Step By Step: I Am Ready to Be a School Principal Now

The path to school leadership is always unique. Discover why one New Leaders alum is excited to step into the principal role for next school year.
new leaders education leadership development alumni feature Kristin Engnew leaders education leadership development alumni feature Kristin Eng
Blog date
5/16/23
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“I am ready to be a school principal,” reflects New Leaders alum Kristin Eng. Eng, who serves as an assistant principal in the Distinctive Schools network, is excited and honored to step into the principal role at CICS-West Belden this May for next school year. The mother of two daughters, Eng adds, “This is the right time, professionally and personally. My daughters are older. I have great administrative support. It’s time for me to fulfill my dreams too.”

Her new school community in Chicago’s Belmont-Cragin neighborhood serves many first-generation Hispanic families and students who are English Language Learners (ELLs). This is an experience Eng knows firsthand and a driving reason for why she is stepping into leadership. “My parents immigrated here from the Philippines. As a child of immigrant parents, it’s really hard to have experiences that can launch you to be successful in life. I have been so blessed because I had a great education. As a principal, I want to make sure that we provide that for every child in our community.”

“My parents immigrated here from the Philippines. As a child of immigrant parents, it’s really hard to have experiences that can launch you to be successful in life. I have been so blessed because I had a great education. As a principal, I want to make sure that we provide that for every child in our community.”

Eng’s journey from the classroom to the principal seat has been one step at a time. Like many school leaders, when she first started teaching, she never imagined herself as a principal. She loved being in the classroom. But her principal and assistant principals at the time, also New Leaders alumni, kept encouraging her to consider more leadership opportunities. Despite these “shoulder taps”—when another leader sees your potential—Eng repeatedly declined. Until one day, she was ready.

Eng took the first step into leadership by pursuing professional development. She completed the New Leaders Emerging Leaders program, and then a year later, our Aspiring Principals program—now the National Aspiring Principals Fellowship. From there, she accepted her first assistant principal role only to have her position eliminated mid-year due to budget cuts. “It was tough,” she adds, “but it also gave me an opportunity to really figure out what I wanted to do.”

Her next step was to become an instructional coach with an educational nonprofit focused on personalized learning. Over the next three years, she coached in more than 20 Chicago public schools. She worked with teachers in professional development. She coached principals and assistant principals on their strategic plans. And she worked hard to ensure that the learning gains she witnessed in classrooms and across schools would continue to grow. 

“Fast forward to 2020, I decided I wanted to go back into the school community. I missed it. Working with all those assistant principals and principals, I realized that I wanted to do that for myself.”

Working in a variety of schools gave her valuable perspective and insight. In time, Eng realized she was ready to take yet another next step. “Fast forward to 2020, I decided I wanted to go back into the school community. I missed it. Working with all those assistant principals and principals, I realized that I wanted to do that for myself.” When an assistant principal role opened up at CICS Bucktown, one of the schools where she supported personalized learning, she was hired immediately. 

Being an assistant principal at the start of the pandemic was not easy, Eng admits, but the support system from Distinctive Schools carried her through and reaffirmed the importance of centering on culture. From dedicated time to collaborate with other network assistant principals to family-friendly policies to daily onsite visits and feedback from network leaders, the support was “always alongside you and never top-down.” (Learn more about her advice for new assistant principals in this EdWeek article.)

Now, as Eng looks ahead to being a new principal, she is focused on doing the hard work and also bringing joy to her work. Here is what she is prioritizing:

1. Observe first

“I learned from New Leaders that the biggest thing for me to do is to observe, to watch and to listen. I want to understand the community. I want to talk with the teachers. I want to honor the values, traditions, and systems that my new school is built on. And, then I want to deepen them.”

2. Humanize our work

“Culture is so important to me, and I value relationships. I really want to humanize our work together as a school community. It’s okay to have that human side. We’re going to make mistakes. We’re not going to have all the answers, but we can do this together. That’s the kind of message I want to send. I need everyone’s buy-in.”

3. Bring joy to your work

“Yes, being an administrator is hard work and I need to concentrate on important things like budgets and staffing, but I should be able to enjoy my work too. Being an educator in general right now is hard too. When you don’t have that joy, it takes a spark away from the work that you do.”

Eng's advice to leaders right now

“Go back to your why and always find joy in your work. For me, education was always the key to the future. I want to make sure that no matter their background, children have experiences at school that will launch them into what they want for their future.”

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Kristin Eng

Kristin Eng

Kristin Eng is the new principal at Chicago International Charter School (CICS)-West Belden. She has over ten years of experience in teaching and leading in urban settings. A New Leaders alum, she served as an assistant principal at CICS Bucktown before moving into this new principal role. 

Kristin Eng

Kristin Eng

Kristin Eng

Kristin Eng

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