High Tech Early College

School Level or Grades

Number of Students

Number of Teachers

9-12 529 29

2016-17 SPF Rating


Years Implementing TLC

Accredited on Watch
FRL- 74%
ELL- 65%
SPED- 11%
Students of Color- 95%
School photo shoot at DMHS in November 2015.

The Role of the Principal in Establishing a Successful Distributive Leadership Model

Tackling Inconsistent Implementation

High Tech Early College has had three principals in its short sixyear existence. Continuous changes in leadership have taken its toll on the effectiveness of the Teacher Leadership & Collaboration (TLC) model particularly in improving instruction and impacting student outcomes.

Stacy Parrish, High Tech Early College’s current principal, is both new to the school and in her first year as a principal. As the incoming leader, she inherited a TLC model that was designed by her predecessors as well as Senior Team Leads who were hired before she came on board.

When Stacy completed a full needs assessment in April 2016, she realized that the teacher leadership model as it was being executed was “completely defunct and had not been implemented or followed with fidelity.” The year before, Senior Team Leads never met formally with the support of the administration.

Also, there weren’t systems and structures within the schedule that allowed Senior Team Leads to support or observe the teachers on their teams, a critical component of their role. Further, Senior Team Leads received very little professional learning support from school leaders to guide their own development as instructional coaches.

Alison Corbett, in her third year as a Senior Team Lead at High Tech Early College, described similar circumstances of a lack of support and development: “Our instructional leadership team (ILT) existed in a vacuum after school so we could never get into classrooms. The meeting was more of a forum for announcements (than instructional learning).”

“What people don’t often talk about is that distributive leadership is very scary.”

Stacy knew that along with the challenges inherent to being a new principal in a high-needs school, breathing life into the teacher leadership model was vital for High Tech to make the strides the team needed to make in service of their students.

She said, “It was my responsibility as a leader to be really transparent about how we were going to be able to make so much change happen even before the first day of school, and then it was my job to empower them.”

Empowering Teachers to Lead without Leaving the Classroom

Revitalizing teacher leadership at High Tech Early College depended on both building leadership capacity of the teacher leaders and investing in supporting structures. The first step was Stacy’s commitment to empowering her Senior Team Leads and truly distributing leadership, a choice, she said, was not a simple one: “What people don’t often talk about is that distributive leadership is very scary. Because to distribute leadership means that the people you’re distributing it to are bought into the mission, vision and values of the school but also that they are your voice and your messaging to the greater school community. And when you are developing new leaders initially that voice is tentative. Just like it was when we all entered leadership.”

98% of Senior Team Leads said they are growing as a leader because of their role responsibilities.

2016 Talent Management Survey

Stacy met these fears head on, empowering Senior Team Leads in a variety of ways: She set a goal that 50 percent of professional development in the 10 days before the school year started would be delivered by a Senior Team Lead or a member of their team. Senior Team Leads also took charge in creating common lesson-planning templates for each department that all teachers felt ownership of. Stacy noted, “So many of the systems that were attempted to put in place last year, ‘the why’ was never conveyed to teachers so it just felt like compliance.”

The ILT agreed that Senior Team Leads would determine what components make up a great lesson plan and, as long as those “mission critical components” were part of the template, departments could come up with forms that best suited their needs. The results were Senior Team Leads “leading their departments out of this compliance fog into a space where they were developing tools that worked for them.”

Alison Corbett has welcomed the shifts that have happened in her Senior Team Lead role under Stacy’s vision and direction. “Senior Team Leads are seen as equal building leaders to the administration at High Tech. Stacy uses the ILT to empower us with information. It’s a much more thorough and true leadership. Before I felt I was moving kids by moving teachers, and that’s still absolutely true. But now I’m more of a direct stakeholder in the school, and I can more effectively convey the big picture and our goals to others.”.

Committing to Growth and Development

While Stacy is clear-eyed about the risks of distributive leadership, she also feels strongly about how to address those potential pitfalls. Empowerment is crucial, but it’s built on a foundation of support and development. “You have to have dedicated time to develop your people as humans,” she said. “I make myself just as accessible to Senior Team Leads as my assistant principals are accessible to me. I will drop everything and respond because my Senior Team Leads are affecting 15 to 20 teachers in my building. My load is three — their influence is the majority of my staff.”

