Episode 137: The Rock Star Principals’ Podcast


An Interview with the NASSP Principal of the Year, Richard Gordon, from Paul Robeson High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Rock Star Principals, Jon and Nick, interview the NASSP Principal of the Year, Richard Gordon, who is from the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Richard is the principal of Paul Robeson High School in Philadelphia. 

You don’t want to miss this 43 minute conversation where Richard demonstrates his passion, dedication, and determination to see every one of his students succeed. He shares emotional examples of students overcoming their circumstances and finding their place in the world.

The three Nationally recognized educational leaders also discuss the characteristics that make an effective principal and, of course, chat about superheroes as well. 

Information about Richard Gordon from NASSP:

Richard Gordon became principal of Paul Robeson High School in 2013 when it was on the brink of shutting down. Determined to turn the school around, he found the root of Robeson’s toxicity—staff and stakeholders questioned the ability of their students, while students felt academically, emotionally, and physically unsafe. He faced this unsettling discord head-on by creating four core values: 1) positive, nurturing, and healthy relationships; 2) growth mindset; 3) college and career readiness; and 4) belief. These rebuilt the foundation of Robeson’s daily practice, allowing both teachers and students to embody an all-inclusive family atmosphere.

Between the implementation of the core values—plus the Safe Corridors Program that provided extra supervision for students traveling to and from school and more than 30 community partnerships—Robeson’s stats changed from worrisome to remarkable. Truancy rates lowered to near 10 percent, graduation rates averaged 95 percent, school suspension rates fell below 5 percent, and student safety and well-being were no longer in question.

Gordon’s focus goes beyond the student population—he also values the adults in his learning community. His leadership style empowers teachers and staff to use their voice to strengthen the vitality of his city. He mentors through the PhillyPlus Principal Residency Program, a two-year, practice-based principal certification program that prepares teachers and aspiring school leaders to transform schools into high-performing learning environments. His teachers are frequently selected by state and district officials to provide professional development to other teachers and administrators across the southeastern Pennsylvania region.

While every principal faced the challenges brought on by COVID-19 this year, Gordon’s out-of-the-box thinking, focus on equity, and flexible leadership prepared Robeson to weather the storm. Throughout the adjustment to remote learning, Gordon kept his staff and learning community focused on quick transitions via Google Classroom, face-to-face connections and confidence using digital platforms, and meaningful assignments to drive student engagement. He made sure that Robeson is still providing online preventative therapy for students with mental health concerns.

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