We Are New Leaders
We prepare education leaders to deliver breakthrough results in America's highest-need schools and advocate for policies that enable great leaders — and their students — to thrive.
Leadership Changes Everything
Selena Ozuna | Arlington, TX
EMERGING LEADERS, 2014-15
At Bud Remynse Elementary, where half the students are English learners, first-year principal Ozuna has put student leadership at the center. “We want our kids to know that if they take ownership and put in the effort, they can achieve the very best.” In classrooms, teachers help students understand their strengths and weaknesses, guiding them to set ambitious but achievable learning goals. Ozuna is doing the same with teachers, delving into data and helping them to advance student success. “Before we can do anything, the kids need to believe in themselves. We turn students into ‘superleaders’ who are always striving for better.”
“Our students crave opportunities to do their best, and we’ve created systems to build on that. On our campus, we are all ready to learn.”
Rodney Rowan | Memphis, TN
ASPIRING PRINCIPALS, 2011-12
When Rodney Rowan took the helm of Cherokee Elementary in 2012, it was a chronically low-performing school that struggled to attract talented teachers. Rowan focused on hiring educators who believed deeply that all children could excel and who were willing to learn. He knew that if he “coached those teachers up,” they could succeed. “Every teacher may not be great right off the bat, but if they have the right mindset, there is nothing we can’t accomplish together.” Today, 70 percent of Cherokee teachers are rated as highly effective, and student achievement has soared. Based on that success, the district recently tapped Rowan to start up another new school in Memphis’ “Innovation Zone.”
“The best way to empower teachers is to support them in instruction. When teachers start experiencing success and when students start experiencing success, it changes everything.”
ABDULLAH ZAKI | Washington, DC
ASPIRING PRINCIPALS, 2004-05
When Abdullah Zaki arrived to lead Kelly Miller Middle School in 2010, five principals had come and gone in as many years. “The perception was that the school was kept open so neighborhood kids had somewhere to go, but there was no hope for a decent education.” Zaki first focused on containing chaos, requiring supervision in the halls and setting clear consequences for poor behavior. He then brought order to instruction, introducing an aligned curriculum, common assessments, tutoring for struggling students, and accelerated classes for advanced ones. By 2014, suspensions and truancy had plummeted, achievement had soared, and Zaki had been named DC Public Schools’ Principal of the Year. Today, he applies that passion for student success as Principal of Paul Laurence Dunbar High School.
“When you step into a school with a challenging culture, change doesn’t happen all at once. But being in a position to turn kids’ lives around is some of the most important work there is.”
SONDRA DAVIS | Chicago, IL
EMERGING LEADERS, 2014-15
When Sondra Davis took over leadership of her school’s fifth- and sixth-grade English teams at Owen Elementary Scholastic Academy, instruction was uneven and so was the belief that students could do better. Davis knew she had to nurture a shared culture of high expectations while also supporting teachers to meet them. She helped team members develop targeted intervention plans and cultivated a sense of accountability among students too. “When students took ownership of their learning, the teachers got excited.” By year’s end, teachers were conducting peer observations and data analysis independently, and English proficiency had skyrocketed. Owen’s principal was so thrilled that she asked Davis to mentor all new teachers at the school.
“I saw the importance of setting a vision and fostering teachers’ personal accountability for following through. You have to let go of the reins, because you won’t always be there.”
KATHERINE ACOSTA-VEPRAUSKUS | RICHMOND, CA
ASPIRING PRINCIPALS, 2012-13
EMERGING LEADERS, 2011-12
When Katherine Acosta-Verprauskus became principal of Montalvin Manor Elementary School, where 53 percent of students are English learners, she was the only staff member who spoke Spanish, and campus signs warned: “No Parents Allowed.” She tore down the signs, translated during meetings, and established new programs for families, including “Parent University” to foster understanding of their children’s academic needs: “It raises the stakes for teachers when parents ask specific questions about their child’s progress.” By engaging families in this way, Acosta-Verprauskus conveyed that she wants for their children the same thing she received as a young immigrant from Peru: the academic preparation and emotional support to complete college and pursue their dreams.
“Building trust with families is essential. Forging those connections shifts student thinking and creates the opportunity for us to dramatically change their futures.”
KARISA DESANTIS | Newark, NJ
EMERGING LEADERS, 2014-15
Karisa DeSantis has a gift for helping the most-challenged students to learn. When she noticed a teacher muttering, “they’re never going to get it,” she addressed it directly and immediately: “Do you want to be the negative teacher or the one with a plan?” She brought those high expectations to her role as the sixth-grade team lead at First Avenue School, setting up data systems and implementing peer coaching to strengthen instruction and help students meet ambitious reading goals. The result: sixth graders outperformed their Newark peers on state English language arts exams. Today, DeSantis is assistant principal at Raphael Hernandez School of Performing Arts, where she is taking steps to foster collaboration and peer coaching among teachers.
“Leadership is developing and empowering others. It’s about allowing them to take ownership, see it work, and build the confidence that they’re capable.”
JOE MANKO | Baltimore, MD
ASPIRING PRINCIPALS, 2009-10
When Baltimore closed schools after protests swept the city in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death, Principal Joe Manko sprang into action. Together with teachers, he created a safe place for students by opening the recreation center adjacent to Liberty Elementary. “Academic achievement is central, but our impact goes much further than a data point.” The recreation center is a testimony to this mindset. Manko brokered a deal to take it over from the city in 2012. Today, relying entirely on volunteers, it offers everything from afterschool enrichment and STEM programs to “Baby University” for new parents. “We are successful because we have harnessed the power of the community.”
“Leadership is about inspiring people to work together to do something that is greater than themselves.”
Rashad Meade | Brooklyn, NY
ASPIRING PRINCIPALS, 2007-08
As founding principal of Eagle Academy in Brooklyn, Rashad Meade considers himself a father figure to his students. When the school opened in 2008, nearly a third of entering sixth graders were homeless, and just 17 percent read at grade level. Aided by two New Leader assistant principals and a staff that includes 40 African-American men, Meade developed a new curriculum for his school because “there was no existing curriculum that really got black boys from a point of struggle to a point of success.” Meade also set out to meet his students’ needs outside the classroom, visiting students’ homes to support parents who struggled to get their children to class. The result: in 2015, 95 percent of Eagle’s original sixth graders graduated on time, and 86 percent went on to college.
“We have an unconditional commitment to our boys. I’m never going to waver in my belief that they’ll be successful and that I’ll see them fulfill our expectations.”