From Aspiring Principals to Transformational Leaders

Six New Leaders alumni share their leadership journey and offer insights, advice, and strategies for education leaders to transform our schools and districts for the better.
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Deputy Chancellor. Head of School. Leadership Coach. Chief of Staff to Deputy Secretary of Education. What do all of these have in common? They are all New Leaders alumni. They all completed New Leaders nationally renowned principal preparation program, now the National Aspiring Principals Fellowship. And, they were once aspiring leaders too.

In our new eBook, From Aspiring Principals to Transformational Leaders: Stories of Impact, you follow their leadership journey: from a teacher looking to change how schools are designed to a principal motivating his staff to do better to a deputy chancellor committed to investing in and retaining high quality teachers and leaders in District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). All of them use their leadership skills in unique ways to drive lasting change. 

Daniela Anello, Head of School, DC Bilingual

While 55% of teachers reported thinking about leaving the profession earlier than they anticipated, the opposite is true at DC Bilingual Public Charter School. An overwhelming number of teachers are staying. In fact, they have almost 100% teacher retention.

“We’re all experiencing trauma and hardship right now,” explains Daniela Anello, Head of School and New Leaders alum. “My job is to notice, to listen, to understand, to provide space for processing. And then to do everything in my power to help bring people together so we have a community that feels united, connected, supported, and focused on the good ahead.”

Felipe Jackson, Principal, Fulton County Schools

Faced with one crisis after the other last year, Felipe Jackson quickly realized the one thing he could control as a leader: the way in which he motivated teachers to teach, students to learn, and parents to stay engaged. “I became the biggest cheerleader every single day.”

For himself, Jackson learned that modeling high expectations and allowing people to see his vulnerabilities leads to more respect, more commitment, more motivation. “The truth is,” he adds, “our students are resilient. More than we are. Our job is to bring that out in them.”

Karen Bryan-Chambers, Senior Director, Leadership Academy, New Leaders

Claire Fisher, Middle School Network Partner, Oakland Unified School District

Neither of us were planning to be principals. We loved teaching and didn’t want to lose our connections to the school community. But we got thrust into leadership positions very quickly—Karen after Hurricane Katrina and Claire during the founding of a new charter school—and found them both daunting and energizing. 

As principal trainers, our experiences have shown us that principals have the greatest effect when they receive support that allows them to empower their teams and drive meaningful change. Three supports make that difference for our leadership: an adaptive mindset, a coach, and a team. 

Dr. Melissa Kim, Deputy Chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools

“My hope is that with every interaction, I leave leaders stronger and more confident to face whatever comes their way,” reflects Dr. Melissa Kim, Deputy Chancellor, DCPS. A New Leaders alum and former principal, Dr. Kim drives instruction and equity work in all 116 DCPS schools. 

It’s not something she ever imagined as a young immigrant girl, an English language learner in schools where her Korean identity and accent were not accepted. Today, Dr. Kim is working to not only get—and keep—the very best teachers and leaders in front of students but to cultivate a mindset in both that ensures students are embraced—and thrive—in their full identities.

Joaquin Tamayo, Chief of Staff, Deputy Secretary of Education 

“I just fell in love with the craft,” Joaquin Tamayo reflects on the start of his career in education. “I fell in love with the opportunity to help guide and develop young people so they could really understand and live out their best potential, whatever that happened to be.”

Tamayo has served in many leadership roles: high school teacher, principal, national nonprofit director, federal policymaker. He is passionate about redesigning our public education system so that equity in all of its dimensions—equity of experience, opportunity, relationships, gender, race, and more—has a greater chance of being achieved for our nation’s youth.

Each of these inspirational leaders started out as an aspiring leader. Perhaps this is you. If you have a track record of success in driving student achievement gains, you may be ready to take the next step into leadership. Answer the call to lead today.

As Tamayo urges: “We need more leaders in the system who are able and willing to offer hope and belief to our young people … If you think you’re that person, then persevere. Be resilient and good things will happen as long as you keep holding hope and belief front and center.” 

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