DePaul Educational Leadership alumni share their current experiences in leadership roles and reflect on their time in the program.
Educational Leadership alum, Jake LaForge, worked for five years in the South Loop at Old St. Mary’s School as an administrator before taking on his current position as principal at Holy Angels School on University of Dayton’s campus this spring. During his time at Old St. Mary’s, he gained experience in various roles: assistant principal, high school prep coordinator, athletic director, and teacher. Under the guidance of Dr. Mary Lee Calihan, who LaForge says has become both a “mentor and friend,” he grew as a leader and gained experience as an administrator, while being challenged daily to ensure that he was always doing what was best for the students.
To LaForge, the biggest challenge for school leaders is that education is in a constant state of change, “from funding, to laws, to accountability, school leaders need to be one step ahead of the curve.” His advice for aspiring leaders in the education field is to be certain that a leadership position is the right fit before accepting, or even applying. “Not everyone has the same skill set and vision. New principals should make sure they can see themselves succeeding and helping their new school and community grow.”
Speaking of his experience at DePaul, LaForge explains that he enjoyed the Educational Leadership Program’s emphasis on practice— not just theory— and that the program also focused on more than basic leadership skills. He found the courses School Law and School Finance to be particularly valuable, as the lessons taught in these courses are very applicable to the professional responsibilities of school leaders. He adds that the curriculum also provided a focus on real leadership and maintaining a positive culture in schools.
Beyond the program’s curriculum, he credits the sincerity of the faculty for creating an outstanding environment and culture at DePaul. LaForge has contacted Educational Leadership faculty members many times during the last several years seeking career advice, and they were readily available to meet with him in person and provide advice and assistance. Says LaForge, “The personal touch and connection from my professors is what meant the most to me.”
Mary Rose Guerin
Before becoming a principal, Mary Rose Guerin was responsible for curriculum and teacher development at Josephinum Academy. Now, as the principal, she works with her principal’s team, overseeing the entire curricular and extra-curricular programming at the academy. In this role, she is focused on the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which is still in its infancy. “As we are in our first year as an authorized IB World School, we are incredibly committed to ensuring the successful implementation of the IB Diploma Programme.”
For Guerin, the most rewarding aspect of being a leader is the chance to foster leadership and growth among administrators, teachers and students. The most challenging side of leading her school is striking a balance with all her responsibilities: “I think the biggest challenge is trying to stay on top of all the work, while maintaining personal relationships with our faculty and students. I want to be as visible and accessible to them as possible, which is not always easy. Between attending important meetings, and working to implement [an] effective program, it is often difficult to get into classrooms, attend presentations, etc.” In order to achieve this balance, she makes a special effort to include these events in her schedule.
Guerin’s advice for future leaders is to be confident, “Believe in yourself. Believe in your faculty. Believe in your students.” She attributes a sense of authenticity within a community to the confidence of the leadership of an institution. This idea is in line with what Guerin appreciates the most about the Educational Leadership Program: the emphasis on cultivating leaders committed to mission. As a result of her experience in the program, she has grown into a mission-driven leader, a characteristic that consistently helps her with decision-making.
Principal Prep alum, Chris Lin, recently began his leadership role as Assistant Principal of Westview Hills Middle School. Although he is new to the position, he already loves much of what the role brings, two parts of which come to mind immediately: the ability to observe and work with all the teachers in the building in instruction as well as having a more global influence on structures within the school. Lin appreciates being able to experience a wide variety of teaching methods and styles across all disciplines.
Prior to his current role, he felt as though he could only affect school policy in certain areas, but now he has the chance to learn how all the pieces come together. He enjoys working with staff to improve processes by making them more meaningful and efficient: “it is great to work on the whole system with a long term timeline.”
Upon beginning his leadership role, Lin explains that a major challenge was deciding where to devote his efforts. Like most good leaders, he wanted to be sure he is knowledgeable when making decisions, but he quickly realized that he cannot know everything that happens in the school. His strategy is to focus on projects that require his direct attention and trust the rest to his staff. He explains, “it is challenging to carry the weight of all the major issues (academic and social and emotional) that the students and staff are dealing with.”
Lin’s principal has provided tremendous assistance during his transition to a leadership role. Even with this support, he indicates that the role is still very taxing, and he still does not feel like he has fully grasped the magnitude of the change: “it feels like I am in a quickly flowing river trying to tread water (not yet at the point where I can get upstream a bit yet).” He describes the work as, “wonderful in variety, but daunting in quantity.” To Lin, there is no amount of preparation that can prepare teachers for the adjustment to a leadership position—teachers need to experience the transition in order to fully understand it.
Lin credits his time at DePaul with shaping the type of leader he has become: “My core philosophical beliefs regarding leadership are firmly entrenched because of my DePaul experience, which is great because in the whirlwind that is this job, deep roots are definitely needed.”