Every day, Principal Linda Cliatt-Wayman addresses her students at Strawberry Mansion High School over the loudspeaker with the same message: “If nobody told you they loved you today, remember I do, and I always will.”
First as a special education teacher and now as a principal, Wayman often works with neglected children who endure abuse or are forced to raise themselves. In the past decade, she has transformed three low-performing schools, dramatically improving test scores and the rate at which students attend college. Wayman relies on a combination of high expectations, rigorous professional development for staff and a committed leadership team to overhaul each school.
When she arrived at Strawberry Mansion in 2012, she was its fourth principal in four years. The school had been deemed “low-performing and persistently dangerous” because of its dismal test scores and frequent assaults and arrests. But in 2013, state administrators removed it from a federal list of unsafe schools.
Wayman knows what it’s like to look toward the future and see only impossible odds. She grew up poor in north Philadelphia and attended schools that, as one of her former students put it, weren’t really schools.
Her mother, though, set her on the right path. She didn’t know anyone who had gone to college, but told her three daughters they should be the first in their family to attend.
“She always saw the bright side of everything,” says Wayman, “always said, ‘You can do it,’ when you thought you couldn’t do it.”
Wayman received a bachelor’s and master’s degree, and has since spent her decades-long career demanding that students fight for their future. She knows their success isn’t as simple as motivation, but that’s where she starts. When they talk despairingly about the many obstacles they face, she gives them a different perspective.
“If you don’t get this education now, all the things that happened to you up to this point will be in control of your whole life,” she says. “We can’t let that happen. You don’t give up on school. This is where your dreams could come true.” Read More…
There’s nothing like a little positivity in the news during the holiday season, and this story will surely get you into the spirit: remember when Drake donated a recording studio to Strawberry Mansion High School, the Philadelphia educational institution dubbed one of the most dangerous high schools in the city? Well, it turns out his generous gift, along with the efforts of a dedicated hero-principal, have turned things around in a major way for the school.
In December 2013, the Toronto rapper wrote a $75,000 check to put a recording studio in the school, whose alumni include Meek Mill, after being inspired by the principal, Linda Cliatt-Wayman, who gave up her position as an assistant superintendent of the district to fill the position when nobody else would.
She hoped her combination of tough love and high standards would have a positive affect on the school. At the time, Drizzy said to the students, “This is about you. This is about your principal. This is about your future. I love you. I care about you. I want to see you succeed.”
Now, it seems Cliatt-Wayman’s approach, and Drake’s incredible generosity, has gone further than either could have ever imagined. The school was removed off Pennsylvania’s list of “persistently dangerous schools,” as attendance rates went up and suspension rates went down, reports The Huffington Post. And earlier this month, Cliatt-Wayman received more good news: She is among the 50 finalists for the Global Teach Prize, which comes with a $1 million reward, and is meant to elevate the status of teachers worldwide. Read More…
You may remember Linda Cliatt-Wayman from her appearance in a May 2013 Diane Sawyer special about Strawberry Mansion High School in Philadelphia, which ABC dubbed “one of the most dangerous high schools in the U.S.“
Cliatt-Wayman was the new principal at the time, and she hoped a combination of tough love and high standards would improve the school. Amid constant violence and even threats to her life, it was Cliatt-Wayman’s responsiblity to save the struggling institution from closure.
“I could not find a principal who was suitable to handle this school,” Cliatt-Wayman, who was previously assistant superintendent for Philadelphia Public Schools, said during the TV special. “Therefore, I said to myself, because I love these students … I will just volunteer to be the principal.”
Luckily, a lot has changed since ABC’s special first aired.
In December 2013, recording artist Drake donated a recording studio to Strawberry Mansion High School after it was featured on TV. The school was removed from Pennsylvania’s list of “persistently dangerous schools.” Daily attendance rates went up, and suspension rates went down. Read More…
On her first day as a principal in a North Philadelphia school, Linda Cliatt-Wayman was determined to lay down the law and set clear expectations. She called her students into the auditorium and told them how things would go at that school. But one voice interrupted her. “Miss,” called out a girl named Ashley, “why do you keep calling this a school? This is not a school.” The question resonated with her, says Cliatt-Wayman. After 20 years of teaching in the same impoverished North Philly schools where she’d gotten her own education, Ashley had gotten straight to the heart of what she’d never quite been able to articulate.
