This is a guest post by Joseph H. Silver, Sr, Managing Partner, Silver & Associates
Silver & Associates was engaged by Social Venture Partners to better understand the changes at Camelback High School and to determine the sustainability of the positive changes that have occurred. Our team conducted on-site interviews with the community leaders, the faculty, staff, the principal, the superintendent, and Social Venture Partners to gauge their knowledge and perception of the changes at Camelback High School. A survey was administered as a means of corroborating the information shared during the interviews.
Silver & Associates concluded that Camelback High School has “transformed from a failed school to a school of promise.” This transformation has been lead by the principal, an empowered teaching corp and external community support led by Social Venture Partners. Two of the hallmark activities at Camelback High School are the peer mentoring programs and the community mentoring dinners. Peer tutors have acquired a status at the institution that rivals that usually reserved for star athletes. The community mentoring dinners link a significant community leader with a group of students and they share their experiences over dinner at a fine dining restaurant. These are but two programs that have had a positive impact on the positive changes at Camelback High School.
The question that should be asked is what sets this turn around apart from attempts at transformation at other schools. The answer may rest in the fact that the principal chose to focus on the environment for learning, the culture of the school and elevating the worth of each student. While improving test scores was important, students had to feel safe in order to come to school to learn. The hope was that if the environment for learning could be made positve and if a culture of excellence could replace a culture of failure, then learning could take place and test scores would improve. In the final analysis, this approach has proven to be the “magic wand” at Camelback High. Test scores have gone up and the environment is safe. We at Silver & Associates do believe that the change is sustainable.