"I needed to be in the struggle," she says, "I needed to work."

On this morning, she's greeting a parent at the front door, calling out kids by name, and pointing out dozens of college banners that line the cafeteria walls — the University of Connecticut, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State.

In a year-and-a-half, Field has effected the cultural transformation the UP! schools envision. "It's like night and day, compared to what it was," says physical education teacher and union delegate Joseph Murray, a set of keys dangling from his neck.

And Pleasant View, with its large populations of low-income and special needs students, is already realizing some academic gains.

The numbers aren't high enough. Just half of the students here test "proficient" reading and one-third in math. But over the last three years, Pleasant View is one of just two schools in the district to improve test scores in all three bedrock subjects: math, reading, and writing.

It's not entirely clear, though, that the school's progress can be replicated.

Shortly after Field arrived in the fall of 2011, the state identified Pleasant View as a school in need of turnaround. The designation gave the principal the chance to replace a quarter of the teaching staff, extend the school day, and win a $425,000 grant she's used to fund a full slate of afterschool programming and teacher training from a University of Connecticut math specialist.

Field says she has colleagues — principals at other schools — who "know exactly what they would do" if they had the chance to engage in the process.

Pleasant View is also distinguished by a $470,000 technology grant that has transformed a school without even a wireless Internet connection into a hub of smart boards, iPads, and laptop computers.

The devices allow teachers to provide more in the way of "differentiated instruction." On a recent morning in a Pleasant View classroom, a few kids play laptop math games attuned to their specific skill level, while a teacher offers one-on-one instruction to a kid who has fallen behind. "This," Field whispers, standing nearby, "is where the magic is."

Pleasant View has also taken advantage of an accident of history that placed 11 of the district's 24 pre-kindergarten classes in the school.

Because pre-K students don't participate in the extended day that came with transformation, Field floods the upper grades with pre-K teachers and other adults — called "Dream Teams" — three mornings per week.

One morning is an "advisory" period — one-on-one mentoring. And a second morning will soon be devoted to "enrichment academies," with kids pursuing subjects of personal interest — part of a larger effort to connect students' education to the larger world and get them excited about learning.

But for all that's unique to Pleasant View, it seems clear that the single most important factor in Pleasant View's upward trajectory is not money or time or flexibility — it's leadership.

Yes, the transformation process allowed for an extended day at the school, but it is difficult to imagine the Dream Teams without a principal who could win the participation and buy-in of the faculty.

Of course, producing leaders of Field's caliber is no easy task. She's an optimist, a doer, a font of ideas. In just two hours of conversation with the Phoenix, she cited philosopher John Dewey, workplace and pop science author Daniel Pink, and New Yorker staff writer Malcolm Gladwell.

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