Kadhir Rajagopal, PhD '10 (Education Leadership)

Sac State grad turning high school students around

His students at Grant High School come from Del Paso Heights, one of Sacramento’s poorest neighborhoods. Their lives are often a gritty reflection of the area’s drug abuse, poverty, broken homes and gang connections, and they come to his classroom accustomed to pulling down Ds or Fs.

“They’re at risk of failure, lack motivation and are working far below grade level,” says Kadhir Rajagopal.

But these are the students “Mr. Raja” loves to teach.

“I teach math in a way they can understand,” says the 29-year-old educator.

“I create a classroom environment where it is cool to be successful and motivated.”

He does it with an instructional model he calls CREATE, which has not only turned his students from bored to eagerly engaged, but captured the attention of other educators—he was named one of five California Teachers of the Year for 2011.

CREATE is Rajagopal’s acronym for “Culturally responsive instruction, Rigorous and rewarding expectations, Essentials in curriculum planning, Assess and master in class, Test models, and Extra one-on-one tutoring.” He developed it because he knows his kids desperately need more than a motivated educator. “I believe my students’ lives depend on their success in my class. If my students fail, I fail.”

Rajagopal wants every student to master the skills he teaches during class before they leave the room. “You don’t go out the door until you can do those 10 problems,” he explains. “If you can’t, you come back at lunch or after school. I have their parents’ phone numbers on speed dial. I am tenacious.”

Rajagopal began molding his instructional model in his early years as a teacher, but says he really fine-tuned the CREATE method while working toward his doctoral degree at Sac State. “Sac State’s doctoral program helped me to focus and reflect, to better understand the most important aspects of my models and to strengthen those key aspects,” he says. “It helped me to understand my teaching style, my own magic, better.”

His students’ test scores prove the process works. In 2009, they outperformed the state average on the Algebra I California Standards Test, with 71 percent scoring basic and above, including 37 percent who scored proficient vs. the state score of 51 percent at basic and above and 25 percent at proficient.

Rajagopal has a lofty goal of reaching more than just Grant students.

“I want to spread the instructional model. I want schools to glamorize success and, in urban schools, I want kids to think As on a report card are as cool as making a touchdown.”

This article was originally published in the Spring 2011 edition of Sac State Magazine.