Transforming At-Risk Schools: It’s All About Attitude

Baruti Kafele’s students will never forget him. He was the guy standing at the front door every morning to greet students as they entered. Why? He was the principal. And as far as he’s concerned, that was one of the most important things he could do in his role.

A principal for 14 years, Kafele led four New Jersey schools with at-risk student populations to success. Now an internationally renowned speaker, author, and consultant, he has quite a bit of insight on the topic of improving schools with at-risk students—which he will share at Ignite ’15 this February during his session, “School Leadership Practices for Transforming the Attitudes of At-Risk Student Populations.”

The foundation of Kafele’s approach to transforming at-risk student bodies is to address the school climate and culture—which, in turn, impacts students’ attitudes. Kafele asserts that creating a positive school climate starts with the principal interacting with students on a daily basis, whether that be by greeting them at the door, holding assemblies, or communicating over the loudspeaker.

“The intent is to build a sense of family within the school,” said Kafele. “You have a lot of kids going home to dysfunctional families. And now you’re giving them a sense of what family is; where we’re all supporting one another, we’re all looking out for one another, we’ve all got each other’s backs. You’ve got this leader who’s leading the way.”

Kafele has found that with a good environment comes better attitudes. And with that, improved academics. He has found that at-risk students often don’t want to be at school because they don’t see the correlation between what they’re learning and where they will be in 10 years.

“I need kids to see that, OK, if I take this seriously, if I work hard and believe in it and believe in myself, then there’s something good that can come out of this later on in my life.”

Kafele’s Ignite ’15 session is perfect for any school leader who is handling an at-risk student population or a school that needs a climate shift. He will discuss the characteristics of an effective principal and the overall leadership team of an underperforming school as well as outline what he did to lead the transformation of four different low-performing public schools in New Jersey.

A loyal Ignite attendee and speaker for over six years, Kafele sees the conference as a must-attend event for school leaders.

“If you’re a secondary leader, it’s just the place to be,” said Kafele. “It’s almost one of those non-negotiables. You have to be there because you’re going to pick up a lot of information that you’ll be able to take back to your respective schools.”

Learn from and interact with Baruti Kafele in person by registering today for the Ignite ’15 conference in San Diego, held on February 19–21. He will also lead an additional session, “Creating a School Climate and Culture that Yields High Academic Performance.”

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