INDIO — October brought special visitors to Martin Van Buren Elementary School — a film crew from Harvard Business School in Boston, Mass.

As part of an online professional development program called Certificate in School Management and Leadership (CSML), Van Buren Elementary in the Desert Sands Unified School District was selected as a case study to showcase real community and school leaders.

Harvard Business School collaborated with Harvard Graduate School of Education to create the CSML, designed to provide preK-12 school leaders at all stages of their careers with frameworks, skills, and knowledge to drive change and to lead high-performing schools. CSML will comprise four distinct yet interrelated courses, that may be taken individually or completed together to earn a comprehensive certificate. Together, these courses address topics most vital to leading successful schools. The four courses are entitled Leading Change, Leading Schools, Leading People, and Leading Learning.

Van Buren

Martin Van Buren Elementary and Principal Dr. Melissa Pizano-Grunnet is pictured second from the left in the navy blazer. She is flanked by the Harvard team.

Martin Van Buren Elementary and Principal Dr. Melissa Pizano-Grunnet will be featured in the upcoming Leading Schools course (to be launched in 2019). Harvard University begins by selecting schools from across the United States by consulting the state’s achievement data for those that have had important academic growth, and then getting to know the schools to see if their journey speaks to the course content.

In speaking with Dr. Pizano-Grunnet, it became very clear to Harvard faculty that Van Buren Elementary was a great example to illustrate some of the main content around school strategy in the Leading Schools course.

Offered through the Zaentz Professional Learning Academy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the program is designed to provide leaders with the core knowledge, management skills, and tools necessary to build and advance high-quality early education across learning environments.

Leading for Early Learning and Development provides early education leaders with foundational knowledge, skills, and tools necessary for cultivating optimal learning environments and experiences. The four Learning modules plus the Plan and Apply module that comprise Series 1 offer leaders insights into critical issues related to learning and development for both children and adults.


For the multi-day school site visit, Harvard faculty filmed the principal on campus as well as students in the classroom. Van Buren Bulldogs had their best “performance” on display, doing what they do best!


Photo caption above: A shot of the principal at work.