Sandra K. Mitchell-WoodsSandra K. Mitchell-Woods
Nathan Hale Elementary School
Boston School District
Roxbury, Massachusetts

Sandra Mitchell-Woods has turned around a school whose student performance on statewide academic tests was the lowest in Boston when she arrived. Mitchell-Woods became principal of Nathan Hale Elementary in 1999. Eighty-five percent of the urban K-5 school’s 186 students qualify for discounted or free school meals. Nearly two-thirds are African-American, and nearly one-third of the students are Hispanic. Mitchell-Woods has focused on creating a positive school atmosphere “where the expectation is to treat everyone with respect every day all the time,” she says. She has also cultivated a professional learning community among teachers to set a high standard of teaching. Early in her tenure, she helped develop Nathan Hale’s school improvement plan based on ongoing performance measures. Once a school where 89 percent of fourth graders failed the math portion of the state’s annual assessment, Nathan Hale has become a school ranked as one of the top 100 in Massachusetts by Boston Magazine. The percentage of students performing at or above grade level on reading and math tests has risen from 46.2 percent in 2000 to 95.6 percent in 2008. School staff members sustain such improvements by analyzing data on student learning to customize instruction. “Success is the only thing we accept, and success is what we will achieve together,” says Mitchell-Woods. She received her B.A. and M.A. from the University of Northern Iowa.