PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — It's a huge honor for the principal who revitalized a high school in West Philly. Paul Robeson High School's Richard Gordon has been named "National Principal of the Year" by the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
Seven years ago, Paul Robeson High School had been one of Philadelphia's 30 lowest performing schools. Enrollment and achievement were dropping so much that the school district targeted Robeson for closure.
But the new principal at the time, Richard Gordon, encouraged students to structure learning around their individual passions. He met with students to determine their interests and helped them craft an educational path to their goals. Under Gordon's leadership, Robeson now boasts a 95% graduation rate.
His turnaround of the West Philly school has caught the attention of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. NASSP chief communications officer Bob Farrace, in a conference call with reporters, said Gordon stood out for inspiring his students and staff.
"Mr. Gordon impressed everyone with his innovation to do the two things that every principal aspires to do: To create a safe and inclusive learning environment for students – and with that environment in place, lead the kind of learning that revolves around each student's motivations," said Farrace.
Gordon was quick to share the honor with his teachers and students.
"It's one thing for it to come from the administrator. But to be able to have teachers who also are willing to step up and speak out on making sure that we are always on the right path and working collaboratively – I think that's one of the things that we do right every single day," Gordon said. "Everyone understands that we're accountable to a singular mission. And that that mission is bigger than any one individual."
Farrace said Gordon's leadership, however, should be singled out. "All of those groups are playing a huge role in the school's success. But we have to remember also just how much principal leadership matters," he said.
Gordon said after the surprise announcement Tuesday, he called his mom – who he said sacrificed so much for his own education.