joining us and supporting this work.

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