Leadership Project Writeup-Fuerza Unida
My leadership project sought to address the underperformance of Latino students at Pali by creating a social, cultural, and academic support program modeled after The Village Nation (TVN) program for African American students. I assumed that a program like TVN for Latinos could produce the same rise in test scores that TVN experienced. I also assumed that because the school has a goal of closing the “achievement gap” the administration would provide this new program with the same support that it has given TVN, especially if it were proposed as a branch of that program. The long term goals of the program are the elimination of “the achievement gap;” proportional representation of Latino students in honors and AP classes; increased social capital for Latino students and families to navigate the school system; Latino students and families engaged in school leadership and governance; and ultimately that Pali’s Latino students and families and become agents for change in the larger community. My goal this year was to establish a committed team of adults, or “elders,” to become advocates for these students and families within the school and to adapt the TVN model to the needs of Latino students and families. Through the building and training of an elder team, regular Spanish-speaking parent meetings, sponsorship of Latino Student Union, and an impact assembly for all Latino students, I hypothesized that students would feel more hopeful about school and a greater sense of support; Latino students would participate in a positive academic and service focused peer network; parents would be more aware of their students’ academic progress and requirements; and parents would increase their communication with faculty and staff (CPSEL 1.1-1.6; 2.1; 2.2; 2.5; 3.2; 3.3; 4.1-4.6; 5.1-5.10; 6.4-6.7). My role was to use my experience as a TVN elder to help design the program in collaboration with TVN elders, faculty, parents, and students.
Evolution of the Project
Knowing that I was working on creating a bridge between TVN and our Latino students and LSU, the TVN elders invited 100 Latino Student Union (LSU) members to the TVN Welcome Back Assembly. The feedback in BSU and LSU was positive and the administrators were supportive of the bridge idea. By November, I had already begun speaking with Monica Iannessa and the two sponsors of the Latino Student Union (LSU) about the creation of a TVN-like program. A key difference between this program and TVN, would be that this program would focus on meaningful parent involvement in the school, which has not yet happened with TVN. Myrna Cervantes and Sandra Martin, the LSU sponsors, had already planned the first ever Spanish-speaking parent meeting for that month. They put me on the agenda to announce the development of a support program in which faculty, staff, parents, and community members work together to increase academic achievement of Latino students. I was encouraged by positive parent feedback at that meeting. By early December we held our first elder meeting of ten faculty members and one parent, Dr. Carlos Brown, who all committed to participate in the program. We developed a name for the program, “Fuerza Unida,” which means “United Strength,” and met monthly to discuss issues related to Latino students and to plan and coordinate events. In February we held another well-attended Spanish-speaking parent meeting, where we enlisted volunteers to participate in our first ever all-Latino impact assembly in April. On April 9, twenty-five parents attended a Fuerza Unida parent brunch and workshop. We held council in which they shared about their own schooling experiences, their hopes and dreams for their children after high school, and stories about their children. They also wrote letters to their children, which many parents read the following Wednesday at the impact assembly. The culminating event was the impact assembly for all Latino students at Pali. We flew in the coordinator of the Youth Together program from Oakland, California who spoke about his own experiences attending a school like Pali and eventually getting his master’s degree in education. Parents read their letters to the students, and then we ended the assembly by raffling off morrales, or bags that could be worn around school to celebrate Latino culture. From September to June, we not only accomplished the goals that I had outlined in my original leadership proposal, but we did so with more enthusiasm than expected on the part of the faculty, parents, and students. Logistically, Monica acquired all the approvals on the admin side, Ren Lara, our tech person and Ken Jefferson, the plant manager went out of their way to make sure that our technology and facilities needs were met for all events. The elders regularly participated in meetings and divvied up the event planning so that everything came together really well. Though the school year was stressful and filled with conflict for the overall school community, Fuerza Unida was a bright spot of collaboration, unity, and camaraderie.
