Paul Baez, Principal
Rees Elementary School
Alief ISD, Houston, Texas
Raise Your Hand Texas Alumnus, ’13 (REEP)
Paul Baez, principal of Rees Elementary in Houston’s Alief ISD, is a modern-day superhero who flies seamlessly and purposefully from one task to another, pausing only to wave at a group of students, consult with an assistant, spruce up a bare wall, tidy up the library, monitor a teacher’s classroom, lead a staff meeting … you get the idea.
“I’m a micromanager at heart, no doubt about it,” he says, a trait that could potentially foil any effort at effective leadership. But Baez has grown more comfortable with delegating and empowering others. He exercises his meticulous bent for the good of his school, from carefully leading his teachers step-by-step through the labyrinth of social media to planting perennials in the front yard of the school building.
When Baez arrived at Rees Elementary four years ago, he knew one of his first jobs would be to get his staff comfortable with using some of the many online tools available to improve instruction, learning, and parent engagement.
Raise Your Hand Texas sponsored Baez to attend a year-long professional development program (REEP) at Rice University that teaches school leaders how to use business best practices to grow their leadership talents and enhance teaching in today’s classroom environments. The course confirmed what Baez says he already knew about making necessary upgrades to curriculum, but also gave him the courage to take calculated risks and aim for better results, in areas of conflict resolution, school budgeting, technology implementation, and student achievement.
“Rick Hess was one of the speakers,” Baez said. Hess is a REEP lecturer and author of the book Cage-Busting Leadership, which explores ways school leaders can free themselves of the restraints — both real and perceived — of educational bureaucracy. “That resonated with me huge,” Baez said. “It started pushing me to say I need to be a lot more creative about certain things.”
For Baez, those certain things ranged from training teachers to use the latest education technology in their classrooms to drive student achievement to offering inventive ideas about how to make the most of the school budget. His efforts are paying off. One online math tool company recently celebrated its 10th anniversary by giving school teachers and administrators — including Baez — a special award which recognizes educators for their innovative leadership in leveraging technology to engage students.
“It’s about how it can change learning for students,” Baez says. He’s taught his teachers to use education technology solutions for reading and math to personalize student learning and boost achievement.
Baez says digital tools are imperative for 21st-century schools where students are accustomed to being “connected” and learn with the help of devices and apps. He says the internet also helps foster a virtual “open door policy” in an era when school doors are often locked and the process for visiting can be cumbersome. In the digital era, mobile and desktop platforms provide schools with dynamic and responsive stakeholder engagement tools that go well beyond social utility.
Many of the school’s Twitter followers are teachers and parents. “It’s been huge,” Baez said. “Parents now know what we’re doing in our classrooms. Parents can go to Twitter and see pics of kids who just completed a science experiment. They can see the looks on their faces. That’s powerful.”
Raise Your Hand Texas sponsored Principal Paul Baez to attend the year-long Rice University Education Entrepreneurship Program in 2013-14. He graduated with a renewed desire to take calculated risks that benefit his students. Baez talks a mile a minute, has an infectious personality, and is dedicated to leading his teachers and students through a 21st-century, student-centered experience. Watch our video to see how he’s doing just that, inside and out.
Baez’s upgrades aren’t confined to the classroom. He says when he arrived at Rees Elementary, the decor was dismal and it wasn’t a welcoming place for kids to be. So, he got to work. Baez commissioned a group of students to help him plant native Texas flowers around the grounds. He changed wall colors from drab green to bright blue. He added lights in hallways that were dark and grim. He completely redesigned the school library from a boring place for books to a flexible learning space with comfortable seating, large television monitors for viewing films, and a green screen for video production. Baez’s training at REEP has helped him slow down … a bit. But, he says, there’s much more to do and he can’t always wait for an official go-ahead. “Some things just have to get done fast.”
Principal Baez urges his students to see themselves as superheroes; boys and girls who have the power to internalize instruction and use the devices and apps they love to chart their own path to success. Joel and Elena are 3rd graders who can relate to two superheroes in particular; Joel says he’s Batman, while Elena has taken on the persona of Iron Woman. Their super strength? Highly advanced technological capabilities.
Students are well versed in technology, so for them to do their best it’s important for us to implement it. It makes sense to have these iPads and laptops. Students are always engaged and excited … and Principal Baez is a very ambitious leader.
Principal Baez is supportive, he’s present, he communicates well, and he’s always available to listen. He’s a great leader and he has a vision for our school but he’s always open to hearing what a teacher has to say.
Principal Baez is a transformational leader. He’s all about transforming schools and transforming teachers into leaders — making them experts in the fields they teach. He teaches his peers, the content specialists, and interventionists so that we’re all on the same page and can give the kids the best opportunities for learning.