As most educational leaders can attest, working with children is a highlight of the job. Such is certainly the case for Denny Rush, principal of Parker Whitney Elementary School in Rocklin Unified School District.
“When you work with kids, no day is a bad day,” said Rush, who has been named ACSA’s 2012 Elementary Principal of the Year.
In fact, she makes it a point to walk through campus and interact with students every chance she gets. She greets students as buses drop them off in the morning, visits them in classrooms and joins them on the playground – and they always run up to give her a big hug when they see her.
“It’s the closest thing I’ll ever be to a rock star,” she said.
Rush, who has held her position at Parker Whitney since 2003, said she loves what she does so much, it hardly feels like work. In fact, she entered education for that very reason. Having worked in the private sector for many years, her boss suggested she figure out what she loved doing the most, and find a way to make money doing it.
“I asked myself, if I could do anything I wanted, what would I do? What do I do when I’m not at work?”
The answer was simple: be around kids.
She worked as a crossing guard and instructional aide, and after earning her teaching credential, began her first teaching positions at Rocklin and Sierra elementary schools in 1993. Her first administrative job was as summer school principal in 2001, and she soon realized the benefit of advancing her career to the next level.
“Entering administration made sense. I saw the value of invoking bigger change,” she said.
Since taking the helm, Rush has supported high levels of student achievement through creativity and motivation. She regularly seeks new interventions, strategies and innovations to ensure student success, and supports and encourages intervention programs both during and outside of the school day. For example, she uses the many Renaissance Learning programs to motivate comprehension skills and uses “classroom buddies” to support instruction.
Rush’s efforts have paid off. This year, Parker Whitney was named a California Distinguished School for its outstanding and sustained student achievement; API scores are consistently in the mid- to high 800s. In 2011, the school’s API was 882.
In addition, in May 2012, the school made it to the California Business for Excellence in Education’s “Honor Roll,” which recognizes consistently high levels of student academic achievement, im-prove-ment in achievement levels over time and reduction in achievement gaps among student populations.
Rush also works closely with teachers and parents to ensure the unique needs of each student are met. In fact, she said she loves the opportunity to build relationships with those around her, whether with students, parents or staff.
“We have an amazing family feel at our site,” she said.
Rush is known as a leader who is uncompromising in her quest for quality educational opportunities for all students, and leads her school with enthusiasm and commitment, said Rocklin USD Superintendent Kevin Brown in a nomination letter.
“With Denny’s creativity, ingenuity, diligence, self-motivation towards consistently improving programs, she has become an exceptional instructional leader within our district,” Brown wrote.
As much as she loves her job, Rush said serving as principal is not without its challenges. Like any public school, Parker Whitney, a Title 1 school, has its share of students with diverse backgrounds, such as low socio-economic status, education level of parents and English learners. The hardest part of the job is knowing she can’t always fix every problem she sees affecting students and their families.
“You want to save everybody, and you can’t always do that,” Rush said.
Rush has distinguished herself as a leader not only at the school and district level, but also within her profession at large. She is an active member of ACSA, having served as a member of the Region 2 Board of Directors, president-elect of the Placer County Charter, and as a representative on the Elementary Education Council. Rush said as a new administrator, she soon realized the collegiality and support ACSA provides. She immediately got involved, and now realizes what a powerful force it is statewide.
“ACSA has played a big role in my career,” she said. “It is the culture of our district.”
Rush said she attributes her success to the mentors, both locally and statewide, who encouraged her throughout the course of her career. She credits those around her for supporting her work and said the Administrator of the Year award really honors the entire school team.
“An award like this doesn’t happen in isolation,” she said. “It’s a collective effort of a lot of people.”
Rush will be honored along with all of ACSA’s Administrators of the Year during the 2012 Leadership Summit, Nov. 8-10 in San Diego. To register, visit www.acsa.org/leadershipsummit.
Access photos of award recipients at www.flickr.com/photos/acsaevents.