The only change that occurred from my original plan was in terms of data collection. Initially, I planned to get a lot of baseline data like honors/AP enrollment of Latino students, parent and student surveys, and student interviews. After taking ED 441, Assessment and Evaluation for Principals course with Dr. Christie, I learned that developing a logic model to visually communicate our program inputs, activities, outcomes, and goals was a prerequisite to developing an assessment plan. Dr. Christie helped me revamp my data collection plan to include the following three goals: developing a clear logic model for Fuerza Unida, inventorying what the elders of the program actually do this year as part of the program, collecting feedback from the elders about their experiences working with Fuerza Unida. To develop the logic model democratically, I worked with my professors and classmates at PLI to design it, then brought it to the elder meetings and TVN elders for feedback. I was clear with my colleagues that he logic model for Fuerza Unida is a living document that will continue to develop as we move forward with the program. Fortunately, the external budget factors and fear of community resistance that I feared might limit Fuerza Unida going into the next year have not stopped the program from receiving funding for a coordinator next year and the full support of the administrative team. The logic model clarifies for the team and for the school community the purpose and inner-workings of Fuerza Unida. Its effectiveness is demonstrated by the fact that Monica used it to garner financial support for the program next year.
Throughout the semester, I had the elder team list the activities they were planning related to Fuerza Unida. At the end of the year, I had them fill out an activity time log to inventory what each elder had done and the amount of time they spent working for Fuerza Unida. In total, the group of ten, which included a parent, put in 219 hours of their time to build the program. This is evidence of the commitment of the elder team and the amount of knowledge and expertise that went into building the program. Finally, to assess the impact of the assembly, I gathered anecdotal data from the elders about their impressions of the impact assembly and its effect on parents and students. I turned that data into a word cloud to give an overall sense of the elders’ feedback. Some of the words most used in describing the assembly were “touched,” “love,” “beginning,” “privileged,” “heart,” and “todos” (all). These words indicate the positive reaction of parents, teachers, and students, and provide encouragement to continue the work of the program. Personally, I have had many requests from students to have Fuerza Unida t-shirts made with the logo designed by Edwin Aguilar, an assistant director for The Simpsons who donated his artwork for the project. He also donated eight professionally made Fuerza Unida posters which are hung around Pali classrooms and offices, including the EL office and two Spanish classrooms. In looking at the data, I am convinced that the momentum we have gained this year will keep the Fuerza Unida program growing in the following year. Monica has made sure that the school’s commitment to the program is in writing, so that the new principal accepts it as a part of the school. I have learned that collaborative leadership that honors parent, student, and teacher voice and unites people around a common vision empowers community members to work beyond their job description with creativity and synergy to support historically marginalized students.
Recommendations for Next Year
There is not much that I would change about the way that I implemented my leadership project this year. Though there were moments during the parent meetings and impact assembly that I would have handled differently than some of the elders, I understand that controlling people is not conducive to collaboration. At the start of each elder meeting, I facilitated a council during which members could check in and/or reflect on Fuerza Unida activities. As in CPSEL 5.7, which encourages leaders to “Reflect on personal leadership practices and recognize their impact and influence on the performance of others,” we supported each other’s growth through dialogue and discussion without criticizing each other.
Next year it is important for me to strengthen the bridge between Fuerza Unida and TVN. Though TVN has been successful in many ways in the last three years, elder attention was scattered. Three elders were working on their National Board certification and I was putting more attention on Fuerza Unida. I am hoping to work with TVN to develop a logic model for that program as well, and then to bring elders from both programs together to develop a common program theory and vision. There is also interest in TVN in modeling a parent component after the highly successful Latino parent meetings. Also, neither program has put much time into professional development for the faculty and staff about what our programs do and support, cultural awareness and sensitivity, or culturally responsive pedagogy. My goal is calendar TVN and Fuerza Unida elder meetings to develop and work toward achieving common goals. This “united strength” is the best way to move toward our goal of increased capacity of African American and Latino students and their families.