Why I Support Dr. Lowell Holtz

img_1643In 2007, Dr. Holtz came to the School District of Beloit as our new superintendent and hired me as the Principal of Aldrich Middle after I had served as Aldrich’s Assistant Principal the four previous years. Aldrich is a very diverse school and I had been working hard to get all of our students achieving higher academically and participating in higher numbers in school sponsored clubs and athletic programs. I knew I could not do this by myself. I needed a strong team of teachers, community partners, parents, and researchers to help me achieve the lofty goal of making success for all of our students a reality. I told Dr. Holtz that I needed to create and strengthen partnerships with the Boys and Girls and Girls Club, Beloit College, UW-Whitewater, UW-Madison, Merrill Community Center, and local businesses and churches. I needed all the professional resources I could find to take an interest in Aldrich Middle School Students. I also reached out to parents relentlessly to have them support the education of our kids in the best ways they could.

Dr. Holtz believed in my strategy to transform the school and supported all my school partnership endeavors. The result was amazing. Aldrich students made great gains on state tests and the Latino students became the HIGHEST ACHIEVING in the CITY of BELOIT. This is a national phenomenon that could not have been achieved if Dr. Holtz did not give me permission and the support I needed to do my best work.

Dr. Holtz is a transformative leader. He is not satisfied until our efforts result in significant student success; nor is he impressed when educators give him excuses as to why results are lacking.  Under Dr. Holtz’ leadership, you need to perform or step aside so that someone with more talent and drive can get the job done, regardless of how difficult the task may seem.

Dr. Holtz knew that Beloit City Schools did not have Kindergarten available for all of our youngest students, especially for those growing up in poverty and whose first language was not English. Through his doctoral research, he knew four-year-old kindergarten was an essential program for our children. Our students were starting school with huge academic and social/emotional challenges.

Dr. Holtz was successful in bringing four-year-old kindergarten to Beloit, despite facing opposition from School Board Members who thought the program was too expensive. Dr. Holtz adamantly and successfully educated the Beloit community that it was NOT too expensive and that in reality, we needed 4K to help our most vulnerable young learners succeed. The end result was success! Leadership matters. Beloit now has four-year-old kindergarten classes available throughout the District for all families to take advantage of.

When Dr. Holtz was a superintendent candidate for the Whitnall School District, Whitnall School Board Members traveled to Beloit to ask me about Dr. Holtz’ work and that if given the chance, would I work for him again. It was an easy answer to give: Absolutely. You don’t always get the opportunity to do your best work in Public Education because of administrators in leadership positions unwilling to make the drastic changes needed for student success. Taking the easy road of maintaining the status quo and then making excuses for student failure is not acceptable. Dr. Holtz is a true Educational Leader. The time has passed for Tony Evers’ passive managerial style of managing Wisconsin’s Schools. We need to become highly effective at tackling the dismal student achievement statistics that plague our State.

Our low graduation rates for minority and language minority students are inexcusable. Dr. Holtz and I played a significant role in transforming our Latino students from being low achievers into becoming the highest achieving students in the City of Beloit. And still there is no State or National recognition for this achievement. As Leaders in Education we need to publicly acknowledge these achievements and replicate the success wherever possible. I know Dr. Holtz will do that. He understands that it doesn’t matter who gets the recognition, but he does understand that if one community can be so successful, why can’t all the others? What is in the way of success? Who is holding schools back? Who is not moving them forward? Are we making excuses or are we breaking down barriers to success? With Dr. Holtz, you better be breaking down barriers and finding ways to making the students you are in charge of successful.  Beloit’s African American Student Population has also statistically out-performed African American students in other school districts in Wisconsin by a long-shot. What has been accomplished in Beloit can be replicated throughout the State, but it cannot be achieved without Educational Leaders regaining local control of their schools. Educational leaders and implementing strong educational research is crucial to improving student achievement in Wisconsin. But it takes strong and talented leadership at the local level to decide what research and transformative action needs to be implemented to maximize the benefit in local systems. What worked in Beloit will not necessarily have the same effect in another community. Leaders need to take charge and do what works best for their specific communities and student populations.

I am more than willing to work for Dr. Holtz again because I know that results and success are expected and the freedom to work towards success for students at the local level is a must if we are to transform our schools into places where student success is an expectation and reality. We MUST apply what is proven to be best through research and creativity for each individual community in Wisconsin. Dr. Holtz can set the stage for that to happen. He will make sure of it. I worked for him. I know the expectations are high.

Walter James-Pacheco