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Over the last decade, Lucy Beckham has served as the principal of Wando High School in Mt. Pleasant, SC—one of the state's largest and highest-performing schools. With over 3,200 students, Wando is more akin to a small city than a school. Yet even with the throng of students showing up on the school’s doorsteps every day, Beckham still manages to work side-by-side with staff members to provide a personalized education for every student in a supportive, safe environment.

To accommodate the growing population of students, a new school building opened under Beckham’s direction in 2004. She helped transform the building into five smaller learning communities, with a ninth-grade academy and four career-related academies. As a High School That Works site, the model was created to provide opportunities for personal connections and to give students an education tailored to their career and education aspirations.

“We know we have a large school, but we want it to feel small to our students,” Beckham reflects. To make certain that no one falls through the cracks unnoticed, each student has a teacher advocate with whom they meet weekly in advisement groups. They are also paired with an administrator/counselor team that supports them from the ninth-grade to graduation, managing discipline issues, academic pathways, and more.

In an effort to ensure rigor and variety in the curriculum, Wando offers over 250 courses in 37 majors. Many of the school’s academic and cocurricular programs have earned national recognition. Wando’s engineering program has been designated as a model site and its biomedical sciences pathway is part of a national pilot for cutting-edge science and technology integration. The school’s band has been named the best in the United States, its culinary team ranks third in the country, the student newspaper has earned top national awards, and the overall athletic program has been named second in the state.

Add those awards to the recent data that show significant increases in the student’s state reading and math scores. “With a school the size of Wando, we could not be successful without extraordinary teacher leadership,” Beckham confirms. To maintain a cadre of great teachers, Beckham recruits some of the best in the nation and continuously supports them through professional development days, monthly tech trainings, book studies, and other programs. The teachers work in interdisciplinary units and participate in a Curriculum Carousel that allows them to share best strategies and practices. Further, each teacher benefits from the quality feedback received from the 200-plus observations performed monthly by the school’s administrative team.

With her experience and proven successes, Beckham is often asked to share her expertise with others. A role model to aspiring principals, she finds great satisfaction in teaching would-be leaders “the business of education.” In the past three years, her school has hosted internships with five graduate students in school administration. She also readily supports and mentors the district’s new principals, in addition to offering support and guidance to her school’s cadre of nine assistant principals, whom she meets with in a “huddle” to lay out the day’s game plan and touch base on recent events.

Beckham, who stridently adheres to an open-door policy, makes every effort to keep the lines of communication open. She pens a weekly education column for the local newspaper, can be regularly seen on Wando’s TV network promoting the school’s programs and courses, and even blogs on the school’s Web site.

“It’s been proven time and again that no real progress can happen unless students feel known and cared for in a personalized school environment,” said NASSP Executive Director Gerald N. Tirozzi. “Lucy Beckham didn’t let school size be an excuse for letting students fall to the wayside, but instead used it to the students’ advantage to create countless opportunities for students to be successful. She is to be commended for her creativity and congratulated for the school’s demonstrated success.”

Photo by Mark Finkenstaedt.