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Equity at the Core of Westcott Resident Principal’s Approach to Leadership

14 December 2022

Ms. Payton wants all students to know they are valued and have adults at their school they can depend on. 

Ms. Payton

How can you tell if you are going to have a successful school year? It often depends on building relationships with your colleagues and the students. For Mrs. Keyonna Payton, that process was easy since she says she gelled with Principal Monique Dockery and Assistant Principal Terriyaka Watson immediately. 

She’s supporting Principal Dockery and AP Watson at Westcott Elementary on Chicago’s South Side this year as a resident principal through the New Leaders program within the Chicago Leadership Collaborative. Thus, not only is she contributing to the Westcott community and inspiring Westcott’s students, she’s learning the ins and outs of school leadership from Principal Dockery, a veteran CPS principal. 

“I’ve learned so much from Principal Dockery so far, but what stands out is her distributive leadership and how she manages without micromanaging,” said Mrs. Payton. “This year has had some challenges, but I feel that we’ve been able to do good work supporting teachers and making sure our students get what they need.” 

One of Mrs. Payton’s favorite memories from the school year thus far reflects Westcott’s commitment and dedication to its teachers and staff. Principal Dockery led a trip to an educational supply store and provided “Westcott Bucks” to select new resources for their classrooms to improve the learning environment. The outing included raffles, popcorn, and time to foster relationships. Mrs. Payton notes that the joy that was felt throughout the day was unforgettable. 

When it comes to engaging with Westcott’s students, Mrs. Payton is focused on one of the District’s core values as the foundation of her work: Equity. She explains that taking an equity-centered approach is more important now than ever before because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on student learning. 

“Right now, there are opportunities all over to help improve student academic achievement,” said Mrs. Payton. “Prioritizing equity not only allows students to have access to grade-level content, but it also meets them where they are and helps them improve. It means providing an environment where students are valued and they have a champion that they can depend on. That champion will help them to get to the level where they should be if they’re not already there.” 

Westcott main office mural

Mrs. Payton believes that enhancing learning experiences in the classroom connects back to supporting teachers to lead impactful small-group instruction that is tailored to each student’s unique needs. She's also not overlooking the connection between school and home. One of her other goals is to get parents more involved in what is happening at Westcott. She wants to increase attendance for the school’s Parent Advisory Council and share best practices with parents regarding social-emotional learning. 

“The first step to becoming a successful school leader is that you have to care. You have to have a strong desire to see academic improvement,” said Mrs. Payton. “Not only will that benefit students with their work, but it will also help them feel safe and secure in their learning environment.” 

Surprisingly enough, education was not Mrs. Payton’s first career choice. Her focus in college was in marketing, and her first job after graduation was working at her family’s pest control company. She quickly pivoted to the classroom after discovering her true passion for working with students, and her teaching career has covered all grades from pre-k through eighth grade. 

She explains that her background gives her the unique ability to quickly adapt based on the grade level she is working with. Even with her past experiences guiding her forward, she still notes that school leadership is one of the most challenging roles she has ever taken on. However, the support she is receiving through the New Leaders program is making her feel confident that she will be successful. 

“School leadership is not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication,” said Mrs. Payton. “But it’s good work, and if you do it well, it is a rewarding role that allows you to see the fruits of your labor.” 

Interested in learning more about ways to build your leadership skills through CPS? Click here for more information.

Westcott Elementary

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