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Reigniting Lakota Leadership Academy for Aspiring Teachers

Reigniting Lakota Leadership Academy for Aspiring Teachers

A Lakota-hosted leadership program that got its start 10 years ago and gave rise to many of the individuals leading our district and schools today, is making its return to support Lakota’s next generation of leaders. And two of those former program participants, now innovation specialists at Lakota East and Lakota West, are leading the charge. 

Lakota West’s Lindsay Ellis and Lakota East’s Michelle Wilkerson are steering the latest execution of the Lakota Leadership Academy, a program designed to identify and grow up-and-coming Lakota teachers who aspire to hold a leadership position at a school or out of Central Office in support of all 23 Lakota schools. In many cases, they say, it is designed to help teachers simply pursue their interests, explore their options and make an informed decision about their future career pathway. 

“I credit the experience with helping me make so many valuable connections and landing in my current role,” said Ellis, who went on to become an instructional leader at several different Lakota schools after participating in one of the original program’s first cohorts. 

“We wanted to do our part to help other teachers have access to the same opportunity that we were lucky enough to have,” Wilkerson added.

The newest cohort of 25 teachers hailing from most of Lakota’s 23 schools first gathered in January this year following a referral and application process. They meet in person once a month with online assignments and discussion boards in between meetings. These in-between activities are facilitated through Canvas, the same learning management system used by Lakota students. 

We really try to model with this group the same instructional delivery strategies that we promote to all teachers day in and day out,” said Ellis, noting an upcoming session inspired by the station rotation concept used across many Lakota classrooms for a more personalized learning experience. 

The program curriculum starts broad and becomes more specific with each passing session, they shared. For example, the kick-off meeting, titled “What Does It Take to Be a Leader?,” welcomed Interim Superintendent Robb Vogelmann and Board of Education President Lynda O’Connor to share their personal pathways to positions of leadership. “They both have such longevity with Lakota and it really was a beautiful moment to hear directly from them what inspires them and challenges them as leaders,” Wilkerson said. 

Meeting room filled with backs of people with their attention on group of 7 people at front of room

During the February session, titled “Dynamics of Leading a Building,” the group had access to a panel of current principals and assistant principals, who reflected on their own pathways. They also answered teachers’ questions about the transition from the classroom, support from Central Office leaders, daily challenges of the job, and more. 

“When you think about your impact - because that’s why most of us went into this profession,” said Lakota West Principal Ben Brown, “you realize that by stepping into a position of leadership, you expand your net and you have the opportunity to bring a positive impact to even more students. And you don’t have to lose that connection with students in the process; you can do both and make a lasting impact on more people.” 

“People see things in you that you don’t see in yourself,” said Adena Elementary Assistant Principal Jordan Eisenhard, acknowledging the many mentors along the way that challenged her to step outside of her comfort zone. 

The group then worked in small groups to tackle some situational challenges that a building administrator might face on the job. The idea with most such exercises, explained Wilkerson and Ellis, is to encourage teachers to think beyond the four walls of their classroom and consider all the different factors that go into small and big decisions. 

In future meetings, the group will dive into the facets of leadership within each district-level department, among other topics - all adding up to an experience that challenges each participant to explore unique ways they can be leaders within their own classes, departments, school and the district. For each member, the Academy’s leaders say, the end result might look a little different. “It’s the same personalized approach we take with students,” Ellis said. 

Ridge Junior special education teacher and athletic director Ken Jones, who is part of the current Academy cohort, is in a unique position as someone who held an administrative role within the Treasurer’s Department before going to the classroom. Now, he’s looking at the possibility of becoming a building-level administrator. 

“At one point, I never thought I’d be a teacher, but here I am,” said Jones, “and I thought that’s it, I’m good…until I had the opportunity to become Ridge’s athletic director. I got to see a different side of things and see firsthand how being an administrator can impact more students and the greater good.”

Eight-year Lakota West teacher Taylor Cumberledge is leaving her options open, but joined the Academy to help crystallize her plans. Already holding both her Masters in Administration and Transformative Education, she is “waiting for the opportunity to make the jump.” She appreciates the direct access to and personal accounts from district leaders, as well as the opportunities for self-reflection and to connect with like-minded colleagues beyond her building. 

“I love teaching, but I also feel called to leadership,” said Cumberledge, who is also a Lakota graduate. “From my time as a Lakota student to a staff member, I’ve been blessed with a lot of wonderful leaders to look up to. I want to move beyond my classroom to make a larger impact for more students and staff.”