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Spring 2004
Principals of Leadership
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In a unique UCLA education program, school leaders learn the entrepreneurial skills they need to successfully take their campuses into the future

By Brett Schaeffer

THE FRESH-BREWED COFFEE and tempting assortment of donuts were going untouched in principal Ana Ponce's office. Only two parents had arrived for "Coffee with Ms. Ponce" — an informal chat session with the Camino Nuevo Charter Academy middle school's new leader.

Ponce M.Ed. '02 had organized similar — and well-attended — get-togethers with parents a year earlier as principal of one of Camino Nuevo's two elementary schools in the impoverished and densely populated MacArthur Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, and she thought she would try to do the same in her new role at the middle school.
The idea of holding such assemblies to give parents — most of whom are Mexican and Central American immigrants — a chance to meet and talk with her about any issues they wished had been percolating in Ponce's mind for some time, but it wasn't until she completed UCLA's Principal Leadership Institute (PLI) two years ago that she felt confident enough to translate the concept into practice.

"I think the institute validates activities like that," she says. "There's a strong emphasis on building relationships."

On this day in September, however, Ponce's attempts to build those relationships appeared to be falling flat, in spite of her effort to market the chat by in-school announcements and sending home fliers. In the end, though, all of the donuts and extra coffee didn't go to waste; Ponce's coffee talk with the two parents who did show up turned out to be her most effective advertising, as word-of-mouth about the meeting spread to others.

"At the next one there were 35 parents," says Ponce. Now, when Ponce holds her chats, there's no shortage of parents sipping coffee, snacking on sweets and discussing the school issues they feel are important.

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