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Maria Aldridge is not interested in the ordinary - forget about walls painted in primary colors, or unappealing entrance halls.

As the school effectiveness coordinator at West Health Junior School, the agreeable Ms. Aldridge influences a range of activities that are far hipper than her corporate-sounding title - from the school's flaxen walls to a computer room that looks like a spaceship.

Her position is unique in England, or it was when it was created by head teacher (principal) Preet Sahota almost three years ago. He was looking for a way to propel the faltering school for 7- to 11-year-olds into a new century and make it "the most unschool-like school around."

"Maria has very quickly, with a lot of hard work, created an environment that is a pleasure to come into," Mr. Sahota says. "The pupils want to come, attendance has gone up, there is no more graffiti."

Aldridge, a former teacher and businesswoman with a sense for design, quickly banished the coat hooks that used to run the length of the school, and put a library - in the form of bookcases lining the walls - in their place. She replaced an ugly brick structure in the entrance with a display that changes periodically and leads children to the library to research its contents (she calls it a "library trail"). She created a special room where students have their literacy lessons, and implemented weekday workshops that allow the school's working-class parents to see firsthand how to help their students with their work.


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