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Rachel Ayala, Hubert R. Hudson Elementary School Brownsville, TX

Rachel AyalaIn four years, under Principal Rachel R. Ayala’s leadership, Hudson Elementary School transformed from a downward spiral to a National Blue Ribbon School. The improved academic success of Hudson Elementary demonstrates that all stakeholders must use their voice to maintain an unwavering focus on learning and ensure that a culture of high expectations nurtures the leadership capacities of administration, teachers, parents, and students.

A critical first step was Principal Ayala’s comprehensive evaluation of the school climate. Prior to the start of the school year, she held off-campus focus group meetings with each grade level and parents to cultivate an effective communication system. She used the climate audit to shepherd staff towards recognizing that change was needed and helped build a commitment towards lasting reform. She also used the climate assessment to evaluate the school’s capacities, identify areas of climate improvement, and assist in aligning resources towards school improvement.

Principal Ayala galvanized faculty and families to collaboratively redefine the school’s vision and develop a school improvement plan that continually supports student achievement. Every school year, Principal Ayala implements a school-wide theme that connects students, staff, and families towards academic and attendance targets. The theme “Hudson All STAARs. One Team, One Dream! #NEVERSETTLE” ensures all parties contribute toward academic progress of every child.

With an open-door policy, Principal Ayala facilitated the inauguration of new relationships between the principal, students, parents, and teachers. Involving all stakeholders in decision-making processes empowered staff to communicate their concerns and freely discuss how instruction and improved student achievement could be realized. As Hudson’s leader, Principal Ayala strove to replace the traditional omnipotent role of the principal with a shared leadership structure. The principal and other administrators helped stakeholders rethink their roles and responsibilities and re-conceptualize their tasks and functions to provide stronger supports for teaching and learning. Collectively they worked to centralize efforts and set meaningful learning standards that focused on achieving rigorous learning and academic goals of all students. The resulting collegial relationships produced creative applications to solutions, strengthened the bonds between stakeholders, and increased the overall commitment to school improvement efforts.

Principal Ayala established a professional learning community that regularly provides teachers ample time to collaborate, develop horizontally and vertically aligned lessons, and share ideas and resources. Regularly scheduled Coyote Planning meetings encourage fluid conversations between teachers where student performance data takes center stage. Within these data-driven meetings, teachers often lead the discussion of their students’ strengths and weaknesses and how instruction can be scaffolded to improve student achievement. Principal Ayala also participates in curriculum mapping activities to prioritize standards, concepts, skills, and themes that will be taught and assessed.

Principal Ayala promotes an educational partnership between home and school. She started the monthly Coyote Chronicles, the parent newsletter in English and Spanish, to keep parents informed. This school year, she also became the school webmaster and upgraded the website to be more engaging and informative for families. Weekly student and faculty spotlights recognize individuals for their contributions to the overall school improvement. These initiatives keep parents both informed and connected to the academic progress of the school.

Principal Ayala is a highly driven and energetic principal who developed inspiring relationships with the school community. She restored dormant school-community partnerships to revitalize the Hudsonville Micro-Community and Economy.

Ultimately, what distinguishes Principal Ayala from other school leaders is that she accomplishes these tasks with resourcefulness, professionalism, resilience, and a positive attitude. She is committed to triggering students’ and adults’ desire to learn within a culture of high expectations that supports academic excellence. Principal Ayala’s exceptional leadership is a key factor that has led to Hudson Elementary School becoming a National Blue Ribbon awardee.