Being a school principal is not new to Dontae Wilson. The former high school science teacher became principal at Robert B. Pollock Elementary School in Northeast Philadelphia in the 2013-14 school year. However, as Dontae will tell you, it wasn’t until he went through the National Principals Academy Fellowship (NPAF) in 2016 that he truly became a school leader.
Offered through the Relay Graduate School of Education, NPAF is a one-year program that prepares current or aspiring principals to become instructional and cultural leaders—not merely building managers. PSP brought NPAF to Philadelphia in 2013, and in a short time, the program has had a major impact. Of NPAF’s 73 alumni from the first four cohorts (2013-2016), 85% are still in leadership roles in Philadelphia schools—29 are principals.
Participants begin NPAF over the summer with an intense, two-week professional development boot camp. For Dontae, that experience resulted in a lot of self-reflection and also motivation.
"After going through NPAF boot camp, I realized that to become a high-quality school leader, I had to make many changes to the educational culture in my school,” Dontae says.
Reinvigorated and fresh with ideas to help his teachers and students improve, Dontae convened his staff before the start of the 2016-17 school year and explained how they were going to implement the NPAF practices. While this was a big undertaking, fortunately Dontae’s assistant principal, Lakisha Baxter—who also went through a leadership program at Relay—was there to help implement the educational shifts. Their plan started with a few NPAF practices that would foster more positive connections between students, teachers, and the school leadership. First, Dontae and his staff began greeting every student as they walked into the building at the beginning of each school day. “By talking to the students as they arrive, we could address any issues they were experiencing outside school, so they could go into the classroom ready to learn,” Dontae says. The second shift came in the form of reimagining teacher professional development meetings, so that they were thoughtful and substantive. During these new meetings, teachers across the school were able to collaborate on identifying gaps in their lessons, and were challenged to use data and instructional prompts to improve their instructional practices.
Within that year, student performance began to improve. The year before Dontae enrolled in NPAF, 42% of Pollock students scored at or above proficiency in reading and 21% in math on the PSSA exams. In 2016-17, post NPAF, Pollock students scored 51% in reading and 31% in math.
“The steps we took to implement NPAF practices definitely contributed to the progress we made,” Dontae says. “We plan to incorporate more of NPAF’s practices in the years to come.”