I sat in my office as the official results were announced with tears in my eyes: my school was low-performing according to the state of North Carolina. We had been assigned a D on the state’s A-F report card grade.

We had been a C the year before, so this was new territory for the school dropping to a D. I had just finished my first year as principal of the school, so this was solely on me. I sat there a bit longer and composed myself before I stepped out of my office. I immediately went to my assistant principal’s office next and shared the news and my woe with her.

It took but a second for her to tell me to “get over yourself.” She reminded me of the great things we had done that year:

  • We sent almost 25 staff members to professional development
  • Transformed classrooms
  • Implemented a House system
  • Created a Greeter and Ambassador program
  • Established the Moore 4 across the entire school
  • Shifted from morning work to Morning Choice
  • Grew the PTA
  • Started Watch D.O.G.S.
  • Held weekly Friday Rally
  • Made Awesome Office Visits
  • Completed an Amazing Shake competition
  • Installed student data notebooks
  • Began painting the school
  • … and much more

I took her advice, had my moment of “woe” and “Whoa!” and realized that I’d be shocked if someone is able to walk inside of my building and say that we were a “low-performing school.” The things we were able to accomplish in one year couldn’t have been done in 10 in some places. I had a staff that believed in the vision, was willing to take risks, and supported this guy while he wore crazy suits.

At the end of the day do I wish our scores had better reflected the academic work that was going on? Of course. Are there excuses for not doing better than we did? No. And as the leader of the school, I take full responsibility. I used this moment, though, to grow and make improvements the following year. But I will never let a letter grade derived from a formula (80% achievement / 20% growth) that is directly correlated to school socio-economic status tell me what we were able to accomplish in my school.

As I travel and meet other school leaders who are in similar boats, we realize that there is an urgency and pressure to improve test scores from local and state leaders, but it should never be done at the expense of a child’s experience at school. Bringing together engagement, culture, and rigor can be done successfully, and no matter what a state letter grade says, when your staff, students, families, and community believe in your school and work, that is an A in my book.


Adam Dovico is a Nationally Board Certified educator from North Carolina. Over the course of his career, he has served as a teacher, curriculum coach, Title 1 school principal, college professor, and presenter. He has authored numerous articles and has written two books, Inside the Trenches and The Limitless School. He has been recognized for his teaching from organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Atlanta Falcons, and the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund.

The Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association (TEPSA), whose hallmark is educational leaders learning with and from each other, has served Texas PK-8 school leaders since 1917. Member owned and member governed, TEPSA has more than 6000 members who direct the activities of 3 million PK-8 school children. TEPSA is an affiliate of the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

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