My Story: Instructional Leader to Campus CEO

    Marco Morales, Principal
    Brookline Elementary School
    Houston ISD, Houston, Texas
    Raise Your Hand Texas Alumna, ’14 (REEP)

    Marco Morales, principal at Brookline Elementary in Houston Independent School District, recently graduated from the Rice University Education Entrepreneurship Program (REEP) Business Fellowship Program. He was one of more than 25 principals sponsored by Raise Your Hand Texas to pursue the 13-month fellowship, which is designed to help principals expand their executive leadership skill base Marco shares his perspectives about the REEP experience and Raise Your Hand Texas’ support for principals across the state.

    At the end of my sixth year of teaching in Houston ISD, I was fortunate enough to receive an offer from the principal at Brookline Elementary, Dr. Michelle Cloud, to join her administrative team as a teacher specialist. I was ready to learn as much as I could and do my very best. I had aspirations to make a broader impact on education, beyond the hundreds of students I influenced over my years as a teacher. I wanted to take the next step and become an administrator. Little did I know how fast I was going to take that big leap forward.

    My principal approached me in September and asked if I was interested in being interim principal. She had just been promoted to the role of School Support Officer. Was I interested? Most definitely! Was I ready? I didn’t know. But I accepted the challenge.

    Having just completed my Master’s degree, I was very interested in applying to the Rice Education Entrepreneurship Program (REEP) Business Fellowship, a 13-month program offered through the Jones Graduate School to help principals and those aspiring to principal positions to expand their leadership and management skill base.

    I applied, and after a rigorous process, I was accepted. I was informed by my supervisor that my participation was being sponsored by Raise Your Hand Texas. This was icing on the cake because I was prepared to pay for this program on my own. I had already heard from previous participants it was well worth the investment.

    From the onset of REEP, I experienced great professional development through classes that tackled tough topics in education, presented by engaging professors and presenters. As the REEP Business Fellowship progressed, I began to network and meet teachers, assistant principals, and principals from all over Houston: Aldine, Humble, Cy-Fair, Spring Branch, Katy, Barber’s Hill, Spring, Fort Bend, Houston, and many more districts. Representatives of charter districts KIPP and Yes Prep also participated.

    Being an interim principal, I had plenty of questions for everyone—and they all helped. These experiences and conversations supported my efforts back on my campus and began to boost my confidence. I was becoming more sure in my ability to lead a school because of what I learned at REEP.

    I had not been an assistant principal. I had not even had a full year being an administrator. I went from being a teacher to becoming an interim principal, and through REEP, I had the confidence to seek the official principalship at my campus. I approached my School Support Officer about the possibility and she said I had to apply. I followed district procedures and went through another rigorous application process.

    The REEP experience helped me through it — one because the REEP application process itself was tough, and two, because they provided a course on interviewing. The decision was made in March. I was selected as the new principal of Brookline Elementary.

    The REEP program continued and we began the Summer Institute portion. This was an even better experience to an already great program. Here we learned from education entrepreneurs such as Rick Hess, known for his “cage-busting leadership” and Mike “Big Dog” Feinberg, co-founder of the KIPP charter schools.

    At the same time, REEP had us work in groups and face situational scenarios of problems faced in education, such as turning a school around and presenting to an education board. We also learned about the importance of leveraging organizational networks and engaging internal/external influencers. There was so much learning in only two weeks! All of this helped in my summer planning as I was preparing for my first official year as principal.

    I used everything I learned to formulate my plan for the 2013-2014 school year. As my REEP journey continued, I adjusted based on my new learnings and discussions with colleagues. As I write this post, the school year is now over and Brookline experienced significant growth in student achievement—enough to spark a discussion with upper officials in the district.

    We also expanded our parental involvement, tightened our school budget while spending appropriately, advertised and marketed our school through various platforms such as social media, and provided new experiences to our students through partnerships with local organizations. REEP stands behind five pillars/competencies:

    1. Building the business
    2. Building coalitions
    3. Driving results
    4. Leading people
    5. Leading change.

    We made progress in each of those pillars.

    I highly recommend the REEP program and the Business Fellowship for any current or aspiring school leader. I also encourage Raise Your Hand Texas to continue their efforts and partnership. We know they can’t do it alone, but it is very important to continue investing in leadership programs like this. It made all the difference for me—an educator who went from being a teacher to principal in one year. It was a significant learning curve, but REEP and Raise Your Hand supported me all along the way, and as a result, I had a successful year…and the best, and most challenging, is yet to come.