Photo by Sun StarA fiery redhead is making a big difference at a struggling school in Texas. Once full of low-performing students, the school now scores top marks in the state.

Hart Elementary, in northeast Austin, serves a tough group of students from low income, low education households. 90 percent of the students are Hispanic, with English as a second language.

Two years ago, in June 2009, Leslie Dusing arrived at Hart and as principal got rid of 75% of the 114 staff members.

“I’m a mean bitch,” she laughs. “But you can’t teach with crappy teachers.”

“When I got here, there were 4th and 5th graders who had never had a good teacher.”  Unacceptable.

She “encouraged” the bad teachers to resign (one can’t fire teachers in Texas) and hired good ones. Really good ones. She has an eye for spotting them.

Since then, Hart’s test scores have risen meteorically in reading, math, and science, and the school now ranks as one of only two elementary schools in Texas to win the Texas Education Agency Top Quartile Elementary Schools.

The award means Leslie’s teachers will get $4,000 each, and the Principal, Miss Leslie, will get $8,000. These are incentive funds from the AISD REACH program designed to build teacher performance and retention pay.

“The financial reward is welcome of course, but I did it for the kids,” Leslie states emphatically. “And the kids are happy. You should see the difference from last year.”

Leslie’s own life has not been easy. After suffering personal difficulties and financially losing everything she in 1995, Leslie went back and got her teachers ‘s degree and then her Master’s degree in 2000 in order to go into educational administration.

So it’s not surprise this scrapper turned around one of Austin’s toughest schools in two years. Aint no hill for a stepper, as they say….

And Leslie’s kids love her. She keeps birds in her office and and pictures of her horse on her desk. She hugs the kids and jokes with them (she’s bi-lingual). Their response is visible – and now recognized by others.

Photo by Sun Star

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