Principal Mary Anderson believes that the most important role she plays as a leader is “setting the vision and establishing the expectations.” She focuses all decisions on what is best for the entire school community, sets and instills high expectations, and communicates a collective vision. Principal Anderson started on her path toward educational leadership over 30 years ago as a general education and gifted and talented teacher. Inspired by outstanding school leaders who demonstrated the power of effective leadership, she moved into the role of an instructional coach. Eventually, she continued her journey to become principal of two struggling schools where she provided professional learning opportunities, strengthened instruction, and reinvigorated a passion for teaching and excellence among the staff. Under her leadership all her schools have improved considerably achieving “Performing Plus” and “A” ratings by the state.
Principal Anderson was asked to take the helm at Fruchthendler Elementary School eight years ago. Fruchthendler was not considered a struggling school, but prior to her arrival the population had shifted when it began enrolling students from a neighboring school that had closed. This change in population meant there was a change in students’ academic needs, and many teachers were not sure how to shift their instructional approach. She reviewed the data to understand the school’s “B” rating and discovered that while scores were good, student growth was stalled. She recognized that the whole school needed to work together to reassess current practices and set a vision for the future. Principal Anderson gathered the entire school staff and they set a collective vision, “Together, We Expect Excellence.” Using excellence as a daily mantra, she developed a team of educators dedicated to striving for excellence in their instruction, a student body empowered to do their best, and families committed to supporting excellence at the school. Through her efforts, Fruchthendler’s improvement has been rewarded by receiving the Arizona Educational Foundation A+ School of Excellence award.
With the vision set and high expectations embedded into the culture, Mrs. Anderson worked on creating the structures and systems to put it into practice. She worked collaboratively with teachers to explore and adopt a more comprehensive curriculum that would meet all student needs, rather than selecting one and forcing it on teachers. To do so, she had to find creative ways to secure funding and be successful in garnering community support. She shifted the focus of weekly professional learning sessions to best practices and engagement. She quickly saw changes in how teachers wrote lesson plans linked to learning objectives for students based on data. She developed a daily schedule that provided adequate time for teachers and students to work together. Grade level schedules included 90 minutes of uninterrupted reading/English Language Arts (ELA) and math, enrichment opportunities for all students, and embedded professional learning communities for teachers.
Principal Anderson is often heard saying, “everyone gets the good stuff.” In addition to securing funds to support a rigorous ELA curriculum and a child-centered learning environment, she also encouraged all teachers to become Gifted and Talented (GATE) certified. Now 100% of Fruchthendler teachers are GATE certified and endorsed. She also partners with two area universities to recruit student teachers to provide outstanding professional learning to future educators. Indeed, everyone gets the good stuff.
While excellence is at the core of Principal Anderson’s leadership, she also leads with a soft heart. She ensures staff understand how valued they are. During remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she was described as “an emotional cheerleader, sharing that she believed that we had this under control. She asked the community to provide grace and patience as teachers learned to provide the best online instruction possible.” She also directly supported and engaged families by sending cheerful community-wide announcements every day before class to make sure everyone was ready to go. This sentiment was summed up in a letter she received from a teacher who wrote, “You saw something in me…you nurtured me and allowed me to find my footing. I had someone that believed in what I was capable of. I was able to reach my potential because of the second chance you gave me. I wouldn’t be teaching anymore if it weren’t for you. I just needed what you always said – a little love.”