Ready to Lead: Our Inaugural Fellowship Cohort Graduates

The inaugural cohort of the National Aspiring Principals Fellowship is principal-ready and looking to lead. Go behind the scenes of their leadership seminar and see what the Fellowship does best.
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“Look around and think about who’s invested in you: Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, New Leaders, each other,” encouraged Dr. Cheryl Hughes as she addressed the first cohort of fellows to complete our National Aspiring Principals Fellowship. An experienced former principal and trained principal mentor, Dr. Hughes was a leading instructor for the inaugural class. “We are counting on you, not just to lead, but to be a multiplier.”

The National Aspiring Principals Fellowship prepares full-time teachers to become effective principals and change-makers for the students in their communities. Designed in partnership with two preeminent minority-serving institutions—Morehouse and Clark Atlanta—the Fellowship honors the experiences and identities of educators of color and develops leaders who remove barriers to student success.

“Understand that the work doesn’t end here. Expand your knowledge and cultivate other leaders along the way. Change happens when we commit to being transformational leaders,” concluded Dr. Hughes.

Our inaugural cohort of fellows convened this spring in Atlanta, Georgia for their final two-day leadership seminar. They showcased the impact of their action research projects, reaffirmed their commitment to equity-focused leadership, and celebrated the completion of their 14-month journey. Their passion and drive is unparalleled, and demonstrated the immense ability of the Fellowship experience to build and sustain effective principals of color. 

“This space has been protected. We’ve been able to go deep fast because we knew from the beginning that we all belong in the room. And not only that, we’re making an impact.”
Mary Nikoo, Fellow


What makes the Fellowship unique

We know our nation’s schools need well-prepared leaders. High turnover among educators is weakening talent pipelines; at the same time inadequate preparation for the principal role and limited access to ongoing support are contributing to early exits. Here’s how the Fellowship is  reversing those national trends.

Community of support

Engaging with a community of diverse, like-minded leaders from across the country allows fellows to collaborate, problem-solve, and continuously improve alongside peers. In an atmosphere of trust and support, fellows build meaningful relationships and host rich conversations that are key to ongoing learning. Having this network of support as they step into the principal role is also what will sustain them.

“My leadership journey has gone from a ‘me’ story to a ‘we’ story. In schools, I often feel isolated, and I thought about leaving the field for a while. But I realized I shouldn’t have to remove myself from the space to do the work that I want to do in the way I want to do it.”
Dr. Courtney Hill, Fellow

Centered on equity

The Fellowship is uniquely designed by leaders of color, for teachers of color. The program prepares fellows with the content, reflective learning opportunities, and practical skills required to explore, understand and lead with culturally-responsive practice and social justice mindset in their school communities.

“Prior to joining New Leaders, I wasn’t sure that I could do this work or how to make equity more than a buzzword. New leaders gave me the tools to make equity in schools a reality. I’m grateful because I have hope for equity that I didn’t have before.”
Michelle McIntyre, Fellow

Impact in schools, throughout the program

Our job-embedded residency offers fellows opportunities to exercise leadership and apply learning in their current school. Every month, our expert coaches, all current and former principals, provide immediate and actionable feedback to support fellows as they strengthen their capacity to lead and drive positive outcomes.  

As part of their action research, fellows set a student achievement goal and then worked to dismantle an exclusionary practice that could be actively marginalizing students. One fellow developed a scalable system of support for teachers that led to a dramatic increase in learning gains for English Language Learners. Another implemented a data-driven ELA intervention that supported 8th graders in achieving their end-of-year goals. Still another drove proficiency gains in math for high-performing and struggling students alike.  

“So you went to work, you learned how to apply systems thinking and plant seeds of excellence and equity across all facets of a school.”
Dr. Hughes

Looking forward

The two days closed with an informal commencement ceremony, marked by hugs and poignant reflections about the value of the Fellowship community. Fellows overwhelmingly praised one another for providing invaluable support and connection during the program. They also expressed assuredness that they will continue to support and sustain each other as they take their next steps into school leadership and greater student impact. 

“Your cohort is special. It is the first. It is not the last. It is the start of a movement. Do what is yours to do. Stay together. Stay the course. Take action. The complexity comes in the implementation. Take big bold breaths, with love.”
Dr. Brandy Nelson, Keynote Speaker and Academic Director, Reading Reimagined
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