Written by Alicia McGlinchey, Teaching Trust Director of Development
I arrive at Cigarroa Elementary at 7:15 am to spend my day with Principal Quinton Courts, an alumnus of the Teaching Trust Aspiring Leaders Program. Quinton is already busy greeting staff and students and preparing for the day ahead. Almost immediately, Quinton’s phone lights up with texts from two staff members—one is running late and another calls in ill. And so the juggling begins as Quinton considers options. He consults a board in the main office in search of a substitute teacher, as well as classroom and lunchroom coverage to fill the gaps.
We step into classrooms and sit in tiny chairs to observe the teaching and learning. Quinton has established a culture of observation and feedback, making time every day to visit classrooms to capture both praise and growth opportunities to help his teachers improve their craft. He moves quietly through the room and pulls a student aside to ask, “What are you learning today?” He tells me students should be able to explain what they are working on and how it relates to the day’s lesson, to ensure they’re on track to meet the daily learning objective.
Throughout the day, Quinton highlights his staff and praises their commitment to the students, and it’s clear from the interactions I witness that the school community is behind him. I meet several PTO moms in the hallway, assembling the annual Dia de los Muertos altar. They gush about how Quinton’s leadership has changed the culture of their school. Underlying Quinton’s success is his remarkable ability to connect with students, parents and staff, drawing them in as equal and essential collaborators in the larger mission.
The day follows like this, from one encounter to another. Quinton converses with a mother in Spanish about her sick student, assists the counselor with a new first grader who has recently transferred and is struggling to adjust, and coaxes a group of 5th grade boys into eating the school lunch, which they have deemed “uncool.” Throughout the day, Quinton takes pictures on his phone that he’ll feature in his weekly newsletter, examples of students and staff demonstrating Cigarroa’s values: “growth mindset,” “sense of urgency,” “belonging,” “commitment,” and “respect.” Not just posted at the school entrance, we capture living examples of these values in practice as we walk through the building.
Serving as “Principal for a Day” at Cigarroa Elementary was eye-opening, and left me with new appreciation for the challenges and complexity of the job. I marveled as Quinton pivoted from one task to another, displaying a remarkably broad set of skills: from instructional leader to facilities manager, ambassador to disciplinarian, cheerleader to consultant, thought-partner to chief decision-maker. Despite the push and pull of unexpected issues arising in the course of a “regular” day, it was clear Quinton and his staff never lost sight of the long-term vision – driving better academic outcomes for their students. I left with a feeling of gratitude for the heroic work I witnessed at Cigarroa Elementary, and a new appreciation for the critical role performed by school leaders like Quinton!