School leadership is not an easy job. Finding ways to help students learn in an era of high standards and massive budget cuts is challenging to say the least.
Perhaps one of the more challenging groups of students to help is high schoolers. These students are asked to sit for more than 1,000 minutes of testing each year – in addition to all they are expected to learn – in order to graduate prepared for college or career. At the same time, they are learning how to become adults.
In a large high school, a good assistant principal can be not only invaluable, but also essential. That’s why Villa Park High, with an enrollment of 2,400-plus, in Orange USD considers itself fortunate to have Rebecca Roberts, assistant principal of curriculum and guidance, and ACSA’s 2012 Secondary Co-Administrator of the Year.
“In my 23-year career in education, I have never agreed more with a selection of administrator of the year,” wrote Villa Park High Principal Ed Howard in a letter of support. “Dr. Roberts truly epitomizes the best in the education profession and is truly an instructional leader who sets the tone for any school.”
Roberts first moved into administration in 2006 as an assistant principal with Las Flores Middle School in Capistrano USD, and moved to Villa Park High a year later. Roberts said she was drawn to the world of education when she discovered the joy of tutoring a student named Sam.
“What I learned through the time I tutored him was it wasn’t that he was incapable of learning. It was that no one had invested in him or cared enough about him for Sam to care about his own education,” Roberts said. “It was my ability to care about this student that then led to his motivation to care about school. And to this day I care about each student individually. That is what motivates me as an educator and is also what drew me to school leadership. I wanted to be able to impact the lives of even more students on a broader scale.”
Roberts noted that President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know you care.” This philosophy has shaped her passion for education.
“To help the students of Villa Park, I lead the counseling office in doing just that,” she said. “We care about our students as individuals. In an age where budgets are stripped and the demands are greater, we can still have a profound impact on the education of our students because we have an unlimited supply of a powerful commodity: the ability to care. We have the ability to care about each student and to share that degree of unwavering care with our staff. We must passionately demonstrate a caring enthusiasm about each student, about each teacher, and about our staff members.”
One of the many ways in which Roberts has found success as an educator is a tailored approach to helping each student as an individual.
“With my counseling team, we developed a Pyramid of Interventions for our students,” she said. “But it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Rather, we seek to understand each student’s strengths and struggles and to develop a plan to help that student be successful.”
Roberts sets a tone for the team and herself of getting to know each student as a person, not as a number in a data subgroup. She wants to ensure they never lose sight of students as individuals, and to strive to do what’s best for each and every one.
“When a problem arises, it’s critical to evaluate the situation from a place of what is best for the student,” Roberts said. “It might not always be a positive or favorable outcome, but if the solution or decision comes from a place of caring for the student, then we’ve done right for that student.”
Roberts’ genuine care for the students under her guidance comes through loud and clear. She noted her favorite part of the job is when students are on campus, and her least favorite times are the breaks when they are not around.
“I’ve been asked what my greatest achievement is and it’s a simple answer: it’s a list of student names; it’s the students who come back to find you or the parents you see years later who thank you for helping them. Those are my greatest achievements.”
Another success story is Roberts’ effort to work with the community to see that each and every student who wishes to take an AP exam has the resources to do so. Over the last five years, the number of students who have taken the exam at Villa Park has increased, while at the same time their ability to pay has decreased.
“We meet individually with students and first seek to identify if they qualify for a fee reduction based on state and federal standards,” she said. “If not, then we develop a plan for that student to be able to afford the exam. I am fortunate enough to have a strong community backing, which provides scholarships for students. Overall, I just work to figure out what the student can afford and then creatively find the rest of the money to cover the expense.”
An active member in Region 17, Roberts has found ACSA’s culture of support to be a key resource.
“My ACSA membership has been invaluable,” she said. “It has given me the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues that I would not have normally been able to meet or collaborate with. It has also been a great opportunity to share resources and ideas.”
When she was notified she had won the ACSA award, she said she was shocked, humbled and truly honored.
“I work with so many amazing and dedicated school leaders that I was honored to receive an Administrator of the Year Award,” she said. “I’ve been asked how I feel about this honor and recognition, and I always answer with great humility that I just care about kids.
Roberts will be formally honored along with fellow award recipients at the 2012 ACSA Leadership Summit, Nov. 8-10 in San Diego. Visit www.acsa.org/leadershipsummit for details. Access photos of award recipient at www.flickr.com/photos/acsaevents.