Frankford's Renee Godi to Serve as Principal of Plano ISD's First-Ever PBL Academy to Open in 2013
May 4, 2012
Renee visited seventh grade students Elena Reyes, Zidonnia Fuller and Jaquelle Holt in the science classroom of teacher Michele Poovey this week. "I've always loved working with students," said Renee. "I enjoy developing relationships with students, families and the community to make positive changes in students' lives through new opportunities."
When Renee Godi was a pre-law major at Texas A&M University, she experienced a life-changing revelation on a class field trip to a local cemetery.
"I was enrolled in an education course with 15 other students," said the Frankford Middle School principal who has been tapped to open the district's new PBL (Project Based Learning) Academy in 2013. "We took a class field trip one day to Independence, Texas, where we visited a 150-year-old grave site to make grave stone etchings.
"That evening, I thought about what a different place and time those people lived in and wondered what their lives must have been like. It made me think about life in general and to question myself, 'Am I on the right pathway to make a difference in people's lives?'"
Kymara Edwards shared with Renee what she finds to be the most fascinating characteristics of cardinals during a science class research project.
That's when it dawned on Renee that she is passionate about education. "I've always loved working with children, with students. Even in high school, I mentored students. In college, I continued to serve as a mentor and I worked with my church's youth group. Until that education class in college, I didn't connect that my profession could also be my passion."
Since that fateful field trip to the cemetery, Renee said, "I've never looked back. I student taught, then I met Becky Wussow, Plano ISD director of human resources services, at a job fair in Arlington, Texas. "I connected with her effervescent personality. I recall her saying, 'I have the perfect place for you. Have you considered working with middle school students?'"
Thus launched Renee's career at Frankford Middle School as an eighth grade social studies teacher. Since that year, 1999, Renee has served as a teacher, team leader, dean of students, assistant principal and principal at Frankford.
Renee was hired by then Frankford Principal Susan Modisette, who now serves as executive director for secondary campus services. "Everyone has a passion," said Renee. "We have to accept that that is who we are. Once we are serving people in that role, something magical happens. It just works and it works well."
During Renee's 13 years as an educator at Frankford, she has seen the many possibilities in students and has enjoyed helping students to believe in themselves. Two of her former students are now her colleagues on the Frankford faculty. And, one of her former students was just this week presented with one of three Plano Principals' Association scholarships to help in obtaining a bachelor's degree in education.
Renee describes herself as an opportunity creator. "I want to create opportunities not only for students but for teachers and families," said Renee. "I enjoy helping them see themselves in new roles. They all have a passion. I want them to take risks and move into new roles to grow and expand their horizons."
Renee is proud of the fact that she has worked with eight assistant principals and deans at Frankford. "They just keep moving on and moving up because they are so good at making a difference in students' lives," she said proudly. "They have the 'IT' factor. They lead people, and they do the right thing, so they are promoted within the school district."
Setting Students on a Successful Path
Dreaming about the possibilities and opportunities helped launch Renee's ambition to become the inaugural principal of Plano ISD's first-ever "choice school," the new academy that will open fall of 2013 in a building recently purchased by the school board and located at 1701 Alma Drive in central Plano ISD near the corner of Alma and 15th Street.
"This new academy is really like a blank slate," explained Renee. "Leadership will be very important to the opening of this new school."
The academy's selling points, Renee said, are that it will be:
Read a November, 2011, district news story about the district partnership with Texas Instruments to launch the new academy.
- Educationally innovative.
- A collaborative effort among the school district, corporate community, colleges and district personnel.
- A non-traditional educational setting with an enrollment of 150 students per grade level; therefore small enough to provide individual plans for each student.
- A four-year program. "We can get to know students personally and academically during those four years," said Renee.
About the Academy
In 2010, the Academy Visioning Committee was created by the Plano ISD Board of Trustees to study and advise the feasibility of creating a grades 9-12 option for students that offers choices for programs not currently available in the comprehensive high schools and senior high schools. Visit the Academy Visioning Committee's website to read an FAQ about the academy, school board reports and for links to more information and resources.
The Academy Visioning Committee developed a findings report that was presented to the school board. The report has been a working document used this school year by the Academy Steering Committee, a group of educators and corporate and community leaders tasked with studying each aspect of the visioning committee's findings report.
As a member of the steering committee, Renee serves with Paul Weaver, director of guidance and counseling, to oversee the "student recruitment and registration" sub-committee comprising counselors, teachers and administrators. Other sub-committees are studying aspects for the new academy for its curriculum, professional development, staffing and facility needs. The steering committee meets sometimes weekly to discuss every aspect of the new academy. "It has been good to get all perspectives to challenge suggestions being made for this new school," said Renee.
