Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

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Laverne Nimmons, GSE ’09

Laverne Nimmons, Ed.D., is a 2009 alumna of Fordham’s Graduate School of Education.

When Laverne Nimmons, Ed.D., GSE ’09, arrived at Public School 335 as principal six years ago, she faced what some might call an insurmountable challenge. But her efforts have made the school the envy of the neighborhood.

In 2003, Public School 335, a Brooklyn elementary school, which serves the predominantly African-American Crown Heights and Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhoods, had just gone through four principals in four years and numbered among the district’s most underachieving schools.

“We were at a 30 percent passing rate in state math tests and 26 percent in English language arts,” recalled Nimmons, the school’s current principal. “I knew it was going to be tough, but I was up for it. ”

Today, the school boasts a 97 percent passing rate in mathematics and 87 percent in English. It leads a pack of schools, including one previously slated to close, that have posted consistently better scores on the state fourth grade math exam since 2006. The school ’s drastic turnaround is largely the result of Nimmons’ work in changing the way the school operates. She credits the research she conducted at Fordham with much of the success. “I didn ’t realize until the [state test] scores came in just how much of my research was going into my actual work, ” she said.

In her doctoral dissertation, Nimmons examined how some underachieving schools in poor Brooklyn neighborhoods transformed themselves into high-performing institutions, reaching a passing rate of 70 percent or greater on state tests. She found a common link: transformational leaders—those who take a visionary position and inspire others to follow them.

“Teachers and staff felt like [the leader] cared about them, collaborated with them and allowed them to make decisions, ” Nimmons said. “It was a good feeling among everyone—children, parents, teachers, the community—and because of this, the scores went up. ”

While observing and conducting research at these high-performing schools, Nimmons became a transformational leader herself. “It was all based on love, kindness, consideration and respect, ” said Nimmons, who made it a point to tell her students, 90 percent of whom qualify for a free lunch, that they were “the best children in the world. ”

“Our children live in an impoverished community that has all of the negative experiences that go along with poverty, ” she said. “The only things they have available to them are what we offer. We give them intensive work, but also art, drama, music and sports, so they get a well-rounded experience. ”


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