Pete Hall came to Anderson Elementary School in Reno, Nevada in 2002 as a young principal with a mission: to help children who desperately needed support. In two years, Hall changed Anderson from a failing school to one of the districts top achievers. Included: Approaches for helping low-performing schools.
Pete Hall, the recipient of the 2004 Outstanding Young Educator Award from the Association for School Curriculum Development (ASCD), describes himself as bilingual, energetic, and incorruptible. Hall took over as principal of Anderson Elementary School in the Washoe County School District in Reno, Nevada, in 2002. He is the youngest of the 97 building principals in the school district.
When Hall came to Anderson, the school was one of only two schools in Nevada to have failed to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) for three consecutive years. Just two years later, Anderson was the only Title I school in Nevada to earn the High Achieving designation. About 60 percent of Andersons students speak English as a second language, and 87 percent of the students receive free or reduced-price lunches. The mobility rate for the school is 60 percent.
Hall said he has been able to have an impact by demanding that children are the focal point of all decisions, and ensuring that all instruction matches students individual needs.
Besides the work at his own school, Hall is writing a text about turning schools around, called Building a Literacy Academy. He also has given presentations at several national conventions, including the Education Trust in 2004 and the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP). Hall is the author of several journal articles, and wrote The First-Year Principal, a guide for new school administrators.
Hall talked with Education World about why he enjoys his work.
Education World: Why did you want to take the job at Anderson Elementary School?
Pete Hall: I entered the world of school administration to expand the scope of my influence. Becoming a principal fulfilled a goal of mine to reach and improve the lives of the children who desperately need guidance, support, and a positive role model. Anderson School was a nice school, with a lot of potential, on the losing end of some battles with its academic tests. I felt I had some skills that matched the needs of that school community, so I requested the assignment. This past fall, a representative from the U.S. Department of Education asked me how I could tell Anderson had potential. I thought the answer was obvious. Its full of children, I told her.
EW: What are your goals as an educator?
Hall: Short-term, my goal is to survive each day and to make the world a little bit better of a place for as many people as I can. Long-term, my goal is to survive each day and to make the world a little bit better of a place for as many people as I can.
EW: Who inspired you to be an educator?
Hall: Interestingly enough, my old elementary-school basketball coach, Nelson Mills, played the inspirational role. After I got a bit big for my britches in high school and quit the basketball team, Uncle Nelson asked me if I would help coach his new seventh grade team. I loved it, and I realized how much impact I could have just helping people improve their skills at something. I guess I could give a sideways vote to my college baseball coach, too, who cut me from the team my sophomore year and ended my dream of playing for the Red Sox. That allowed me to focus on my educational endeavors.
EW: What is the most rewarding part of your job? The most challenging?
Hall: Besides having my own parking spot, the most rewarding part of my job is seeing improvement in children, every day, in a variety of circumstances. My teachers might say I get my kicks from dabbling with charts and graphs, and I wont lie: I enjoy making data come to life. However, the real benefits are derived from my work directly with children. The most challenging part of the job also involves my work with children. I work very intensely with children who are stuck lugging their issues around with them, and despite the many successes we have had, some students we have been unable to reach. It can be tough, watching situations over which we have no control unfold and mess with young lives.
EW: Many principals talk about the challenges of juggling home and school life. How do you manage that balance?
Hall: Yoga. Actually, I have a secretary whos so efficient I hardly have to do any work, so Im home at a reasonable hour. My wife is a teacher, and we have three children: 13, 6, and (almost) 3. For you math teachers, that equation equals more than a full-time job waiting for me at home. Between soccer practices, drum class, swim lessons, and homework, we stay energized. Luckily, I was born with a faulty mechanism in my brain, so when everyone else collapses asleep at the end of the day, I get revved up to write, analyze data, or read fun, action-packed educational research journals while they rest.
EW: What advice do you have for other principals working to improve low-performing schools?
Hall: As long as we all keep children as the focal point of our conversations and decisions, and if we align our work with our beliefs and focus, together we can move mountains. You are engaged in work worth doing, honorable and worthwhile. I offer you my mantra: Always strive to be a better you. And call me when you have it figured out, I could use the help.
Read Pete Hall's Education World column, Always Strive to Be A Better You.
This e-interview with Pete Hall is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.