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Delaware Leadership Project: On the job training for prospective principals

Whether he’s observing student behavior or seeking out a teacher to ask about some missing paperwork, Reshid Walker strides through the halls of Cape Henlopen High School with a sense of purpose. With every step, he’s learning.

Follow DLP Participant Reshid Walker through the halls of his assignment at Cape Henlopen High School in Lewes, Delaware.

Follow DLP Participant Reshid Walker through the halls of his assignment at Cape Henlopen High School in Lewes, Delaware.

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Delaware Leadership Project: On the job training for prospective principals

One of his first lessons came from Brian Donahue, the Cape principal who is serving as his mentor. “If you stand in the right spot in the rotunda,” Walker says, “it’s pretty easy to monitor what’s going on in all three hallways at one time.”

He has also learned a lot about building relationships. “You need a good relationship with the secretary, the custodian and the union representative,” he says. “Secretaries know everything that is going on.”

Through four days a week of on-the-job training, Walker, 38, is learning how to be a principal. It’s not the traditional training, taking courses in education administration at a college or university.

Walker is a member of the first cohort of the Delaware Leadership Project (DLP), an alternate certification program that this year is preparing six candidates to work as principals or assistant principals at public schools serving high-risk students in Delaware.

A local replication of the successful New York City Leadership Academy, DLP begins with an intensive five-week summer orientation program, followed by a one-year residency. Prospective principals work under a mentoring principal for four days a week, with the fifth day devoted to seminars and workshops on school management. Successful participants must commit to work in a high-risk school for three years; during the first two years, DLP will provide coaching support from an experienced principal. The Delaware program is managed by Innovative Schools Inc., a nonprofit public school support organization based in Wilmington.

The Delaware
Leadership Project


Delaware Leadership Project: On the job training for prospective principals

Checking in with DLP interns

DLP interns and their thoughts on the program and their experiences.

Background on the DLP

Additional details about the DLP, an alternate route to certification as a school principal.

“The program has far exceeded my expectations,” Walker said. “I’m a totally different person from what I was a year ago. In terms of my ability to deal with staff, with challenging parents, with [teacher] evaluations, this program has really given me tremendous skills.”

“This is a great opportunity for young administrators coming into principalships and administrative positions. It’s probably the best I’ve been around,” Donahue said.

Walker, who grew up in New York City, took an indirect route into education and then into school administration. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in management information systems and worked several Fortune 500 companies before being laid off in the late 1990s dot-com bust. He started teaching and coaching high school football in the Bronx, went back to college to earn education credits, then got an administrative job in the New York City schools before moving to Dover in 2005 and taking a job in the Capital School District.

Although he earned traditional administrative certifications while studying for a doctorate in education at Wilmington University, Walker decided last year to apply for DLP.

“There’s research that suggests there’s a tremendous benefit in experiential learning — learning on the job and applying what you learn in a real world context,” he said. “I thought this program would add more depth to my personal experience than [studying in] a traditional setting.”

After completing DLP’s summer program, Walker started the current school year at H.O. Brittingham Elementary School. In January, he moved to Cape Henlopen High School, where he carries the unwieldy title of “interim acting assistant principal.”

“He’s not official administrator, but he does everything an administrator does,” Donahue said. “He’s fully integrated into all our major initiatives.”

Each day is different, Walker said, but he typically starts off meeting with Donahue and the other assistant principals and ends the day debriefing with Donahue over what went right during the day and what didn’t go as well. In between, he monitors hallways between classes, oversees lunch periods in the cafeteria, observes teachers as part of the evaluation process, handles discipline problems, deals with parents, participates in regular discussions of best practices with teachers, and learns what he can from Donahue about all the other nuances of school management. Sometimes, he’s back at the school in the evening or on weekends, for sporting events, music programs or award ceremonies.

“Officially, I’m here from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. But I understand as an administrator that they may or may not be my actual hours. You need to do whatever is necessary. You may have to stay until 5 or 6,” he said.

As an intern, Walker walks a fine line. He looks, talks and acts like an assistant principal, but officially he isn’t. He observes teachers in the classroom and writes up their evaluations, but this work is done in collaboration with a full-time administrator, who gets the final say and signs the paperwork.

When he began his assignments, he said, “I was described as a principal-in-residence who would serve in an administrative capacity. The rest was up to me and how I presented myself.”

That meant, he said, acting with professionalism, and steadily building relationships with faculty members and other school personnel.

As for the students — well, they’re going to challenge anyone new to the building, especially in a high school, regardless of whether he’s an intern or a permanent administrator.

“They’re trying to determine if you say what you mean, if you mean what you say. They look for inconsistencies, so they can say you don’t mean what you’re saying. But I’ve remained consistent. I smile at the students even if the situation means that I have to be a little firm with them, but I still treat them with respect, I show them that I care,” he said.

Day by day, dealing with different school constituencies, Walker has learned to polish his relationship-building skills. “I try to be slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to respond, because it’s all about getting to the root cause of why somebody feels the way they feel,” he said.

The weekly training sessions with his fellow principals-to-be cover topics like professional development, data analysis, student testing, teacher evaluations, problem-solving and other educational research topics. He leaves the sessions with ideas that he can use right away. “I bring ideas and information back to my building, so I can share it with my team at the high school,” he said.

Some of his most important lessons, Walker said, have come from watching how Donahue solves problems. “There have been some issues at the high school this year, and it’s refreshing that no matter what happens in the building, to see how Mr. Donahue has been able to remain calm and speak to the issues, deal with the issues and bring people together,” he said.

While Walker learns from Donahue, the principal is impressed with his intern’s performance. “He’s doing a great job,” Donahue said. “I’ve seen tremendous growth. The biggest thing is his confidence.”

As the school year moves into the fourth quarter, Walker expresses some of that quiet confidence. He is convinced he is ready to become a principal, to step into a high-risk school and guide it to improved performance.

“Only time will judge the efficacy of this program,” he said. “But I’d like to have this conversation next year, or three years from now, and answer the question: Have we in fact turned the schools around?”