School & District Management

Administrator Seeks Sure Footing as Instructional Leader

By Catherine Gewertz — June 04, 2013 4 min read
Assistant Principal Katie Franklin oversees English/language arts instruction and academic interventions at Stuart-Hobson Middle School.

Katie Franklin
Age 33 | Stuart-Hobson Middle School
Assistant Principal for Interventions

When Katie Franklin began tutoring elementary students in Memphis, Tenn., as an undergraduate in the late 1990s, she was after community-service hours for graduation. But it would shape the direction of her life.

Seeing the stark differences of opportunity among her students was a wake-up call for Ms. Franklin, who was raised in an upper-middle-class white suburb of Chattanooga. As a student at Rhodes College, she immersed herself in history and political theory. Working with disadvantaged children transformed those ideas into a drive to work for social justice. Education would be her route.

“I was drawn to these kids who didn’t have the opportunities, but still had that thirst for learning,” she says. “I saw how they were discarded instead of being worked with. I began to question how much their school was providing for them.”

She embarked on a path that took her, nearly a decade later, to an assistant principalship at Stuart-Hobson Middle School in the District of Columbia, where her supervisory areas include English/language arts and academic interventions.

But first, she took over the tutoring program at that Memphis elementary school when the position became vacant. Doubling its tutoring ranks and seeing what the services could do for children, she set out to obtain teaching experience and a credential.

Rhodes had no education major, so she got her degree in political science and joined the ranks of Teach For America. She taught 3rd grade in New Orleans for two years while working toward her credential through the New Teacher Project, an alternative-route program.

Her early teaching experiences were harrowing. The Houston school that served as her six-week TFA crash course didn’t prepare her for the level of need she found in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. But her second year, she says, she started making connections with her students and seeing them progress.

A summer teaching opportunity with Higher Achievement, a nonprofit that runs year-round academic-enrichment programs for middle school students, led Ms. Franklin to Washington in 2004. She admits she was scared at first to teach young adolescents, thinking they’d be “impossible to work with.” Instead, she was enchanted by their eagerness to become interesting, responsible adults.

“They blew my mind,” she says.

That response, combined with a culture at Higher Achievement that she describes as a perfect fit—high expectations paired with strong learning supports for children—led her to begin to see herself in a school leadership role.

In the next four years, she directed one of Higher Achievement’s neighborhood centers, and then rose to supervise all its academic programming, reaching 500 students in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. In that role, she trained, observed, and supported teachers, with a special eye toward the role culture plays in student learning.

Ms. Franklin spent the 2008-09 school year at Harvard University earning a master’s degree in school leadership. With its emphasis on leading an urban school through instructional improvement, the program offered the right kind of preparation for the career she knew by then that she wanted: as an administrator or teacher-leader for District of Columbia students.

Keenly aware that charter schools were siphoning student and teacher talent away from the regular schools, Ms. Franklin positioned herself as a staunch advocate for the noncharter sector.

Michelle A. Rhee had become the chancellor of schools, and for all the controversy she created, Ms. Franklin saw the shifting sands as an opportunity to serve and further clarify what role in education would best fit her.

She was drawn to a new district initiative called Full Service Schools, which provides enhanced behavioral, social, and academic supports for 11 of its 13 middle schools. She knew Brandon Eatman, the veteran principal of the Capitol Hill Cluster schools—which include Stuart-Hobson—from her days at Higher Achievement. Interviewing with him led to the job in 2009 that she still holds: assistant principal of academic interventions, a position created by the Full Service Schools initiative.

Once again, it was trial by fire, she says, as she and another new assistant principal replaced the longtime assistant principal. Veteran teachers resented the new administrators’ ideas. Within two years, Mr. Eatman changed schools, and a new principal, Dawn Clemens, left her charter school job to replace him. Additional staff departures followed as the school adapted to new leadership.

The upheaval of the past four years has been Ms. Franklin’s tutor; she is learning how to manage through change, and to enlist her staff in the work. Since Ms. Clemens oversees three schools, Ms. Franklin and the other assistant principal, Tonya Harris, carry a big share of their principal’s work, juggling meetings, teacher observations and feedback, data analysis, and crisis management.

Through the day-to-day work, Ms. Franklin’s belief in the power of schools—and her school—to change children’s lives is unshaken.

“If schools can operate in a way that values the potential of every student,” she says, “we can break the cycle of poverty.”

Coverage of the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the common assessments is supported in part by a grant from the GE Foundation, at www.ge.com/foundation. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the June 05, 2013 edition of Education Week as Katie Franklin

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