Lisa Kaplan, 2015 Winner of the Escalante-Gradillas Prize for Best in Education on Building a Successful School Inside and Out

Lisa Kaplan, Principal of Andrew Jackson School in PA and the2015 Winner of the Escalante-Gradillas Prize for Best in Education, will be speaking at Content in Context about how she turned her school around. She’ll address not only the multiple needs of failing schools, but also how communities and industries can partner to create successful learning environments.

Talking with The Temple News, Kaplan explains why her first priority was fixing up the school building.

“At the end of the day, if people walk by the building and it doesn’t look so great, and they don’t get a good feeling about it, they are not going to want to walk in the door and register their babies.”

The school went from a dark, empty building to a school filled with art and inspirational quotes on the walls like, “To get what you never had, you have to do what you’ve never done,” and “This generation plants the trees for the next generation’s shade.”

Kaplan wanted the children to be in a school they could be proud of.

As part of her profile for, Kaplan talks about how she changed the focus of student behavior from discipline to prevention.

When Kaplan arrived at Jackson, apart from immediately addressing the physical appearances of the building, she also implemented a behavior management system for the students called PAWS — an initialisim for “Positive Attitude Wins Success.” The primary behavioral expections for the students are that they be respectful, responsible, and reliable.

But, as Kaplan noted in our conversation, “Students are supposed to make mistakes.” In Kaplan’s view, schools need to be a safe place to make mistakes but also to learn from them, and teachers need to be there to help them learn from those mistakes. Kaplan’s PAWS program doesn’t focus on the aftermath of disciplinary actions as much as focus on prevention and intervention. Her program anticipated the district’s move toward prevention and intervention by three years and has resulted in a dramatic reduction in suspensions and serious incidents at the school.

In an interview with, Kaplan talks about maintaining success while facing budget shortfalls.

"There are things that are non-negotiables for these kids," Kaplan said. "We became a force to be reckoned with. We do not allow budget cuts to affect what we do for kids."

Art and music abound at the school, which has a nationally recognized rock band and partners with dozens of organizations and universities to expose its students to things generally reserved for private schools. All of this improvement occurred in the context of perennial Philadelphia School District budget cuts. And all with the personable, organized, indefatigable Kaplan at the helm, managing the school through personnel losses and outdated textbooks and, this year, no nurse, so far.

"We're using older textbooks that I don't want to be using," she said. "We need anything we can get."

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Content in Context