PMP:113 Building Positive School Communities – Interview with Principal Mike Crase

When I drove into the parking lot at East Central High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I was greeted by bright yellow arrows on the parking lot, pointing the direction for incoming and outgoing traffic.

Photo by D. Keith Robinson – Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License

A beautiful flower bed had been built in front of the school. A friendly security staff person met me at the front door and showed me to the main office. Inside, a secretary asked my name and offered to get me a drink. As I waited, I noticed the clean hallways, the overall sense of order and the sense that this was a place people liked to work.

East Central High School is an urban school with a recent history of challenge and struggle. Just 5 years ago, only 50% of students graduated on time. But since that time, East Central has become a turnaround school with new Advanced Placement Programs, increased STEM offerings, and 80% graduation rate.

One reason for the changes has been leadership. Mike Crase, Principal of East Central High School, is in his fifth year of leading a movement. Previously, he was an assistant principal at Webster High School and before that a teacher and coach. He is in his 26th year of education with 12 years as a school administrator. But the past five years have been the most rewarding and productive in terms of student outcomes.

Looking at the Numbers

Since Mike has been serving at East Central, he has seen transformation in at least four ways:
1. A previously failing school has transformed into a culture of positivity.
2. Restorative partnerships with students, teachers and parents have increased good behavior, academic outcomes, and social expectations.
3. Learning to manage difficult conversations has become a learned habit among all members.
4. Personal and professional growth are driven by relationships and data.

During the past five years, East Central High School has cut suspensions by 80%, increased Advanced Placement offerings from 7 classes to over 20 offerings, and provided every student an individualized pathway for high school success.

Relationships Matter

Mike Crase, Principal East Central High School (3rd from left) surrounded by his office and admin team members

But the data is only evidence of the relationships Mike has built. As I was talking to Mike, Assistant Principal Rex Langley stopped by and said he needed some assistance with a difficult parent conversation and I was invited to walk with them. When we stepped into a school conference room, we were greeted with a shout of “Surprise!” It was Mike’s birthday, and his office and admin staff had filled the room with a buffet of lunch and dessert. The difficult-parent story was a ruse, and you could tell Mike’s staff enjoyed him as much as he was enjoying being with them.

Positive school cultures don’t happen by accident. As I walked Mike’s school, met students and teachers, and chatted with members of his admin staff, it was clear that the transformation at his school is the result of implementing purposeful strategy, learning restorative practices, and staying committed to continuous improvement.

Even the yellow arrows in front of the school were purposeful. When Mike discovered students were running late to first hour, he realized parents only had one entry and exit point for the front of the school. So he directed a redesign of the front parking lot and opened a new exit lane. He and a team of teachers stood in the parking lot for two weeks to train parents how to enter and exit. And they passed out flyers explaining why good attendance and punctuality improve student outcomes. The result: increased student attendance and punctuality.

In Mike’s Own Words

Let me encourage you to listen-in to this week’s conversation via our podcast conversation. Mike shares many takeaways and explains how other leaders can connect with him to learn more about ways to improve school outcomes via his email address: He will also be presenting this summer at the High Schools That Work Conference in Orlando, Florida. Share his story with other leaders who need encouragement!

Let’s Wrap This Up

One of the best parts of visiting East Central was coming unannounced to his staff and students. Principal Crase had given me permission to drop by. When he came in from his rounds, Mike ushered me into his office to show me a large screen where cameras showed areas throughout the five-story building. Then he led me to observe students in the cafeteria and hallways.

As we walked throughout his building, he told me individual stories about students. He stopped for handshakes and hugs with staff members. He greeted his students by name and knew their interests.

His school had not just experienced transformation by numbers. The faces of his students and teachers reflected the same hope and optimism of their principal. Just like the arrows he painted in his parking lot helped direct traffic flow, his leadership had helped paint a map for turning around an entire school community.

Now It’s Your Turn

Think about the behavioral, academic, and social practices in your building. Even as you face the end of a school year, what is one new action you or team can be taking this week to encourage your positive culture and outcomes for your school?

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Principal Matters–The Book!

School leaders are very busy, so each of the twenty-four chapters is designed as a quick-read and followed with take-action questions for follow-up or reflection. If you want practical ideas on understanding your purpose, managing school teams, dealing with challenges, and leading with courage, action, motivation, and teamwork, go HERE to pick up a copy for you or your team.

Messaging Matters

Harness the power of messaging to create a culture of acknowledgment, respect, and celebration. Written specially for leaders, this title is divided into three parts, helping readers to maximize their role as chief communicators with students, teachers, and parents and community. Each chapter includes suggestions for using digital tools to enhance messaging and ends with reflection questions and practical next steps.

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker