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Posted in , on June 4, 2024

ASPIRE develops school leaders

The 2023-2024 school year is over. The classrooms are empty, the hallways are quiet and graduation parties have been in full swing.

But before the school year ended, Arlington ISD celebrated the tireless work of the principals, assistant principals and school leaders this year.

Its ASPIRE program recently recognized dozens of its teacher leaders, school administrators and central office leaders during its “Leadership Honors” banquet at the Bob Duncan Center in Arlington. Inside a ballroom decked with beaming blue and gold lights and chic decorations, the event highlighted the work of participants of a program conducted by the Office of School Leadership.

ASPIRE HonorsThe department is responsible for the management, direction, supervision and evaluation of schools and school principals in Arlington ISD.

It also ensures that adequate resources, support and accountability are provided to campus leadership teams in an effort to realize district student achievement targets.

While addressing the crowd, coordinator of leadership development Jennifer Fuller said APIRE’s mission is to “create, refine, and sustain exceptional leadership development programs for teacher, school and central officer leaders in order to positively impact students’ learning and well-being.”

“Just as gold antique picture frames preserve and showcase cherished memories, our leadership programs serve as the framework for our participants’ growth and success,” Fuller said, referring to the frame image on the event’s glossy program book.

Besides fruit, strawberry shortcake, key lime pie and apple crisp crumble, the educators were treated to humor from the event’s emcee, Micah Green – Arlington ISD’s fine arts coordinator of theatre and dance.ASPIRE Honors

Before diving into the field of education, Green was a professional actor who performed in Broadway shows and musicals all over the country. He also sang with various symphonies and had a stint sailing the high seas with Disney Cruise Lines. So, it wasn’t hard for Green to keep the busy educators entertained.

Shortly after getting on the mic, Green reminded the educators of how the school year was quickly coming to an end.

“But who’s counting, right?” Green joked.

Making connections

During the event, Green called out the names of the celebrated individuals who spent countless hours learning to enhance their educational leadership skills. The different programs were the following: National Board Candidates, District Lead Teachers; ASPIRE Leadership Academy and Principal Residency; Microbadging Project Prodigy; Cahn Fellows and Allies; Learning Facilitators; Administrators in Mentorship (AIM) and Lead Principals. Each program had different expectations and lengths.

Regardless of their program, the participants were encouraged to network with one another. At the start of the banquet, they were asked to reflect on their proudest moment in leadership this year, as well as one piece of advice they wish they had received at the beginning of their leadership journey. And then they shared their responses with someone before switching partners.

The question “What do you listen to on your way to work each morning that motivates you?” led to a candid reaction from the attendees. While pairing up, Monica Leal, an instructional coach for Rankin Elementary School, shared how she jams out to music by Elvis Presley with Ginger Cole-Leffel, Arlington ISD’s director of professional development. Cole-Leffel loudly stated that Leal’s answer challenged her to give up her “boring” and “serious” podcasts.ASPIRE Honors

“So, it’ll be Elvis Presley tomorrow!” Cole-Leffel said, drawing a roar of laughter.

Introduced by Green as the “one, the only Dr. Matt Smith,” Arlington ISD’s superintendent offered some inspiring words. Having stepped into the position in January, Smith said he could relate to their journeys, reminding the educators that they don’t have to be perfect. He also applauded their commitment to growing as leaders.

“At the heart of it all, we have people in this room who are dedicated to improving. Why? Because our kids deserve it,” Smith told the attentive audience. He added that Arlington ISD needs leaders who are not afraid to “do what is right for our students.”

“Public education, as you know, is at a very interesting crossroads. And there are a lot of opinions throughout the state and the nation about public education,” Smith said. “But my answer to that is, ‘Watch what our leaders do.’ By taking bold steps forward for the sake of every student in our system, we’re going to make sure that that public trust comes back, and it comes back to Arlington ISD.”

Providing guidance

Dr. Stepanie Lee already leads 12 schools in her role as executive director of strategic support network (SSN). However, she was thrilled to attend the banquet as a participant of microbadging – a yearlong program that involves professional learning, application and coaching. ASPIRE is a key component for the educators’ success as leaders, she said.

ASPIRE Honors“I think it is a critical step in their leadership journey to be able to be poured into by a department that is just focused on developing leaders,” Lee said. “It also gives them an opportunity to apply what they are learning in their current role. No matter what that role is, from teacher all the way up to executive director.”

Lorena Carlton, an instructional coach at Bryant Elementary School who is aspiring to become a principal, was invited onstage to share how ASPIRE has boosted her communication skills when addressing her fellow educators, students and parents.

“I learned to adjust my language, tone and content to resonate with each group … The sea of accountability has helped me to inspire, collaborate and connect with others on a deeper level,” Carlton said.

Katina Martinez, principal of Patrick Elementary School, thoroughly enjoyed the festivities. A lead principal for the past four years, she has mentored 14 individuals, which she said involves giving them hands-on, learning experiences.

“I think (ASPIRE) is critical because everything that we try to do is job-embedded. We want to make sure that it is very practical. That they see the real experience of what principals go through, so it is not sugar-coated,” Martinez said.

Sometimes, Martinez said, this means having tough talks.

“I’m there as their thought partner,” she said. “I coach them. I give feedback. Sometimes, I have to have real conversations with them as they are aspiring into that next role.”

Martinez, a 25-year educator and 14-year principal, said she tells them, “You gotta make sure you maintain that level of professionalism, follow-through. Because campuses are going to be depending on you.”

Outside of her everyday principal responsibilities, Martinez has to work extra hours to prepare for her time spent with those she mentors. But she said, “The work is really worth it when you see them go into their principalship.”

 “Because I’m not going to be here forever, I want to build capacity in future leaders to know that whatever our vision is, as a district, it’s going to sustain itself,” Martinez said. “And that they can go, take that and apply it at a campus.”

 “And you can still then be there for them,” she added. “Because even though they are not your mentees anymore, they are always your mentees.”