We know that excellent teachers are the main ingredient in student success. There is growing recognition, however, of the essential and powerful role school leaders play in advancing learning. For the last eight years, the Rodel Foundation of Arizona has recognized and celebrated some of the most effective school leaders in our State and enlisted them to deepen our principal bench by mentoring those aspiring to be school leaders. One of the most gratifying aspects of our work is seeing the efforts of our exemplary principals expand beyond the confines of the campus and permeate systems both inside and outside the education realm.
One stellar example of an ever-evolving Rodel Exemplary Principal is Dr. Chad Gestson, who was recently selected as Superintendent of the Phoenix Union High School District. Dr. Gestson was recognized by Rodel in 2014 for his leadership as principal of Camelback High School where he transformed a low-performing school into an engaged, innovative and entrepreneurial exemplar. His work caught the attention of Dr. Kent Scribner, then Superintendent of PUSHD, who recruited Chad to scale his work by directing a district-wide effort to support principals and develop aspiring principals. His ability to inspire along with his capacity to lead made him the obvious choice to succeed Dr. Scribner as Superintendent in 2016. This meteoric rise from first-time classroom teacher in 2001 to Superintendent of one of the largest high school districts in the county in 15 short years is a tribute not only to Dr. Gestson’s managerial and instructional skills but also, we would like to think, to the professional development and mentorship training he received as a Rodel Exemplary Principal.
With 21 years of experience as an educator, Alicia Alvarez could have her pick of school leadership positions but she didn’t want to become just a principal, she wanted to take on the challenge of leading a school whose students lived in poverty and were at high risk of dropping out of high school. She knew the power that one caring adult could have on students in need of hope and support. So, Alicia took the leadership role at Alta Vista High School where she set high expectations for academic achievement as well as personal responsibility. Her school has achieved an “A” rating from the Arizona Department of Education for the last three years. Her commitment to mentorship, honed as a Rodel Exemplary Principal, ensures there are a multitude of educators in her sphere who have had the advantage of learning from one of the best. Her judgment, experience and wisdom are benefiting the entire state through her participation on the Classrooms First Initiative Council convened by Governor Doug Ducey.
Dr. Michael Andersen has spent the last ten years leading a school named for an Arizona icon, Senator Barry Goldwater. This high school in the Deer Valley district has a sister school named in honor of United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Being inspired by legendary Arizona pioneers may have helped develop the visionary spirit that defines Dr. Andersen. While successfully managing the daily demands of school leadership, the busses, budgets and buildings, Dr. Andersen thinks well beyond what has to be done to envision what could be done. He credits his experience as a Rodel Exemplary Principal for his commitment to innovative thinking and collaborative problem solving. And Rodel points to him as a model of leadership; devoted to improving not only his team and his school but also willingly taking on the challenge of making those improvements replicable, scalable and sustainable.
Jackie Norton is the President and CEO of the Rodel Foundation of Arizona which is committed to improving educational outcomes for Arizona’s K-12 students. The Rodel Exemplary Principal Initiative is one of its efforts to recognize, celebrate and replicate Arizona’s most effective school leaders.