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NASSP is pleased to announce the winners of its 2011 Dr. Ted Sizer Dissertation Competitions, Dr. Gaurav Passi for the high school competition and Dr. Johnny Briseño, Jr., for the middle school competition.

The winning entries exemplify NASSP's long-term commitment to supporting best middle level and high school leadership practices. This award program is intended to focus professional and scholarly attention on the complex problems facing high school and middle level leaders, and bring the national research agenda to bear on issues of concern for school leaders.

Dr. Johnny Briseño, Jr., principal at Harby Junior High School in Alvin, TX, has won the Middle Level Dissertation Award. His research, The Effective Practices and Beliefs of School Principals in High Achieving Hispanic Majority Mid-Level Schools, analyzes what successful principals do to reinforce student achievement and further understanding of how involved and engaged principal leadership transcends social and economic barriers.  
Dr. Gaurav Passi, principal of Long Beach High School in Lido, NY, has won the High School Dissertation Award. His research, The Dimensions of Professional Learning Communities in High Schools and Student Achievement on the New York State English Language Arts Regents Exam, investigates and affirms that principals must provide resources to support the work of teachers and action must be accompanied by measurable goals in student achievement.  

Johnny Briseño, Jr., principal of Harby Junior High School in Alvin, TX, took the prize for the middle level competition. His research—The Effective Practices and Beliefs of School Principals in High Achieving Hispanic Majority Mid-Level Schools—focuses on the successes of 10 Texas principals in high-achieving majority Hispanic middle schools.

“High expectations and strong relationships as addressed in the Breaking Ranks framework are underscored in Briseño’s research,” said John Nori, NASSP director of program development. “All principals, especially middle level principals, should read this research to provide them with a thorough understanding not only of what to do to reinforce student achievement but also to further their understanding of how involved and engaged principal leadership transcends social and economic barriers,”

Briseño’s research finds that the use of intellectual stimulation and modeling through truly collaborative leadership behavior may be one way to foster appropriate teacher-parent learning partnerships. The study also affirms that passionate principals who get involved, get engaged, and lead by example are able to transcend the social and economic barriers that separate them from their students, therefore achieving studet success. They are able to build relationships with students while recognizing and meeting their needs, Briseño concluded.

“Briseño’s research underscores high expectations and strong relationships as addressed in the Breaking Ranks framework,” said John Nori, NASSP director of program development. “All principals, especially middle level principals, should read this research to not only gain a thorough understanding of what to do to reinforce student achievement but also to further their understanding of how involved and engaged principal leadership transcends social and economic barriers.”

Briseño completed his Ed.D. degree at Lamar University in Beaumont, TX, in March 2010, under the guidance of his advisor, Professor Sandra Harris.

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Gaurav Passi, principal of Long Beach High School in Lido Beach, NY, is this year’s winner in the high school competition. His research—The Dimensions of Professional Learning Communities in High Schools and Student Achievement on the New York State English Language Arts Regents Exam—examines high school teachers in low-, moderate-, and high-performing schools and compares their descriptions of four learning community dimensions.

“Passi affirms in his research that simply adopting a practice such as professional learning communities is not enough to yield results,” said Nori. “Instead he concludes that principals must provide resources to support the work of teachers in professional learning communities and other initiatives and that action must be accompanied by measurable goals in student achievement.”

In his dissertation, Passi investigated high school teachers in low-, moderate-, and high-performing schools and compared their descriptions of their schools in the contexts of a focus on learning, shared vision, collaborative culture, and supportive structures. He found that teachers from a high-performing high school had significantly higher levels of agreement for the dimensions of a professional learning community. Additionally, teachers who focused their attention on student learning, rather than on lesson planning and covering material, and those who work with a trusting and collaborative school leader were able to redesign their schools to meet the needs of their students.

Most notably, Passi's research indicated that the most important thing a school can do is invest in creating the structures to support student learning. To do that, principals should provide teachers with time and space to collaborate on substantive student learning issues, mapping the curricula within the school, and ensuring equity in the access to curriculum for all students, Passi concluded. 

Passi completed his doctorate degree at Dowling College in Oakdale, NY, in May 2010, under the guidance of his advisor, Professor Robert Manley.

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Winners will receive a complimentary one-year NASSP membership, a cash award, and a commemorative plaque.