A decade later, Cliatt-Wayman came to Strawberry Mansion High School — a low-performing school classified as “persistently dangerous,” where she was the fourth principal in four years. There were chains on the doors, and the classrooms were empty. Worst of all, the teachers were scared, defeated, and unaware of their own roles in creating a school that was not a school. So, she says, she began a massive transformation, tackling every aspect of Strawberry Mansion’s inhospitable environment.
Three of her favorite slogans guided her in her massive undertaking:
1. If you’re going to lead, lead.
What does and does not happen in a school, says Cliatt-Wayman, is up to the principal. It does not work to stay in the office, delegate work, and be afraid to be disliked for addressing what needs to be addressed. But of course, it can’t be done alone — so she assembled a top-notch staff, with a deployment plan for where each adult, each aide, each police officer, ought to be at every moment of every day. Together, they tackled problems very small (resetting locker combinations, changing lightbulbs, cleaning out two-dumpsters-per-day worth of trash in the classrooms) and very, very big (funding more teachers, shifting the school schedule to allow time for honors courses, counseling and extracurriculars within the school day). And working together with the students, the school developed a discipline program aptly titled: “Non-negotiable.”
2. So what. Now what?
Cliatt-Wayman says that when she arrived at Strawberry Mansion, the school had more than enough excuses to go around. With poverty ubiquitous and learning disabilities rampant throughout the school, plus many absent parents (and students who were themselves parents), and a history of low scores all around, the school had so many reasons for being the way that it was. But so what, Cliatt-Wayman asked her staff, what did they plan to do about that? Eliminating excuses at every turn became her primary responsibility. And it worked: One year later, literature scores had grown by 107 percent, and algebra scores had grown by 171 percent — no excuses needed.
3. If nobody told you they love you today, remember I do.
“If someone asks me my real secret,” says Cliatt-Wayman, “it’s that I love my students, and I believe in their possibilities unconditionally. I see only what they can become.” Deep down, she knows that this is because she is one of them. She knows what it feels like to go to a school that is not a school, to feel like there’s no way out. And to truly push her students to succeed, she needs to understand who they are. That’s why she takes on an unusual role for a principal: She manages the lunchroom every day. She talks to the kids, she asks them questions, and even though she can’t sing at all, she sings each one happy birthday. She also holds monthly town hall meetings, where the kids ask real questions and she gives real answers — an exchange in love and listening.
Cliatt-Wayman has earned her students’ respect. She is clear about her expectations, and reminds them every day that education can change their lives. But to do that, she says, we have to make sure that every school that serves children in poverty is a real school — not just a place they go every day, but a place that provides them with the knowledge and mental training to navigate the world around them. “Every one of them is just a child,” she says, “often scared of what the world tells them they should be. We should always provide them with hope, unwavering belief in their potential, and tell them often to remember — we love them.”
In honor of International Women’s Day, we asked the Teach For All community to pay tribute to women in their lives who inspired them to work towards increasing educational equity and excellence. We think the tributes themselves are inspiring, and we hope you do too: Read More…
Linda Cliatt-Wayman’s resumé reads like a successful educator progressing to upper management. That is, until 2013. In 2013, only months ago, Ms. Cliatt-Wayman volunteered to be the principal at Strawberry Mansion High School in North Philadelphia. According to ABC News, this American school has 94 security cameras2. There are 10 violent incidents per 100 students, and 96% of the students live in poverty (Kelly Phillips Erb, Forbes )3. No one wanted the job of principal; so Linda Cliatt-Wayman accepted God’s call and volunteered. Read More…
Linda Cliatt-Wayman is the principal of Strawberry Mansion High School (SMHS) in North Philadelphia, a school that has 94 security cameras, police patrolling the hallways, and an environment where students have been known to make direct threats against her life. Read More…
FEDERAL prosecutor Robert Reed spent 40 years putting violent young criminals in prison for life. Linda Cliatt-Wayman spent 30 years teaching and administering in Philadelphia public schools, trying to save as many kids as she could from ending up in front of prosecutors like Reed, or worse, from sudden death on the streets of Strawberry Mansion. Read More…
The current principal is Linda Cliatt-Wayman — the fourth the high school has had in four years. Before coming to Strawberry Mansion, she was an assistant superintendent of high schools for the Philadelphia public school system. Since she started last fall, the number of incidents has been cut in half. Read More…