Making Real World Connections
The academy will be about making connections with the real world, said Renee. "Students will be taught in an interdisciplinary format, across the curriculum," she noted. "Rather than a 'criteria-driven' education, the academy will be more about 'how' students learn."
The academy selection process has not yet been determined; however, Renee said that it will be important for students to represent a cross-section of the Plano school district. Students will be collaborating on projects and taking risks in a non-traditional environment. Students will be making real world connections through project-based learning. They will be following a path of inquiry and working on teams to solve problems.
Academy students will learn to take and manage information well, said Renee. "This is a skill that employers tell us they are looking for in our graduates. Companies spend millions of dollars re-training employees in the skill sets of collaboration and information management."
STEAM Gaining Steam Across the Nation
Renee noted that STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) education is at the forefront of our nation's progress. "STEAM is gaining steam across our country," she said. And, Renee cannot wait to play a leadership role in its development and implementation.
Along with leadership, the curriculum will be critical to the academy, said Renee. "The curriculum will be a launching point for the building's interior design. It will drive the cadre of teachers hired to write the curriculum, the professional training for teachers, and it will motivate the students who want to attend the academy."
This school year, Renee joined principals from seventeen Plano ISD schools who were recognized by the National Center for Educational Achievement (NCEA) as part of its 2011 “Just for the Kids” Campaign for Higher Performing Schools in Texas. They are pictured following recognition at the December, 2011, meeting of the Plano ISD Board of Trustees.
Renee said that the Academy Steering Committee will soon move from a "directing" to a "supporting" role as the academy is developed in a collaborative effort with all stakeholders working "hand-in-hand" to launch the new program. "Many departments, school personnel and community leaders will have a hand in making the academy a success," she said.
"A lot of people have put very thoughtful and reflective effort into providing a lot of intuition to help us formulate the academy," said Renee. "We have a lot of awesome programs already in place in our school district. They are all excellent. The academy is not meant to replicate or compete with those programs. The academy is for a different kind of student. It will be a school of choice for students who work best in a collaborative, hands on, project-based, innovative environment."
Family Community & Student Ownership
Renee envisions the academy as a "family community" where students have ownership in creating their own learning outcomes. Student will have a voice.
Renee said that her natural bent is to be creative...a problem solver. "This is the perfect avenue for me," she said of her service as the school's principal.
The academy will open in 2013 with approximately 300 ninth and tenth grade students, 150 students from each grade level. The plan is to add another 150 students from grade 11 in 2014 and a final 150 students from grade 12 in 2015. The school's eventual population will reach 600 students.
Renee is pictured at the May 1 school board meeting with her husband Raj and parents William John and Accamma William.
Renee sees herself during these first months of planning as a public relations agent, explaining the academy to all stakeholders: Plano ISD employees, students, families and the community. She will then work closely with middle school and high school counselors, teachers and administrators to "unearth" potential academy students. "We all need to serve as student advocates to show our students this open door of opportunity, and then the students will choose whether to walk through that door." Renee will also identify the first cadre of teachers to develop the school's curriculum.
Once the students are selected, Renee looks forward to serving as the campus principal to share the qualities which she believes make her a perfect fit for the job. According to Renee, she has:
- Passion and enthusiasm.
- Vision but she is not stuck to one vision. "I recognize that this is a very untraditional school," she said.
- Willingness to be vulnerable with learning because she does not have all the answers.
- Entrusted with responsibility. "I treat this appointment as an entrustment to me," she said.
- Balanced thinker. "I can be focused and analytical and also relational and personal," said Renee. "It's going to take my interacting with a host of people. Hopefully schools across the world will want to visit our academy."
More About Renee Godi
Renee's philosophy is to lead in an innovative and dynamic environment and be a contributing member of a learning community focused on providing an excellent education for students.
She has served her educational career at Frankford Middle School, where she captured the "Beginning Teacher of the Year" award in 2000. She taught eighth grade social studies and later served as a team leader, dean, assistant principal and principal.
Her civic activities include graduating with the Leadership Plano Class of 2008. She is a member of the National Association of Secondary Principals, Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development and the Plano Principals Association. Her professional associations include serving on the Plano ISD Academy Steering Committee, participating in the AVID Summer Institute, on the Plano ISD Instructional Rounds Team, and as a member of Plano ISD Diversity Advisory Committee.
Among the many research studies in which she has taken part are “Teaching with Poverty in Mind” and “Tools for Engagement” by Eric Jensen, “Teaching Digital Natives” by Marc Prensky and attending the Raise Your Hand Texas Alumni to Harvard Summer Institute “The Art of Leadership”.
She earned a master's degree in education administration and secondary principal endorsement at the University of North Texas. She earned her bachelor's degree in history at Texas A&M University in College Station.
Renee shares a "magnetic" personality with her office desk name plate.