7 questions: Why hiring teachers of color is personal for this principal

"When I started at Brooklyn Park Elementary School nine years ago, there were no teachers of color," Principal E. Rodney Walker says.

“The principalship is hard, but the work is about service,” says Principal E. Rodney Walker of Brooklyn Park Elementary School in Maryland. And being named a National Distinguished Principal by The National Association of Elementary School Principals is significant recognition.

E. Rodney Walker
E. Rodney Walker

“I understand that being an African-American male principal and receiving this award is a unique honor,” says Walker, whose school is part of Anne Arundel County Public Schools. “I hope this award provides inspiration to other principals of color to continue their work and dedication.”

Walker recently spoke to District Administration about diversifying Brooklyn Park Elementary School’s staff, better connecting with Hispanic families and becoming a community school.

1. How did you diversify your staff and why was this a priority for you?

Recruiting and retaining a diverse staff has been important at Brooklyn Park Elementary School. When I started nine years ago, there were no teachers of color. Starting the summer of my principalship, I started the work of creating a diverse staff at BPES.

The creation of a diverse staff is personal to me. First, I did not have a teacher of color until I was a senior in college. I did not have an African-American male teacher until I started my doctoral program at the University of Maryland. I can count on one hand how many teachers of color taught me. I never wanted any student under my care to experience this lack of connection.

Second, I partnered with human resources to attend job fairs and hiring events. This partnership has provided me the opportunity to hire teachers of color for my school. Principals need to understand the greatest recruitment tool is retention. To retain teachers of color, you must connect with them, understand their struggles and provide leadership opportunities.

2. You’ve received recognition for your Boys of Distinction program. How does it work and how are you going to measure success?

Boys of Distinction is a partnership grant with the Maryland Department of Education. The grant provides schools the opportunity to provide experiences and mentoring for African-American boys. We monitor growth by analyzing the following data:

  • Attendance
  • Behavior referrals
  • District benchmarks

3. You’ve also made it a priority to increase outreach to Hispanic families. Are you making progress?

We are still working to better connect with our Hispanic families. Our work started by hiring a bilingual secretary to assist with communication and registration.

Leadership shifts:: Turnover at the top continues to churn coast to coast

Second, we increased the number of days our bilingual facilitator was present in our building. The bilingual facilitator assists by translating documents and meeting with parents. Third, we have offered English classes to parents in the community.

Additionally, we have been very intentional with our communication by having both English and Spanish versions for our community. Our Hispanic population continues to grow and we as a BPES community need to continue to provide opportunities for connection and inclusion for our Hispanic families.

4. What other exciting things happening at Brooklyn Park Elementary School?

I am very excited about being a community school and the opportunities this will provide for our community. We hired a community schools manager who will partner with me to provide opportunities for our families.

5. What are the keys to your leadership philosophy, and how do these contribute to the school’s success?

  1. Parents send us the best that they have. It’s our job to care for ALL kids.
  2. Positive relationships and connections matter. You must connect with your kids.
  3. Be open to feedback and focus on continuous improvement.
  4. Have fun and celebrate success.

6. How have your job/responsibilities changed over the last few years?

The pandemic and post-pandemic have been tough. The social and emotional needs since the pandemic have increased. Not only are we still dealing with learning loss, but the SEL needs are very real.

My assistant principal said, “Kids have forgotten how to play and be nice to each other”. I totally agree. Additionally, the SEL needs of our staff—teachers and staff are human beings, and we forget they have personal needs.

7. What are the biggest challenges Brooklyn Park Elementary is facing right now?

Our greatest challenge is chronic absenteeism. We are working with our families to best support their needs and improve their children’s attendance.

Leadership shifts:: Turnover at the top continues to churn coast to coast

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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