Ashe Elementary School Principal Highlights the Power of Distributed Leadership
20 October 2023
Principal King shares that distributed leadership makes his job less stressful and more sustainable.
Principal Clyde King Jr. says that one of his favorite memories at Ashe Elementary School can be traced back to a lesson about persuasive writing in one of his third-grade classrooms. One student shared her well-researched letter with him about why the school needed a new playground. Principal King read that letter at a board meeting, and, within the next month, the school learned that it would be awarded one.
This student graduated from Ashe earlier this year, and Principal King gave her back her letter as a symbol of how her voice made an immensely positive impact that not only improved her experience at Ashe, but also the experiences of countless students who will follow in her footsteps.
Principal King’s other favorite memories share a common thread: growth. He loves it when former students invite him to their high school graduations, giving him an opportunity to see how they’ve progressed since elementary school. And he also loves being able to cultivate his staff members to reach their full potential. He has several special education classroom assistants furthering their education right now, and one of his former parent volunteers is now a special education teacher in the District.
Growth, for Principal King, has come in both expected and unexpected ways. A series of unforeseen events is what led him to Chicago to begin with, the first of which was Hurricane Katrina requiring him to leave his hometown of New Orleans.
“My own experiences have shown me that, as human beings, we really have to stop and understand some of the challenges that other individuals face,” he said. “Our life experiences shape how we think. So, we have to acknowledge what our kids bring to the table and not write them off because of what they’ve been through.”
After developing his leadership skills under some of Chicago’s most well-respected principals, he took over at Ashe seven years ago.
One of his first wishes in Chicago after working in school districts in other cities was that CPS would place a bigger emphasis on technology. This has certainly happened in recent years, and it’s no surprise that Ashe is using the District’s digital Skyline curriculum. Principal King believes that Skyline is an excellent foundation for high-quality teaching and learning, but he also reminds his teachers about the importance of “teaching between the lines.”
“With any group of students, you are going to have some who are high-achieving and others who need additional support. You need to have tools within your toolbox and infuse your own best practices into the curriculum to support every learner,” he said. “It’s like building a house. The curriculum is the foundation, but you need to add in the smaller details.”
Comparing himself to where he was seven years ago, he believes that he is more different as a leader than he is the same. Many of these changes connect to him embracing a distributed leadership model at Ashe.
“In my first year or two as principal, I would beat myself up because I thought I had to be the smartest person in the building and the person with all of the information,” he said. “I realized that this doesn’t have to be the case. I can respect what other people bring to the table, and trust them to lead and get work done.”
Principal King has established an executive board at Ashe for his teacher leaders. He doesn’t have an assistant principal, so he relies on members of this board to act as his thought partners on key decisions about instruction, logistics, and discipline. He notes that operating in this way makes his job much less stressful and more sustainable, because it is now more of a team effort.
For example, his team is currently analyzing student data to inform how to best support students throughout the rest of the school year. They are brainstorming potential ideas to ensure that students are only “visiting” and not “living in” the realm of Tier III supports. In particular, Principal King is looking closely at how his Black male students are doing and making sure that the Black men on his staff are all contributing to these students’ success.
He says that one of the top lessons he has learned is that being a principal is a marathon, not a sprint. While the results a school leader hopes for will almost always take time, he notes that having the support of your staff, and supporting them back, can make all the difference in a school’s progress.
“Education is a people business. If you don’t take the time to learn the people in your building, you’re going to struggle,” he said. “When you get your staff to the point where they trust you, they will do anything for you. I view them as my team and my Eagle family. Succeeding as a principal means relying on your team just as much as they rely on you.”