Not only is consistent accessibility prioritized, but Stacy also has more formal meetings with each of her Senior Team Leads every week, which Alison said have been invaluable. Alison pointed out that her principal’s commitment to one-on-one coaching and modeling best practices have set incredibly high expectations, helping Senior Team Leads to constantly improve their own practice.

For Stacy, the belief in growth is central to a successful distributive leadership model. “No one is like ‘OK you will be a leader today.’ No one steps out having all of those skills, but I do have an infinite belief in the people I empower to have those positions. And I know it’s my job to continuously build their capacity, and I have to come at them from all angles whether it’s with LEAP, whether it’s crucial conversations, whether it’s cognitive coaching of different personality types. I believe in growth, I value growth, I know that all my people can grow.”

89% of teachers said their Senior Team Lead is an overall effective leader.

2016 CollaboRATE Survey

Scheduling for Success 

Central to ensuring Senior Team Leads actually had the structural support to do the jobs they were empowered to do, Stacy prioritized distributive leadership in specific school systems, primarily the school’s master schedule (which dictates not only when classes are but all other activities happening in High Tech). The schedule ensured that teams could meet weekly for data analysis as well as common planning. The schedule was also aligned so that Senior Team Leads and administration have common ILT meeting time during the school day once a week.

Alison called the reprioritized ILT a platform where she and her fellow Senior Team Leads can work together to become stronger teachers and building leaders, especially because rather than focusing on logistics at the end of a long day, they spend time diving into a problem of practice or observing teachers in classrooms.

Stacy repeatedly emphasized how the schedule affects the operational and instructional success of teacher leadership: “You need a master schedule in which you’ve strategically selected the time so that the ILT can go out in classrooms and calibrate every subject in your building together. That way you’re not just seeing the same teachers but you’re seeing every core subject and your electives. You have to be that strategic because it’s worth it.”

Working Together to Improve Instruction

Stacy has already seen impacts on her school based on distributive leadership systems and structures, as well as the many steps she took to build the capacity of and empower teacher leaders at High Tech Early College. She is particularly proud of the changes she has seen with teachers working together to improve instruction.

“Senior Team Leads built in structures that teachers will always bring student work and will always bring problems of practice,” she said. “They guide their teams through this work every single week, and it has taken assistant principals and principals years to buy into and value the time commitment and the specific manner in which we analyze our instruction.”

The emphasis on improving instruction with a connection to student work and teaching practice is a focus of High Tech’s ILT as well. Stacy said: “We are constantly in classrooms. Because I don’t care how great our conversation is about rigor in an office, I want to know what our common definition is when we all roll into a room and we roll out: What did you see? What did you hear? What are students doing? What is the teacher doing? That’s the real work, when you are running learning labs and you calibrate constantly.”

Stacy immediately connects what the ILT observed in classrooms to how Senior Team Leads might offer feedback to a specific teacher. “If the lesson fell flat, I want to know how the Senior Team Lead is going to talk about it. I know how I would probe the teacher to get them to reflect on rigor. That’s not how you’re going to do it but (what matters is that) at the end of the conversation the teacher has landed on rigor and knows what to do next.”

“This is really the only model that is sustainable in which every teacher in your building can get the coaching they need to dramatically improve their practice in a short period of time.”

Stacy sees the impact of improved, rigorous instruction on students as well. “The way that our English I and English II students tested on their semester final were some of the highest scores in the district, and I attribute that to the leadership of lesson planning, data analysis and just teacher empowerment that my Senior Team Leads were able to do.” These successes, whether incremental or sweeping, are why Stacy believes in understanding the challenges and realities of distributive leadership so that the model can be implemented at its best. “This is really the only model that is sustainable in which every teacher in your building can get the coaching they need to dramatically improve their practice in a short period of time. Be humble and just know that you’re not able to do it alone.”