#BrightSpotsFW: A Whole School Approach
Amidst public school debates often mired in test scores and school rankings, one urban elementary school principal dared to venture outside of the quantitative box. His approach of supporting the whole child – and engaging an entire community – has produced inspiring results.
A priority on culture
When Ronald Schultze took over as principal of MH Moore elementary in the fall of 2010, the first thing he noticed was the lack of a cohesive school culture. At the time, MH Moore was one of the lowest ranked schools in the Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD). Located in the North Fort Worth Diamond Hill neighborhood, MH Moore faced clear challenges: 95% of its students came from low-income families and two-thirds were English-language learners.
Ron walked into a disjointed and disengaged community of students, teachers, and parents. His three decades of experience as an educator had shaped his belief that a school is made up of a symbiotic ecosystem of stakeholders. The success of any one stakeholder depends on the success of each of the other stakeholders – from students and parents, to teachers and administrators.
His philosophy for MH Moore’s success was to create a paradigm in which all of these stakeholders felt supported, engaged, and excited about their school community. Academics were important, of course, but for Ron, a healthy school culture was his first priority.
He believed that the school’s basic needs had to be met (including regular, healthy meals for students, parenting supports for adults, and professional development for teachers) before expecting 1) students to be able to learn, 2) parents to show up in a meaningful way, and 3) teachers to elevate their student expectations and instructional practices.
Building incremental trust
The first step towards achieving this model was to build trust across these stakeholder groups. This meant creating more time together in a risk-free environment. Ron systematically began integrating literacy nights, math nights, and interactive parent engagement opportunities into the school calendar. At first, he said, his part-time parent liaison would physically have to help usher parents into the classes. “We would stand in the hall” to convince them to stay for a coupon class or financial literacy training, he said.
But as parents gained real value from the classes (and child care was offered onsite), more families began attending, and even looking forward to, these school activities. Teachers started volunteering to chair committees – including book clubs, running teams, and art and dance classes. Fathers showed up on Saturdays for “Dads’ Day of Service”, which entailed building much-needed benches, tables, and storage units for the school. Families came together on the weekends to tend to the on-school garden and select fresh produce they could use at home.
Health and wellness
In addition to his intentional and practical approaches to family engagement, parents appreciated Principal Schultze’s focus on wellness. Many of the school’s students and families struggled with obesity and diabetes, so Ron implemented numerous programs aimed at improving the health of the school’s students, teachers, and families. He brought in nutritionists to work with parents, and dedicated at least one staff meeting per month to wellness, helping teachers learn how to integrate movement into their lesson plans.
“We are building a whole student, not just a test-taking student. I don’t stress about test results because I know that will come if we do what we’re supposed to do.”
– Ron Schultze, MH Moore Principal
The school’s eating options were adjusted, as well: students were no longer allowed to receive ice cream during their first trip through the lunch line. They had to make a second trip for dessert, and as a result, the school saw a dramatic decrease in ice cream consumption.
But Ron did more than just encourage healthier choices at school; he helped support students’ and families’ basic food needs at home. By teaming up with nonprofit and corporate partners like Tarrant Area Food Bank and Target, Ron arranged to provide groceries to all of his student’s families once a month. On the designated day each month, every family at MH Moore would visit the food truck on campus and load up to 22 lbs of groceries per child. Soon after the program started, MH Moore was providing groceries to 300 families per month.
In addition, Ron worked with FWISD to provide breakfast in all of his classrooms. Previously, when breakfast was served only outside of the classroom, MH Moore was serving 100 students breakfast every morning. When he moved breakfast to be served inside of the classrooms, the school was providing 500 breakfasts each morning.
Through Fort Worth After School Program, Principal Schultze began providing free dinners to students, as well. He believes the school’s near-comprehensive meal plan helped boost not only his students’ nutritional health, but their morale, as well.
“We can’t expect our students to have a positive attitude and perform their best if they are struggling to meet their most basic needs, “ Ron said.
Transforming a community
Ron Schultze led his school by example. He believed strongly that his staff deserved to constantly evolve, learn new and effective strategies, and grow in their roles. He personally devised and delivered many of the professional development programs his staff participated in each month. When teachers were asked to show up on the weekends, Ron was there, accessible in a t-shirt and shorts, to help with the tasks at hand.
Building a supportive, engaged community starts with a leader who models this behavior – and Ron was the ideal candidate for the job.
Over the six years Ron served as principal at MH Moore, his school and students excelled academically. The school’s recognition and achievements include the following:
TEA Distinctions 2014:
Top 25% Student Progress
Top 25% Closing Performance Gaps
TEA Distinctions 2015:
1st Blue Zones School in Fort Worth & Texas – 2016
Urban Garden Award from Tarrant Regional Water District – 2016
Gold Apple Award – M.H. Moore Elementary 2010 – Present
FWASY Principal of the Year – 2012, 2015
Despite Ron Schultze’s innovative practices and inspiring leadership, he insists that any community can adopt and reap the benefits of a “whole school” approach. Whether an administrator has 31 years of experience in education or three, Ron strongly believes that transforming a school’s culture can be achieved through passion, commitment, and trust.
“It’s all about trust. If we can create an environment where everyone’s excited to be there, real change can happen.”