When Stephen Brandt was first hired as the principal of Roxborough High School, it was in bad shape. A negative, sometimes violent culture had overtaken the school. Teachers had to spend valuable class time handling disciplinary situations instead of focusing on their lessons. Pennsylvania added Roxborough to its list of “persistently dangerous” schools.
Brandt himself had graduated from Roxborough High, which had had a good reputation at the time. So he set out to rebuild it, with the help of the faculty, staff and students.
“I had a wonderful team that surrounded me,” Brandt said. They knew things needed to change, and they wanted to help him make it happen. Teachers and staff said Brandt’s leadership changed the school’s atmosphere dramatically, making them look forward to coming to work.
Brandt and his team raised their expectations of students and held them accountable for their behavior. The culture of the school began to change, and the frequency of serious disciplinary incidents plummeted. Under Brandt’s leadership, Roxborough was removed from the state’s dangerous schools list.
“Once we established that culture, it went hand-in-hand with academics,” Brandt said. “We created a college-going culture. That became our focus and expectation for all of our students, regardless of their background.”
Brandt and his administration hung college flags in the hallways to remind students to focus on their future educational goals. The school offered workshops with postsecondary partners and urged families to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). These initiatives set the tone for the school, sending the message that Brandt and his faculty were committed to working with students to help them get into college.
“The more we raised the expectations and established a college-going and future-ready culture, the more the students responded with cooperation and compliance,” Brandt reflected. “They found a new energy and enthusiasm for learning.”
And these efforts paid off—all of the seniors were accepted to college during Brandt’s last year at Roxborough.
One of Brandt’s former students later told him that her freshman year at college was easier than her senior year in high school, when she had been taking five or six advanced placement courses. She had struggled, she said, but she thanked him and his team for pushing her to take those courses. That made it easier for her to transition to college-level work.
Another former student contacted Brandt to say that he is in college now and is playing on the lacrosse team. He wanted to thank the school for their support, especially during his senior year, when his mom passed away. Because his mom had been a single parent, Brandt said, the school stepped in to serve as this student’s surrogate family.
For his role in transforming Roxborough High School, Brandt received the Lindback Award for Distinguished Principal Leadership and theRose Lindenbaum Award for working with diverse populations who have special needs. Several of his staff members were also recognized.
Just as he has encouraged his students to do, Brandt is pursuing further education. He started a Ph.D. in education but then decided to switch to Immaculata’s Ed.D. in K-12 educational leadership and administration, because it was geared toward practitioners in school systems.
“Being able to collaborate with like-minded individuals has been rewarding,” he said. “I really appreciate the professors and their practical experience and expertise that they bring.”
Brandt also appreciates the small, personalized learning community at Immaculata. “I know my professors on a first-name basis,” he said. “I’ve had various professors multiple times, and it could be a year in between courses, and they remember my name. It’s the little, simple things like that.”
Communication theory is one of the most useful things he has learned in the doctoral program so far. He has grown in his understanding of others’ perspectives and his perception of relationship dynamics. He has reflected on his habits and improved his communication with the various stakeholders in his daily work, now as principal of Garnet Valley High School.
In the four years since Brandt has been at Garnet Valley, he has seen test scores rise and the number of national merit scholars increase—30 students this year, 12 of them who became finalists. Both of these numbers were the highest in school history.
“It’s great to take something already strong and make a positive impact and push it even farther,” Brandt said.
In his job as a principal, Brandt says, “The everyday interactions with students are the most rewarding. There’s never an ending of them amazing us and doing amazing things. Being able to witness that and be a part of that is rewarding.”