Community Coalition Transforms School Into Learning Oasis
When first offered the position of principal at Foster Elementary, I was initially reluctant to leave my former school. I had gotten comfortable in my role, and was not sure I wanted to take on the challenges of leading an unfamiliar institution with double the staff, students, and parents.
But, after reframing my view—this was not a challenge, but an opportunity to make a difference at a large school in need—I grew excited, and set out to learn as much as possible about how I could make a difference for Foster’s students and community.
It took me three days to walk door-to-door throughout the neighborhood, meeting and greeting my new students and their families. After they told me their concerns, about gang influence and rampant vandalism and robbery on campus grounds, I knew it was time to get “crackalackin,” as the kids liked to say, or, in other words, get to work!
I reached out to parents, their neighbors, local businesses, the school district’s maintenance department, the entire Foster Elementary staff, and even Curb Your Enthusiasm actress and supporter of educational equality Cheryl Hines to solicit help painting classrooms, cleaning floors, laying out carpet, pouring asphalt, and remodeling the main office and cafeteria (which was transformed into the “Foster Bistro”). In just one month we completed these tasks and more.
With the help of Dell Computers, we were able to install new computers, laptops, and projectors. With the help of the William Morris Endeavor Entertainment Agency, we rebuilt our library with new furniture. With the help of Access Books, we furnished the library with thousands of books and decorated the space with murals. With the help of district maintenance, we cultivated a reading garden outside the library, so students could benefit from reading in nature.
Utilizing these resources and others, we installed a nine-hole putting green so that students could play golf in addition to basketball and soccer, a science lab for hands-on inquiry, an intervention center for emotional support, a family resource center to bridge the community, playground equipment to encourage imagination, and the Foster Fitness Center to promote good health for the school staff.
I also saw a need for programmatic updates to instill in the students a sense of pride and respect. The newly established Gentleman Scholars and Lady Eagles programs teach students table manners and basic etiquette, which will undoubtedly serve them as they grow into teens and then adults.
While in the beginning I had reservations about working with a larger institution like Foster,
I ultimately came to appreciate the many extra hands at the school and in the community. Because only a cumulative effort could have created this change. And it was as a team that we became empowered to believe past what we were able to see.
Dr. Jacqueline Sanderlin (EdD ’09) is an alumna of the doctor of education in educational leadership, administration, and policy program; and principal of Stephen C. Foster Elementary School in the Compton Unified School District, California.