September 06, 2017

Building a Solution at Sunnyside

After many years, Drs. Chuck Salina and Suzann Girtz in the School of Education (SOE), along with Joanie Eppinga, published a book that outlines the process of improving the attendance and graduation rates at Sunnyside High School in Washington state.

Powerless to Powerful: Leadership for School Change, is a result of the turnaround effort at a high school which had a graduation rate of 64 percent when Salina’s work began in 2010. The initiative was a $6 million Federal School Improvement Grant that focused on research-driven activities to promote student attendance and academic success. One of the conditions of
the grant was that Dr. Salina serve as interim principal.

The book details the humanistic approach taken to implement programs and systems that cultivated social support and relational trust together. Included is the research and theory behind the approach as well as action steps for leaders, and lessons learned in the process, which serve as useful examples for any school. According to Rick Cole, Superintendent of Sunnyside School District at the time, “The results were nothing short of amazing. The culture change at the school was palpable and the change in belief that students and staff had in themselves and each other was incredible.”

Dr. Salina highlights that “a collaborative culture focused on student learning and higher graduation rates; data-driven support for at-risk students; acceleration and enrichment programs extending beyond the school day; a safe and welcome environment to increase attendance; and enhanced parental and community involvement” were needed to achieve results. “The kinds of demands our K-12 schools are facing require lots of support,” Salina said. “It is a privilege for Gonzaga to be part of building a solution at Sunnyside,” he said. This was a unique partnership between Sunnyside and Gonzaga University’s SOE.