Inside Story: Senior Administrators Share Insights To Leading A High Performing School

By Mai Sue Yang




In unprecedented times as the current pandemic, effective school leaders must rise to the occasion. With school closings, concerned families, students and teachers needing guidance, these leaders are working endlessly on the best course of action to ensure parents and staff are receiving the needed support and students are continued to be provided with a deserving education through distance learning programs.

As parents and community members we often take for granted the tremendous effort public school districts put into programs so our kids can receive quality learning. In my previous article (A Parent’s Answer for a High Quality Education), I discussed my decision to have my children enrolled as scholars of Noble Academy – a top performing charter school in Brooklyn Park. With school leader (Principal)’s day around the corner, it is the perfect opportunity to acknowledge the school administrators at Noble. Though faced with a heavy workload, they carved out time to share what it is like to be leading a high performing school. I am very honored to be presenting their insights.

The senior administrative team at the district consists of Superintendent Neal Thao and Deputy Superintendent Dr. Mai Yia Chang. Superintendent Thao oversees the district operations, and policies and procedures. He also works with the school board members to manage fiscal operations. Dr. Chang oversees staff accountability, and state and federal academic standard accountability.

Both leaders share the same vision for a robust, high quality education as an alternative for scholars who want something a little different. Their commitment and work ethic is evident in the long hours they put in everyday to lead the school. Unlike the larger public school districts, charter school leaders work more directly with stakeholders. Their work days start as early as 6:00 am preparing for training and meetings, responding to emails, and touching base with board members and instructional leaders to get updates on issues that need to be addressed. During a normal school day, you can find Superintendent Thao and Dr. Chang in meetings with parents, presenting in front of students, observing their teachers in the classroom, training their staff, interviewing with potential hires and contractors, meeting with business vendors, and working late nights with board members.

Leadership Philosophy

As with any thriving organization, it starts from the top. I’ve had many encounters with the administration and impressed at how they engage their students, teachers, and parents with passion. This time around I took the opportunity to ask what sets apart a great leader from the pack. Superintendent Thao shared, “Humbleness is a quality that a great leader need in order to build trust with members of the organization. Consistency in discipline and treatment across the board is what we practice. As a humble leader, you must be honest to express for help and to admit flaws, because this is the only way to help you and your organization grow.” Dr. Chang elaborated on a growth mindset, “As a leader, I aspire to improve my leadership skills on a daily basis. I welcome the opportunity to learn something from every person and situation I encounter. I place great value on receiving input from stakeholders. Effective leaders are not only visionaries but life-long learners. Learning is a continuous process with no ends”.

The administrators talked about their leadership during the current pandemic, “During challenging times, you must be able to think on your feet and connect all of the dots for every situation. Logistics and expectations are made based on current information, but sometimes you have to alter plans because of daily changes and orders.” explains Dr. Chang. “Though faced with uncertainty, we must cultivate confidence and keep up productivity and morale amongst our staff,” adds Superintendent Thao.

An Ideal Teacher

Noble is all about attracting and retaining great teachers – those who remain intellectually open to change and growth. An ideal teacher continuously reflects on their teaching, assesses their strength and areas of improvement and finds ways to enhance their skills. Dr. Chang describes, “Teachers lead by example and they are at the heart of the child’s learning system. They are accountable for motivating each child in the classroom. We provide training on best practices, but an effective teacher is one who is willing to go beyond, do their own research to develop him/herself as an educator. There are researched based techniques to help every student.” The school is very data-driven and teachers are expected to use data to guide and differentiate their instruction daily. Superintendent also stresses, “A great teacher must be able to manage their group of students or else they are teaching to desks and tables. When you walk into the classroom of an effective teacher, you will notice a shared understanding of expectations and few behavior problems”.

Teachers are held accountable to very high teaching and professional standards. With distance learning in place, this doesn’t change expectations. Teachers are checking in with every scholar daily, providing daily lessons and making themselves available to support families and scholars as during a normal school day.

Vision For Scholars

The school leaders firmly believe what they expect from their scholars is what they get. Dr. Chang makes it clear, “There’s a reason we call our students ‘scholars.’ This implies the level of academic success we expect from them.” Every child deserves the chance to learn. Teachers are trained on this philosophy. The school wide curricular model is designed to meet each students’ linguistic, academic, and cultural need.

Superintendent Thao adds, “Children need to know they are valued and they have strengths and weaknesses to overcome. It is the responsibility of the teacher to provide each child with a supportive, student-centered learning environment.”

The school strives to help students be responsible for their behavior and to change and develop both academically and socially through personal reflection and teacher guidance, rather than merely punishing mistakes.

Secret To Running A High Quality School

Just as teachers get what they expect from scholars, the senior administrators follow the same philosophy for their teachers. This starts off with hiring a staff with the right mindset and putting the right people in the right positions. Next comes communicating high standards and setting the stage for excellence. Professional development plays a huge role in this. Superintendent Thao relays, “It is critical that we provide ongoing research-based, job-related staff development program that is designed to maintain and define required competencies of our teachers.” Dr. Chang adds, “We pour a ton of energy and resource into developing our staff like nobody’s business, focusing on topics such as curricular alignment, data-driven decision making, and a strong emphasis on coaching our teachers on strategies for all areas of math, science and reading.”

Meeting the requirements of the comprehensive framework to be named a “High-Quality” charter school by the state does not come easy. From implementation of innovative learning-based technologies and academic programs to vigorous training for staff, all decisions are made with students in mind. Ultimately it takes a strategic approach and dedicated leaders who are effective to get the school to where it’s currently standing.

Noble Academy is currently enrolling grades K-8 for the 2020-2021 School Year. Please check out their website or to learn more or call 763-592-7706 or 763-204-8406. Questions can also be sent to

Deputy Superintendent Dr. Mai Yia Chang

Superintendent Neal Thao