July was an exciting month at the NYC Leadership Academy as the tenth cohort of the New York City Aspiring Principals Program (APP) graduated, and joined a network of leaders committed to making a difference in the city’s high-need schools. This diverse and talented group has successfully completed the rigorous fourteen-month training process and is poised to take on the unique challenges, and experience the great joys, of being schools leaders.
We spoke with one of this year’s gradates – Kevin McAuliffe – about his experience in APP. Kevin will be leading a Queens school serving pre-Kindergarten through 8th grade this fall.
Q: What was your experience before APP and what motivated you to become a principal?
A: I taught for seven years at a school in Washington Heights. I’d begun working there through the NYC Teaching Fellows Program. (I was in Teaching Fellows Cohort 10 and now APP Cohort 10). My principal empowered me to become a curriculum writer and a staff developer. This expanded to work outside my school with my Network, where my Network Leader gave me the opportunity to lead other teachers. I always knew I wanted to lead a school, but these positive experiences motivated me and gave me the confidence to take the next step sooner than I thought it would.
Q: Why did you choose NYC Leadership Academy’s APP Program to receive training?
A: I knew it was a rigorous program and that I had a lot of learning to do. I believe strongly in the NYC Leadership Academy’s mission of equality, and felt the opportunity to work as a resident principal under a mentor principal would give me the best on-the-job training possible.
Q: What is the first thing you want to tackle as a new principal and how has APP prepared you for it?
A: My priority this year is school culture. APP prepared me to be a collaborative and distributive leader in the process. My work in the program and at my residency site gave me the chance to interact with others and to understand the different perspectives of different stakeholders. Additionally, APP pointed me to several great books and articles about improving school culture.
Q: What is the most valuable lesson you took away from APP and how will you apply it to your work?
A: My facilitator often said “it’s about people before paper.” The work of a principal is so much about the relationships you form with your teachers and staff, your students and their parents.
Q: What was your biggest challenge in APP and how did you overcome it?
A: My biggest challenge was dealing with the ambiguity of a job that brings questions that don’t necessarily have a “right” answer. In other words, it was challenging to face the prospect of making a mistake. But I gained more and more resilience as the year progressed, so that I could respond more strategically when I may not have made the best decision in a particular instance.
Q: If you could give one piece of advice to the incoming APP class, what would it be?
A: Take time to get to know your classmates. They will become family.