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Lehigh names first urban principal-in-residence



Michael Rodriguez

Lehigh University’s Center for Developing Urban Educational Leaders (CDUEL) announced that Michael Rodriguez, principal at Central Elementary School in Allentown, Pa., has been named as its first urban principal-in-residence.

The center trains effective educational leaders who can help drive social change, both in the school environment and urban neighborhoods. CDUEL was launched by Lehigh’s College of Education in 2006, and is a partner with the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley’s Community Partners for Student Success (COMPASS) program.

The new residence program is being supported by grants from the Rider-Pool Foundation and Air Products, Inc., both of Allentown.

“Michael is a young and highly talented principal who has built a wonderful relationship with the Allentown community,” says George White, director of the Center for Developing Urban Educational Leaders. “He understands better than most that the role of the principal extends well beyond the traditional boundaries of his school. We’re proud to have him help build our Urban Principal-in-Residence program.”

Rodriguez will conduct research and continue his studies in educational leadership at Lehigh’s College of Education during his tenure as an urban principal-in-residence. He will explore new instructional strategies to improve student literacy.

Central Elementary School will use a distributive leadership model during Rodriguez’ residency, where a team of four teacher-leaders will work with Rodriguez and key parent and community agency leaders in charting the direction for the school.

Central: The community hub

Central is one of three designated “community schools” in the Allentown School District and supports upwards of 800 students. As a hub of the inner-city community, Central also houses a Lehigh Valley Hospital Pediatric Clinic and offers such programs as a clothing closet and food bank for inner-city Allentown.

During Rodriguez’ tenure, Central’s standard proficiency scores in the area of reading have risen nearly 30 points. He credits the school’s dedicated 65 teachers and support staff with building a community of learners.

“Lehigh is the place to discuss best practices and I’ll now have a chance to test those best practices and put them to work in a true urban environment,” says Rodriguez. “It will give me the opportunity to continue improving my skills so I can help support our teachers—who are already incredibly committed to their students and to urban education.”

“My primary goal is, ‘How can we expedite the success of our students?’ We’re on the cusp of really turning around inner-city education, so what I envision is really breaking out over these next few years and accelerating the achievements of our students,” says Rodriguez.

Overcoming economic disadvantages

The focus of CDUEL is the creation of a web of leadership among urban community leaders that engages the entire community in supporting school improvement. Pennsylvania school districts such as those in Philadelphia, Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton and Reading have partnered with CDUEL, and plans are in place to extend the residence program to urban leaders across the nation in the next two years.

According to the United Way’s COMPASS program, 76% of the 1,093 students who dropped out of schools in the Lehigh Valley were from the urban areas of Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton. Of those, nearly a quarter (23%) left school before entering the ninth grade.

“Poor education is a way of continuing a cycle of poverty,” says White. “We’re trying to understand how we can help schools and our urban communities overcome the impact of economic disadvantages—and current research shows that having a strong and transformative urban principal working in cooperation with key teacher leaders and parent and community agencies is key to making that happen.”

"Social change starts with education and begins in our schools. It's the only environment where we have the chance to engage students and create a sense of hope and opportunity at such an early age," White says. “Rodriguez shares this vision and truly embodies what we believe urban educational leaders could be.”

--Tom Yencho


Posted on Tuesday, September 23, 2008

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