Nestled on the north side in Old Town Chicago lies LaSalle Language Academy, a K-8 institution just shy of 500 students. It’s a magnet school filled with an extremely dynamic and diverse student population. Each day, they enter the school’s doors knowing that their voices carry the way because that’s the mindset their Principal Dashe Rowland instills in her staff.
“What is best for the children? If you don’t know, ask them,” Rowland told District Administration. “Student voice will carry the way. Allow what’s best for the students to guide your decisions and you will never go wrong.”
Before arriving at LaSalle, Rowland served as the Dean of Students at the Robert Black Magnet School for 16 years. There, she would be surrounded by a network of dynamic leaders who would inevitably take her under their wing and give her a gentle push into a new era of educational leadership.
Rowland’s transition to the principalship is unlike most who choose to enter educational leadership. She took the reins at the onset of the pandemic, an experience that she’s been able to leverage to her advantage.
“It was a very unique opportunity for us to make the changes because at this time it just made sense,” she says. COVID-19 provided leaders with the unique opportunity to look within their system’s policies and make adjustments based on the foundational inequities that were present at the time.
“What we had was limited access,” Rowland says. “We didn’t have an equitable lens. Now, post-pandemic, we have a reason to be looking at these policies, we have reasons to be looking at these protocols and we have an opportunity to make the changes that we know [students] need.”
Pursuing innovation and addressing the needs of children was something she learned prior to the pandemic thanks to New Leaders, an organization that offers pathways to principal certification. It was a program that gave Rowland behind-the-scenes experience pivotal in becoming the authentic and transformative leader she is today.
Mentoring never ends
If you were to sit down with Rowland, you would quickly discover that New Leaders continues to play an important role in her professional life. She and many other inspiring education leaders across the country understand the importance of leaning on mentors and coaches, no matter how experienced a leader you may be.
“We’re family. They will never leave,” she says regarding her New Leaders cohort. “We call our cohort by numbers. I’m cohort 19, and we always say we are the pandemic cohort. Those are my first lines of support. They’re the people I was able to go through this process with. They will always be my thought partners, my journey partners and my accountability partners. The coaches that were offered to me, I can call and count on them at any time of the day.
“They’re still offering resources to me. And the cohort, they are truly a part of my life.”
It’s all about the mindset
K12 leaders have the power to instill motivation and passion among their teams, but those same characteristics must be present in their leader first. Rowland’s dedication to her students and staff is simply contagious. Every decision she and her staff make, she says, is ultimately for the benefit of her students and their individual needs.
District Administration’s Micah Ward asked Rowland to share her priorities for the remainder of the 2023-24 school year. Here’s what she had to say.