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
"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.