Partnership Teacher Leadership

Building Pathways: The School District of University City Embraces Distributed Leadership

The School District of University City has taken a big leap in developing the next generation of transformational school leaders. Last summer, it named Jessica Hawkins and Deitra Colquitt co-principals of Pershing Elementary School. Both served as Teacher Instructional Leaders prior to their advancement. They credit the Transformational Leadership Initiative, a multi-year effort designed to transform and improve schools, and managed by the Institute for School Partnership (ISP) at Washington University in St. Louis, with honing their leadership skills.

“TLI helped us think differently about leadership and exposed us to the spectrum of leadership. That leadership isn’t necessarily one person carrying the load the way the principalship was before,” Hawkins said. “It’s a collaborative and shared process. Having opportunities to think differently opened the window for our creativity. 

Principals don’t have to be the superheroes anymore,” added Colquitt. “They can lean into others’ expertise.”

Both are grateful to University City Superintendent Sharonica Hardin-Bartley for embracing the vision of distributed leadership and seizing the opportunity to reimagine the principalship position with both of them.

ISP executive director Victoria L. May said real transformation involves challenging the status quo in order to drive organizational change. 

“The School District of University City has embraced distributed leadership and brought people together to collectively make a difference. The result has been creating stronger schools,” May said.

An integral strategy used by Colquitt and Hawkins to lead Pershing through the changes imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, was keeping equity, and new and diverse voices at the center of their forward planning processes.

Hawkins said that “buy-in” from the school community has been essential to transforming school culture, systems and processes. All the stakeholders had to take ownership and feel as if their contributions were leading the change together.

“We want Pershing to be a community hub where all voices are important and valued. The driver for that was to focus on equity. We’ve looked at systems and structures, and we’ve expanded our building leadership team to have more voices. We’ve included all staff members, not just teachers, in our committee work,” Hawkins said.

Media Contact: Myra Lopez