Investing in our own

What job candidate wouldn’t want the chance to work alongside a mentor, getting hands-on practice while observing an experienced person in the role? That is the opportunity given Sunset High School Principal Resident Jacob Nunez and six of his colleagues, who are the first to participate in Dallas ISD’s one-year principal residency program.

“The residency is an opportunity for in-the-moment professional development, to grow and learn,” says Nunez. He joined Dallas ISD as a world history teacher in 2005 and has been an assistant principal at W.E. Greiner Middle School, where he helped in achieving an Exemplary rating; Dr. Wright E. Lassiter Jr. Early College, which won National Blue Ribbon status during his tenure; Skyline High School, where he was on a team that moved the school out of Improvement Required status; and Justin F. Kimball High school, from which he was selected for the residency.

Sunset High School Principal Jesus Martinez, his mentor, sees the value of the residency as giving a potential principal access to the inner workings of the actual job.

“It is a program that benefits potential candidates by giving them valid and real ‘at-bats’ for doing the job and getting used to the different aspects of the job that aren’t always learned about as an assistant principal or in graduate programs,” he said.

The duo has tackled many challenges together. For a while, the principal said, “we were homeless because the school was under construction, so we were working out of Adamson High School and then Pinkston. Nunez came in during my first year as principal here, in the midst of a construction project, so he’s gotten a real crash course in some of the things that can happen, even getting a chance to see the bond construction process up close. Sooner or later, he’ll be a part of that process when he becomes a principal.”

Martha Bujanda, director of the residency program and of new leader development, said the program is “an incredible opportunity to learn the work, to learn as you go, with your mentor principal at your side guiding you through the process of what it is to be a principal and the many different aspects that entails.

“We’re giving them the experiences in the safe space of learning. That’s the power of it,” said Bujanda, who was a principal herself for nine years in Dallas ISD. “If I’d had the opportunity of actually shadowing a principal before I became one, learning at their side instead of learning on the job, I would have had a better understanding of how to address all the situations that arise after you become principal of a school.”

The residents meet at Dallas ISD’s central office once a month as a full cohort to learn and deliver content. “We give them observational feedback,” said Bujanda. “We’ll practice here, and then they’ll go and practice that in their schools. We’re providing a framework around values-based leadership—we do a lot of internal adaptive work on being able to perceive and apply feedback in order to grow.”

Martinez believes the residency program will give Dallas ISD an advantage over other districts because, “our principal candidates will enter into the principalship better prepared and ready for the challenges that come with being a first-year principal.”

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