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3 Ways to Build a Problem-solving School Culture

Q&A with Jenny Robles, Principal at Palomino Intermediate School

Almost two years ago, Palomino Intermediate School amazed us with their enthusiastic school culture around JiJi and the ST Math program. Recently, Palomino Intermediate School received the Innovative Award from the Arizona State Department of Education. There is something special going on at Palomino, and we asked Principal Jenny Robles to share her insights!

What changes has the school made to create a problem-solving school culture that goes beyond embracing the ST Math program?

1. Raise Expectations. Robles emphasizes the need for students to think for themselves, take responsibility for their actions, embrace teamwork and hard work.

That may seem like quite a lot to expect, but perhaps not. Robles has been constantly surprised by her students when she raises expectations. “All students are special,” she says. “When we raise expectations we give students the opportunity to build on their unique abilities and surprise us.”

The school partners with AVID, Advancement Via Individual Determination, to work with students to help them get into college. The focus on individual determination and responsibility says to students: “With hard work, YOU can be successful.”

2. Involve Parents. Parental involvement doesn’t always mean a long time commitment. Palomino provides before and after school activities, in which parents can enroll their children and choose from different activities. JiJi class, where students can continue their work on the ST Math program, is a popular before and after school program. Parents support the use of the program and see value in allowing students extra time to reach their goals in math.

When students come home from an assembly with an award or a story, parents see how Palomino has fostered their child’s excitement about learning and facing new challenges.

3. Encourage Healthy Competition. Individuals and classes who have achieved the most progress in ST Math are recognized at Palomino’s school assemblies. Students receive extrinsic rewards such as JiJi dogtags, but more important are the intrinsic rewards such as the feeling of accomplishment, improved skills and recognition from peers.

In addition, the competition at Palomino goes beyond celebrating JiJi and success in ST Math. Each class is adopted by a University -- some have even sent t-shirts! -- so that students develop a sense of pride and belonging within their class.

The result? “Students get so excited when their classmates are recognized at assemblies. They are truly excited to see each other win,” says Robles.

These elements help Palomino foster a school culture that embraces challenges, rewards hard work and creates confident problem solvers who find success in school and beyond.

What advice do they have for other principals and school administrators who are trying to build a school culture that promotes problem solving and math success?

“Never underestimate students,” advises Robles. “If you raise the bar and continue to raise the bar, it is amazing what students will achieve.”

Robles continues to go above and beyond to raise the expectations for students, encourage parental support, and promote healthy competition. All of these elements create a school culture where problem solving is rewarding, challenging and fun!

Jenny Robles has been with Paradise Valley Unified District for 34 years as the Principal of Campo Bello Elementary School in Paradise Valley, Assistant Principal and now Principal of Palomino Intermediate School. She was named the Rodel Exemplary Principal in 2014.

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Calli Wright

About the Author

Calli Wright is a digital media analyst at MIND Research Institute. She loves playing board games and editing their rules, which she often talks about on twitter @CalliWrights.

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