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Becoming a New Leader In New Orleans


[Part 2 of 2 profiles of the U.S. Department of Education’s New Orleans grantees, and the difference they are making for children in the city. To see part 1 of this series please click here.]

She didn’t start her career thinking that she was going to be a principal, but all of that changed ten years ago this month.

In August 2005, Shimon Ancker was teaching in New Orleans East, a part of the city that was hit particularly hard by the Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge. The day before the storm hit, she evacuated to Texas and moved in with her sister, where, at one point, she was among 16 people living in one house. About six months later, she was able to return to the city she called home, although it had been changed forever.

Today, Shimon Ancker is the new principal at the Einstein Charter School extension campus in New Orleans. She is a graduate of the New Leaders program, which in 2009 received a $3.7 million U.S. Department of Education (ED) School Leadership Program grant.

New Leaders has made a huge difference for her, and for all the students and educators in the school she leads. At her new school, Ancker plans to place a special emphasis on data-driven instruction, a technique she learned through New Leaders which will help teachers to meet the particular needs of each individual student.

Since 2005, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) committed over $100 million to organizations like New Leaders that have helped New Orleans to rethink and rebuild its education system. Not only has New Leaders in New Orleans received a $3.7 million federal grant, but ED also invested $15 million in New Leaders through a 2012 Investing in Innovation (i3) grant.

These funds have helped New Leaders to expand and refine its leadership training program. New Leaders came to New Orleans in 2007, and since then has trained 40 teacher leaders and 39 principals. Nearly 85% of principals trained are currently working in Greater New Orleans schools. Together, New Leaders’ New Orleans principals and teacher leaders reach more than 12,000 students.

So what made Ancker step up to lead in New Orleans?

“I knew that I wanted to come back home to be a part of the process of rebuilding our educational landscape. I am a product of New Orleans public schools and I knew that our children needed familiar faces. I couldn’t think of doing anything else.”

Soon after returning to teaching in the devastated city, Ancker’s principal asked her if she wanted to participate in the New Leaders principal training program. Ancker was interested, but nervous. “I thought the process was interesting because it challenged your thinking as a teacher leader—or the leader you thought you had within.”

She credits much of her success to her cohort, which was made up of educators not just from New Orleans, but from all parts of Louisiana. She says she has benefitted greatly from the different approach New Leaders presented to her during her training. She appreciated the idea of “school leader as community leader” that New Leaders promoted. “In order to lead a school, you have to be willing to lead—or function in the capacity—as if you were leading a neighborhood,” stated Ancker.

Although Ancker and others have seen many successes, she does admit there is always room for improvement. According to Ancker, “the biggest challenge is investment in the learning process—and keeping parents aware of the upcoming initiatives [from] the state and in different districts throughout the school year.”

Despite the challenges, Ancker says she is incredibly proud of her work and is happy that she can serve a community that she’s always considered home. “In order to [help schools and children grow], you actually have to know how to grow what’s important, and what’s important isn’t just the system and the buildings. It’s actually the quality of instruction students receive—that’s the whole purpose of why you’re there.”