Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Taking a Look at the Difference Principals Can Make

The Rafael Hernandez School, one of the first dual-language schools in the country, is an oasis in a hardscrabble Boston neighborhood, a place where students learn in English and Spanish and succeed in both languages.

In a Nov. 20 piece, Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham attributes much of the school’s success to long-time principal Margarita Muñiz, who died last week after a struggle with cancer. Abraham writes:

“In her 30 years leading Hernandez, Muñiz never seemed to doubt that a school where Latino and other students are taught in both Spanish and English could work brilliantly. She demanded enormous effort from teachers, parents, and kids to make it so, convinced the school could work only if everyone in the building learned every day. And she threw her most valuable resource — her formidable will — behind them all.”

The school’s achievement rubbed off on the nearby blocks, notes Abraham, pointing out that “Great schools can transform neighborhoods, and Hernandez became an anchor for the community — with a little nudging from Muñiz.”

For education reporters, two lessons can be gleaned from Abraham’s story. The first is that coverage needs to include all the players in the education equation. Not just teachers, students, and parents, but also administrators, school counselors, curriculum writers and other behind-the-scenes players. Seek out the people making a difference in the schools you cover: the principals and the secretaries; the athletic coaches and the literacy coaches; the parent volunteers and the band directors.

The second lesson is that schools don’t exist in a vacuum. Take a look at the neighborhood surrounding the campus. How does the school affect the neighborhood and vice versa? Does the school serve as a gathering place for local kids? Does it offer programs or night classes for parents wanting to learn English? Do the teachers know the neighborhood they work in – or do they go straight from their cars to the school doors?

As Abraham’s column shows, there are education stories to be found beyond the usual suspects.