Dallas ISD builds “grow-your-own” principal pipeline to ensure best-fit leaders at every school

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Amber Shields has a unique perspective as principal of N.W. Harllee Early Childhood Center: it’s where she attended elementary school.

“Harllee is like home to me, and it’s a privilege to lead such a tremendous school,” Shields said.

Shields, who previously served as an assistant principal at Soto Elementary, is one the district’s 20 principals starting their first year leading a campus. Of those 20 first-year principals, 19 are homegrown candidates such as Shields who previously worked in Dallas ISD schools.

Growing LEADers

Dallas ISD last school year launched the Leader Excellence, Advancement and Development (LEAD) Department–with a first task of revising the principal hiring process–to ensure the highest-quality leaders and best-fit principal candidates for all schools are identified and selected. LEAD focuses on four key areas: attracting talented, diverse candidates who could become high-quality principal candidates; growing leaders at all levels into strong principal candidates; providing exceptional professional development for campus leaders; and identifying strategies to retain top-tier principals.

“More than ever before, I feel I have an accurate idea of who our candidates are and the strengths they bring to the position,” said Dallas ISD Executive Director Reyna Sotelo, who assessed Shields throughout the her hiring process as the Harllee principal. “Not only does this mean we are better at placing the right candidates in the right schools, but I know where our coaching needs to begin as soon as a principalship begins.”

The Dallas ISD LEAD Department launched the 2020–2021 Principal Candidate Pool on Aug. 29 for internal candidates. Those who are selected for the pool will be invited to attend a series of leadership seminars and on-site observations. Later this school year, only candidates from the internal and external Principal Candidate Pools will be eligible for hire as a principal.

“Second to teachers, principals have the greatest impact on student achievement,” Dallas ISD LEAD Executive Director Menay Harris said.  “Dallas ISD is intently focused on identifying, selecting and supporting top-tier, best-fit principals at every district school. Our students and families deserve nothing less.”

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