Leon Dudley, a high school principal in Dallas, Texas, who says he loves a challenge, will be Jefferson High School's new principal beginning Aug. 14.
Dudley was hired this week by Vicki Phillips, Portland Public Schools superintendent. Phillips also hired Cynthia Harris, a school administrator in California, to serve as area director for all schools in the Jefferson cluster, as well as the elementary and middle schools in the Wilson area.
"Leon Dudley and Cynthia Harris are outstanding school leaders,"
Phillips said. "While new to Portland, they are not new to the work at hand: providing a world-class education for students in urban schools."
Dudley, a principal at Dallas Independent School District's Roosevelt High School, has a track record leading urban middle and high schools and closing the achievement gap, according to Phillips.
Dudley said in a telephone interview with The Skanner Wednesday that he is familiar with the "trials and tribulations" that Jefferson has undergone. But the community will see that he loves a challenge, he added.
The new principal said he believes in "rigor, relevance and relationships" when it comes to leading a school.
"It's all about relationships," Dudley added. "I plan to listen to people who are smarter than me about the culture of North and Northeast Portland and smarter than me about the culture of Jefferson."
Once community and school relationships are established, he said, he will help students to understand how academic standards are relative to their lives. The same goes for teachers, who may often feel they are teaching in isolation, Dudley said.
"We can't expect children to do any more than what we model for them," he added.
Once the relationships and the relevance are established, then the academic rigor will follow, he said.
"It is important to me that rigor does occur, but the people must come together and determine what that rigor will look like," he said. "What's the building going to look like? The technology, the teachers, the students?"
Dudley calls himself an "architect, a builder" who designs learning environments where students can achieve.
He said he plans to develop monthly meetings or "vertical conversations" between teachers in Jefferson's feeder schools to align subject matter and academic standards to prepare students before they enter Jefferson. He is doing the same thing at his current school, which he compares to Jefferson.
"They are like schools," he said. "The social dynamics are about the same — there's a lack of parental involvement, the need to motivate the reluctant learner, to motivate parents and to keep and maintain staff. They have all the challenges of urban schools."
Phillips called Dudley a "dynamic leader who has proven his success at urban schools much like Jefferson."
"He has the ideas, the energy and the inspiration it will take to engage students, teachers, school staff, families and the broader community to meet our common goal: to re-establish Jefferson as a premier high school. I am excited to have him on the team," Phillips added.
Dudley has increased graduation rates, improved instruction, supervised alternative and magnet programs and has engaged the community in schools he has served, she said.
He started his career as a third-grade teacher in Dallas and has spent most of his career in Texas, including two years at the Texas Education Agency working in accountability, development and support of alternative schools.
Dudley will take the helm of a school undergoing transformation. Beginning in September, Jefferson will house the Academy of Arts and Technology and the Academy of Science and Technology, and in September 2007, two more academies will open, one for young men and another for young women.
The Jefferson Design Team recommended that Portland Public Schools actively recruit candidates nationally for Jefferson principal. A panel of students, teachers, parents, representatives of the Parent Teacher Student Association and community members, asked the top candidates to give Phillips advice about the school.
Dudley has a master's degree in educational administration from the University of North Texas and is a doctoral fellow in the Cooperative Superintendency Program at the University of Texas. He replaces Larry Dashiell, Jefferson principal since 2002.
Cynthia Harris, the new area director for all schools in the Jefferson cluster, will work to integrate the high school reforms with other programs offered by Jefferson area schools. Those programs include an arts and technology strand through Ockley Green Arts School (kindergarten through eighth grade), developing the city's first kindergarten-through-high school International Baccalaureate program, building on the elementary schools' successes as they expand to kindergarten through eighth grade and instituting a culture of excellence in teaching and learning.
Harris has worked at California's West Contra Costa Unified School District since 1988, as principal of an inner city elementary school, coordinating coaches to work with under-performing schools, leading a department that provided transitional services to hundreds of disabled students and directing a program that engaged community volunteers in providing tutoring and mentoring to students.
She began her career as an elementary teacher in the Oakland Unified School District. Harris earned her doctorate in educational leadership from Nova University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Harris will build on the work started by Area Director Harriet Adair, who will continue to work with the Grant cluster. Harris replaces Jean Fischer, now retired, as the Wilson area director.