How A Former Principal Is Teaching Fellow Educators To Turn Around Their School In 180 Days

December 28 23:58 2020
While many schools across the country struggle with student proficiency, Dr. Gemar Mills has distilled a model to close the achievement gap of failing schools at a prodigious speed

PATERSON, NJ – Co-Founder and Chief Academic Officer of College Achieve Paterson,  Dr. Gemar Mills, introduces a model for leadership in education with his new book, The Turnaround: 180 Days of Change. Inspired by Dr. Mills’ experience as a principal at Shabazz High School, the book addresses much-needed structural changes within the educational system.

The book is divided into two parts: “The Black” and “The Gold,” — a reference to Shabazz High School colors. Both colors are applicable to periods in Dr. Mills’ life: 

  • The “Black” reflects Dr. Mills’ experience in Paterson, growing up in poverty and the challenging journey to becoming a principal;

  • The “Gold” reflects Dr. Mills’ strategies to transform any school, as he did with Shabazz High School, into a place of success for students.

“My hope is that these stories will inspire educators to understand what is required to push through,” explains Dr. Mills. “I grew up in the Christopher Columbus housing projects here in Paterson. In my neighborhood, education was not as important as earning money immediately, which sometimes led to choices that cut off lifeline to careers in government, education, the medical field, etc. I want educators to inspire students to value how transformative education can be.”

In “The Gold,” Dr. Mills Identifies five levers of change to help educators. Read on to know strategies that can transform the approach to education practiced in school!

1. Mindset 

For students to achieve success, teachers must be dedicated to making the process work. This entails maintaining a mindset that fully believes all students have the potential to succeed. Dr. Mills refers to this thinking as “collective efficacy.” In order to hit their goals, teachers must maintain a mindset that focuses on belief in students, belief in themselves, and the ability to dedicate themselves to the work.

2. Structures 

Another way to support school staff is to focus on a structured environment. Dr. Mills recommends structures around hallways that results in improved flow between classes, reduced travel time, and incidents between classes. 

Dr. Mills also recommends having an academic team focused on teacher support, with administrators doing one classroom walkthrough per teacher per day. He also advocates for breaking up tasks between administrators so each person can give appropriate attention to school, student, teacher, and parent needs. “Grade-level vice-principals are responsible for everything for that grade: coaching teachers, dealing with parent concerns, any infractions or distractions during the day,” Dr. Mills said. “Whether it’s 25 students or 125 students, they need to deal with so many areas, it creates inconsistency. You promise you’ll follow up, but you’re supervising 15 people and you can’t hold those promises because of emergencies.” Structures allow educators to focus on discrete issues and build deeper relationships without being spread thin.

3. Curriculum instruction

It’s crucial for administrators to identify curriculum gaps and to make sure the curriculum aligns with testing so students are best prepared. Dr. Mills addresses these gaps by considering standard alignment and rigor levels per unit, instead of the entire curriculum. “Curricula can be quite general and not necessarily aligned with what is required on standardized assessments,” Dr. Mills said. “By reviewing the curriculum and comparing it with state standards, educators will be prepared to equip students with skills to master assessments. The curriculum alone may not be able to support this mastering.”

4. Professional development 

Education is constantly evolving and teachers must evolve with it to best serve their students. Dr. Mills explains that “It’s important to address teachers who have been in the profession for a long time, who may be stuck and to collaborate with new ideas and teachers.”  Dr. Mills says it can be as simple as launching a professional-development book study to staff. One school year, Teach Like a Champion was chosen for its focus on student engagement at Shabazz High School. By implementing strategies from the book, Dr. Mills says engagement increased in a major way and more engagement meant more students moving from class compliance to class participation.

5. Monitoring

During his tenure as principal, Dr. Mills implemented walkthrough report reflections on a weekly basis to monitor progress and goals. Staff met every Wednesday to reflect on how to keep things consistent, identify instructional pain points, choose a professional development focus for the quarter, and review student infraction data.  Through monitoring, Dr. Mills and his team were able to identify the types of infractions students frequently committed and match professional development opportunities based on what students needed. These systems helped reduce school infractions by fifty percent. Additionally, fire alarm pulls were eliminated; decreasing from 119 in a school year to 0.

“If you forget this piece, you create a model that is going to suffer and it’s going to suffer because your finger will not be on the pulse of what is working and what is not working,” Dr. Mills says about monitoring. “You’ve got to inspect what you expect.”

Now that Dr. Mills has advanced beyond his day-to-day principal duties, he’s able to focus more on disseminating his work and vision nationwide. 

“I’m humbled to be able to continue to work in a space where I’m looking all the way from the top as opposed to the day-to-day of being a principal,” he said. “It’s empowering, humbling, and great to have a voice to suggest to the board, ways we can get students to where they need to be.” 

The Turnaround: 180 Days of Change was released on December 12th, 2020. To get your copy and learn more about Dr. Mills and his dedication to transforming education by visiting

Media Contact
Company Name: Education League, LLC
Contact Person: Dr. Gemar Mills, Chief Academic Officer
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Country: United States