Reflections on the New Leaders Alumni Community
May 31, 2019
Dear New Leaders,
Recently, I had the privilege of coming together with more than 100 members of the New Leaders alumni community to participate in a day of learning and leadership here in Chicago. The event—Transformational Leadership in the Age of Common Core—kicked off the New Leaders Alumni Series, with many more opportunities to come for us to connect with each other and our mission.
In anticipation of the event, I found myself reflecting on the invigorating and sometimes exhausting experience of being a New Leader these past 14 years. The many poignant highs of working with joy on behalf of children. The fewer lows, some truly devastating, that come with committing yourself to serving promising students who face so many obstacles outside our school walls. And the community of like-minded leaders who have supported me through it all, and to whom I hope I have also been source of comfort and support. I couldn’t wait to get together again.
When I walked into Walter H. Dyett High School for the Arts, I was overwhelmed by the energy in the room and over the moon to see so many familiar faces. It was thrilling and humbling to find myself, once again, surrounded by such dedicated, impressive leaders.
Our host, Cohort 9 New Leader Beulah McLoyd, opened the event with a bang. She has created a supportive, inclusive school community based on a genuine care for students and a deep commitment to their academic and personal success. The young adults at Dyett are thriving. In her remarks, Principal McLoyd pointed out how common her journey and students’ success is amongst our network: “I mean, we are all New Leaders, right?”
We are New Leaders. We are bound by our shared commitment to the mission that first brought us together, and it is our passion, our relentless drive, that has enabled us to transform our school communities in cities across the country. Though my connection to New Leaders has shifted over the years, I truly believe our commitment and connection to each other will help us sustain those improvements, and ourselves, over time.
Let’s be honest: those same qualities that make us such a force means we aren’t always the most popular people in the room. We work with urgency. We push ourselves and our colleagues into sometimes uncomfortable places so we can do right by kids. We accept nothing less than excellence for students—all students—and we never lower that high bar. This can be challenging for others and a drain on ourselves.
Yet we also listen. We coach. We problem-solve. We build bridges and relationships, with students, teachers, families, and community partners. We approach our work with a sense of possibility and humility. We seek out opportunities to learn because we are always growing, and the teachers and students we support deserve nothing less than our best. We are leaders, and we cultivate leadership in others.
The badge of New Leader is one I have always worn with pride. This year, I am even prouder to be a mentor principal to an impressive New Leader resident, Christine Hurley, who has become a true partner to me in our work at Ambrose Plamondon Elementary School. The job is demanding and it can be isolating. With Christine at my side, I feel like I’ve really found my rhythm, balancing work and home life while making a real difference for the 140 scholars we support.
Through our partnership this year, I have also reconnected with New Leaders and the diverse, vibrant alumni network. The Alumni Series has made that connection even stronger. During the afternoon breakout session on efficacy, I was thrilled to see my cohort-mate Chandra Byrd-Wright. Residents today have “journey partners;” though we didn’t have that formal structure in place back in 2005, Chandra was my journey partner. At one point during the session, we were asked who we felt to be the most competent and impactful role models in our lives. My answer? “Chandra.” She turned to me, surprised, and said: “I never knew you felt this way about me. That’s exactly how I feel about you.” It was an emotional moment where we got to be vulnerable about ourselves and our journey—and such a departure from the rock we need be as leaders in our schools each day. I needed that moment.
That vulnerability and honesty was on full display earlier in the day during a discussion New Leaders CEO Jean Desravines led with former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who spoke with candor about the challenges we face, the mistakes he’s made, and the incredibly hard work it will take for us to dismantle the inequities we see all around us. Yet my impression of Secretary Duncan is that he is filled with determination and hope.
I, too, left the event with a renewed sense of optimism about the challenges we face. I also left with a stronger commitment to engaging with our community, here in Chicago and across the country, on a more regular basis. I feel like a den mother to the newer cohorts of New Leaders and I don’t want that feeling to go away.
I also left the event re-energized about our collective impact, both what we have achieved together and what is possible for us to accomplish for children in the future. That flame that was lit by my first interaction with New Leaders—watching and learning with Jarvis Sanford during his residency all those years ago and then becoming a resident myself—has been rekindled. I feel on fire.
It is my sincere hope that this inaugural Alumni Series event is a catalyst for other engagement opportunities across the country. As New Leaders expands alumni programming and resources in the months and years ahead, I encourage you to get involved in local opportunities already happening in your community and to reach out to the team to share your hopes and desires for what this work can and should look like moving forward. If you haven’t already completed it, the New Leaders alumni survey is a great way to offer your ideas; it takes 15 minutes to get through, but the payoff will be worth it. (If you didn’t receive an email with your personalized survey link, please reply to this note and the team will get you set up.)
And if you haven’t reached out to your fellow New Leaders in a while, send a text. Hop on the phone. Get together for happy hour. If you’re like me, it might be the most restorative thing you’ve done for yourself in a long, long while.
Dr. Althea M. Hammond
Principal, Ambrose Plamondon Elementary School
Cohort 5 New Leader