By Evan J. Cutts
Dr. Andraé Townsel is building the foundation that will elevate Southbridge High School (SHS) students to new heights. From new advanced media courses to Early College Pathway programs —the latest efforts in Dr. Townsel’s three-year project to elevate students’ performance, engagement, and excitement for school—Dr. Townsel is ensuring each “Southbridge Student [has] every opportunity to be successful.”
Since graduating from Howard University with an M. Ed. in Educational Administration and policy and Ed.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, Dr. Townsel has gained ten-years of educator experience. After serving as Dean of Academics, Culture and Student Affairs at Perry Street Preparatory Public Charter School in Washington, D.C.; School Climate and Student Discipline Specialist for the D.C. Public School System; and Vice Principal of Banneker Academic High School, he was recruited by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to implement a program to raise student performance at Southbridge High School.
Working double-time to create as many opportunities for SHS students as possible, in his first year as principal Dr. Townsel established the Southbridge Pathways Program to pique student interest in a variety of post-grad professions.
“We recently began the aeronautical science pathway, a program designed by the Aeroventure Institute in partnership with the Southbridge Municipal airport, allowing students to get college credit at Adams State University while learning to fly,” he shared.
To date, SHS reported an increase of 15.5% in Student Growth Percentile (SGP) in Math and 7% in English Language Arts. The number of office referrals for disciplinary action was reduced by 60% in just one year. Dr. Townsel credits a major factor in Southbridge High School’s recent success to the support and commitment of his faculty.
“Shortly after taking on my responsibilities as Principal, I formed a Teacher Leadership Team, or TLT. When one of our committees—the scheduling committee, for example—offers a proposal to alter the class schedule, the TLT [reviews] and votes on the proposal.” he said. A major TLT approved policy change was the extended school day—the addition of three advisory periods a week with each student being assigned an advisor to support his/her academic, social, and emotional needs.
“I don’t like to stay in my office. I like to support my students in person, so they know they can trust me.” Dr. Townsel encourages faculty to adopt his approach, to build lasting relationships with students.
In a similar vein, Dr. Townsel prioritized the improvement of the cultural climate between students and faculty, so that each team member is fully-equipped to empower and support Southbridge’s diverse student body. “Our faculty is developing the necessary individual education plans, participating in cultural competency training, and collaborating with the University of Pittsburgh to draft new core studies curriculum,” he said.
When asked which characteristics he associates with effective leadership, Dr. Townsel listed respect, responsibility, perseverance, vision, and receptivity to outside perspectives. He advises leaders to trust themselves, but also seek the wisdom of mentors, educators, and other successful leaders.
“Success is a process,” Dr. Townsel said. “We have a long way to go but, morale is high and students and faculty are excited for our future. We’re on the right trajectory.”
See for yourself!