Norma Silva Ends Tenure as Principal With Accomplishments in Leadership, Research and Public Engagement

Norma Silva, Carol L. Collins Principal’s Chair, will end her tenure at UCLA Lab School in June 2018 after 8 years as leader of the school. Silva leaves a legacy of strengthening the school through her support of innovative curricula; values of diversity, equity, and inclusion; and shared leadership.

“The time is right to pursue other educational opportunities,” Silva said. “After working closely with the extraordinary faculty, staff, students, and parents of UCLA Lab School to help our school community reach new levels of achievement, I am excited about pursuing new opportunities and challenges.”

In her time at the school, she said, her goal has been to “live out the ideals of a democratic community of learners and to create an organizational structure that gives voice to all stakeholders in pursuit of this vision.”

Silva first joined the lab school as the Director of Student and Family Affairs from July 1996 – June 2003. She said that through the experience she learned about progressive ideals and the pedagogy of inquiry, and has been devoted to creating democratic learning communities in schools ever since. After serving as the founding principal of Para Los Niños Charter Elementary School in downtown Los Angeles for 7 years, she returned to the lab school in July 2010.

“Norma’s genuine love and respect for all children will have a lasting impact on our community for generations to come,” said Mia Riverton Alpert, a UCLA Lab School parent since 2014 and a member of the school’s Board of Advisors. “Her leadership, particularly her steadfast commitment to upholding the Lab School values of mutual respect and celebrating differences, has greatly influenced the empathy and curiosity with which my daughter and her classmates approach the world.”

Among Silva’s accomplishments as a curriculum leader is the formation of faculty committees designed to “empower teachers to lead with passion and work diligently to build upon the foundation of the school’s progressive roots and ideals.” These “vision committees” form a system intended to give teachers both creative freedom and a structure for collaboration. Working within a subject area, teachers design curricula and make decisions about goals for teaching and learning while also ensuring the work addresses state and national standards and aligns across age levels.

Building on the work of the vision committees has helped to strengthen the school’s inquiry approach to teaching and learning over the past eight years.

“Norma’s boundless energy and determined focus created a program that fostered the love of learning our children carry with them,” said Mico Olmos, whose three children have attended the school during Silva’s tenure and is co-chair of the Family School Alliance, the school’s parent volunteer organization. “She has been such an amazing example of grace, compassion, determination, and poise for us all.”

To nurture an innovative approach to hands-on learning, Silva led the creation of the iSTEAM Lab and mini iSTEAM Lab to provide children with opportunities “to engage creatively in programming and designing solutions for the challenges that our world faces now and will face in the future.” “iSTEAM” is a term she coined that stands for “Inquiry through Social Studies/Science/Safe School, Technology, Engineering/Ethics/Environment, Arts/Activism, Mathematics and Music.”

This work has contributed to teachers’ documentation of the UCLA Lab School Inquiry Approach, a method for creating a curriculum that places student questions, ideas, and observations at the center of teaching and learning. The approach balances academic rigor with development of 21st Century skills — creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication — in a democratic learning community.

Central to Silva’s work in supporting research and public engagement for the school has been the goal of developing partnerships in under-resourced public schools and working with researchers to advance knowledge about teaching and learning. UCLA Lab School teachers have collaborated in LAUSD classrooms supporting UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies (GSE&IS) Professor Megan Franke’s work in teaching Mathematics through Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI). Silva has been a collaborator on a long-term research study on dual language immersion with GSE&IS Professors Alison Bailey and Rashmita Mistry. The research shows strong results, and the UCLA Lab School Dual Language Immersion Program is in high demand by prospective parents from diverse backgrounds. Silva also was part of the team that introduced the Complex Learners Initiative that led to the creation of LEARN.ENGAGE.ACHIEVE POTENTIAL (LEAP), a system for supporting the social-emotional and academic needs of neuro-diverse learners.

To support the work of the school, fundraising efforts during Silva’s tenure yielded more than $20 million, including the recent Kim family gift for the music program. Additional funding through the generosity of anonymous donors led to major renovations of campus buildings and grounds, including Community Hall Plaza, the state-of-the-art iSTEAM Lab with innovative technology for Primary through Upper Level students, the mini iSTEAM Lab for Early Childhood Level students, and renovation of the lobby and main hallway to showcase children’s artwork and learning. Additionally, funding was made possible for renovations to modernize facilities and learning spaces.

Silva noted that her proudest collaboration was on the Safe School Research Committee with teachers and UCLA Psychology Professor Jaana Juvonen in the 1990s, work that she was able to bring to Para Los Niños and then further develop upon her return to the lab school. “I have seen the impact of a system that fosters a culture of respect for children, giving them voice in a process that develops skills and inculcates values that honor the many dimensions of what it is to be a human,” Silva said.

“All children deserve this quality of care, a world-class education where they are treated fairly and equitably and are able to work toward their individual potential while becoming active, engaged participants in our world,” she added. “Democratic actions do not come easily, but these ideals are worth everything for our children and for our world.”

Silva’s plans include working with Southern California schools to advise on curriculum and instruction. An event celebrating her tenure at the school and honoring the impact of her work will be held at UCLA Lab School on June 7.