Interview with Steven Parker

The following is a Q & A between Steven Parker and me.

Steven Parker, Virginia M.S. Principal of the Year
Steven Parker, Virginia M.S. Principal of the Year

Steven Parker is the principal of Cedar Lee Middle School in Bealton, Virginia. He was also named the 2013 Virginia Middle School Principal of the Year.

My goal in posting interviews with successful school leaders like Steven is to inspire us to reflect on how our own choices, goals, and actions can affect our lives, our leadership, and our teams. I must also give credit to John Lee Dumas whose great podcast interview questions I have modified for the Q & A’s I have with my guests.

Steven’s Bio:
Steven graduated from The United States Military Academy with a BS in National Security/Public Affairs. He received an MBA from Florida Tech and an MEd in Educational Leadership from George Mason University.

After retiring from the Army in 1994, he began teaching as a long-term special education substitute. He then taught middle school math and world history for five years before becoming a high school assistant principal.

He returned to the middle school level for two years as an assistant principal, and is in his ninth year as the principal at Cedar Lee Middle School in Bealeton, VA. In addition to being named VASSP Outstanding Middle School Principal for 2013, he was also named the 2013 Washington Post Educational Leadership Award recipient for Fauquier County.

WDP: First, of all I should point out that we are not relatives.
Steven: No, but my son’s name is Will. So it’s nice to know there is another Will Parker!

WDP: Can you start by sharing on of your favorite success quote?
Steven: My favorite quote is, “I’ll see it when I believe it.”

WDP: How have you use the idea contained in your favorite quote to affect your school or organization’s leadership?
Steven: We truly believe in high expectations for everyone in our school community. First we have to believe that we are all capable of what it is we want to achieve and then we have to plan for that achievement. This has helped us to develop a culture of high expectations for our students and our staff.

WDP: Take us back to a failure or obstacle you overcame. How did you do it?
Steven: Eight years ago, our school was the only school in our division (20 schools) that was not fully accredited by our state. We were not meeting student achievement goals in reading and writing.

We first raised our expectations of ourselves – began focusing on what was best for students and not what was necessarily easiest for adults.

Next, we modeled those high expectations for our students –encouraging, pushing, cheerleading. We used data to focus our efforts to personalize each students’ learning.

After the first year, we met student achievement goals in reading and writing, but state requirements for testing in mathematics had changed, and once again we were not fully accredited!

We used the same process for our math instruction and added an additional emphasis on collaboration between staff members – regular meetings, PLCs, peer observation, sharing of best practices.

We have been fully accredited since 2007, and the culture of high expectations and collaboration that we have developed has allowed us to weather many storms during that time.

WDP: Have you had an “I’ve made it” moment?
Steven: One of the challenges that we faced as a school in 2005 is that we were about to become a “school choice” school – parents could choose to have their children attend another middle school in the division. We established a shared vision that we would be the school OF choice – parents would choose to have their children attend OUR school.

The first time a parent enrolled a child in our school and, upon meeting me, shared that they moved into our attendance zone because of the reputation of our school I was nearly overwhelmed with all that we had accomplished – together, as a team.

WDP: That’s an awesome story! What was holding you back from seeing the high levels of success you have been experiencing for years now?
Steven: A culture of complacency. Our students face more challenges, as a population, than their peers in other middle schools in our division – higher poverty, greater academic needs, more diversity.

Additionally, we have the largest student population among the middle schools. Poor performance had become expected from “those kids.” Once we were able to overcome that and accept the challenges that we faced, we were able to move on and inspire one another – students and adults.

WDP: What is the best leadership advise you have ever received?
Steven: Dr. David Martin, the superintendent that hired me as a principal, gave me very sound advice. Among his greatest, however, was to remain visible – to students, staff and parents. Visibility is key to the welfare of the entire school community.

WDP: What is something that is working for you or your team right now?
Steven: We have a full period of our day devoted to remediation, intervention, prevention and enrichment.

During this period, every student receives individualized, targeted reteaching/remediation or an opportunity to explore and expand what they are learning in their core curricula.

Teachers meet and discuss student needs, review assessment data, and place students in correct seminar classes that rotate at least every 4 ½ weeks. Classes are dynamic and students can change based upon their unique needs.

This was a product of collaborative decision making by our leadership team including parents and students.

WDP: Do you have a resource that you just love that you would recommend to other leaders?
Steven: Several, in fact. First, for middle level leaders, Breaking Ranks in the Middle. It provides a framework within which sustained, meaningful change can be undertaken.

At the classroom level, Power Tools for Adolescent Literacy – Strategies for Learning by Jan Rozzelle and Carol Scearce is invaluable.

WDP: If you could speak to the 20 year-old version of yourself, what advice would you give him or her?
Steven: Keep pressing to reach your dream. I have been blessed to have two careers that have been incredibly fulfilling. I have accomplished everything that I have set out to do – now I’m looking for the next challenge!

WDP: A huge thanks to Steven for sharing these insights and inspiring us with innovative ideas! If you want to connect with Steven, you can find him via his school website.

Now It’s Your Turn:
Steven’s school has the kind of reputation now where parents are moving there so their children can attend. What are some valuable opportunities your school is offering that are attracting families to your community? Share with the rest of us!

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker