With the bulk of the pandemic’s day-to-day disruption on education is in the rearview mirror, Principal David Arencibia is glad to be returning to a “routine of excellence” at Colleyville Middle School in Texas, where high standards are front and center.
The leader, who is one of three finalists for the National Association of Secondary School Principals’ Principal of the Year, says he’s blessed to be heading up a high-performing school that continued to reach high numbers academically and in other categories even during the pandemic.
“We were able to make the adjustments through the pandemic by really keeping our focus on the kids. The challenge now is continuing to move beyond our goals, to continue pushing our kids forward and really stretching them as much as we can,” he says.
Accentuate the positives and high standards
Colleyville has been named a Texas School To Watch as well as a Nationally Recognized Model Campus by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform, and Arencibia says that recognition is the result of leadership, staff and student dedication to four core values: positivity, strengths, team and a growth mindset. “We want to lift up the strengths and the positives and the good things we do versus just focusing on the weaknesses,” he explains.
The staff works to create a culture where it’s fun for the kids to come to school. “That means really high engagement in the school, in the classroom. That means professional development for our teachers and staff to create that engaging environment. Also the way we interact with one another — it’s a very friendly, warm atmosphere, which helps the kids want to come to school. And then that spreads out to our community as well,” explains Arencibia, who has also been a Spanish teacher, coach, athletic coordinator and assistant principal.
All that positivity isn’t effective without systems and procedures, a big part of which involves detailed data on each student that the leadership team goes over weekly. This year they’ve added a social wellness piece: confidential color-coding to indicate students who are dealing with some sort of life event. “That way the staff can — without needing to know the details or what exactly may be happening — check in with that student and just make sure they’re being a great mentor, teacher or staff member,” he says. “It’s a differentiator that ensures we’re seeing the whole child, not just the academic piece.”
Let students know their input matters
Students know their voices are heard, thanks in part to a student leadership group. A student feedback area in the school features iPads where kids can leave input on all things academic and cultural. In fact, “actually listen to the kids” is Arencibia’s top advice for other school leaders.
“The first time we asked for their feedback, they stopped and said, ‘Like, you’re really asking us?’ Absolutely, we’re asking you! You’re the number one reason why we’re here. But going beyond the asking is then actually seeing that we listen to them. Of course, you know, we’re not going to be able to provide the In-and-Out burgers and all those other things. But we listen to them, we respond to them and say, ‘Hey, this is a great idea. Let’s implement it,’ or ‘Hey, this is a great idea, but we probably need to think of it this way,’ ” he says.
Colleyville’s parents are equally as invested, with record participation in the PTA for the past four years. The PTA’s Dads Club shows up every morning, helping to open doors and greet and connect with students. It’s another way to show that it’s a family-oriented school “and that we’re going to school together as a school community,” Arencibia says.
Today’s polarizing topics are less of an issue at Colleyville, the principal says, because “we don’t get into those things, the noise if you will, because we’re focused on providing the absolute best for each of our students, and that’s a common goal that we can all agree on.”
Pay leadership forward
Arencibia credits his success to “great mentors and great colleagues” who “saw some skills and leadership attributes in me.” He’s built his administrative skills, in part, by watching other leaders and seeing how they motivated each other. He has high standards for himself as well as the staff and students, and he’s keen on identifying future leaders and giving them a boost whenever he can, whether locally or through organizations such as the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
“Some people don’t get that opportunity of someone motivating them by saying, ‘Hey, you can do this and have a major impact on the future,’ “ he says. “That’s an important piece. I was very fortunate. That’s what really pushed me into administration.”
Diane Benson Harrington is an education writer at SmartBrief. Reach out to her via email, Twitter or LinkedIn.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.
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