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Reflections from a principal’s ‘rookie season’

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As a veteran educator with over 20 years of experience in the field, Leshaun Jenkins began a new chapter of his career for the 2022-23 academic year. After serving in the interim position for the final three months of school in 2022, Jenkins entered his first official year as principal at W.A. Pattillo Middle School in Edgecombe County.

EdNC invited him to share his day-to-day leadership journey for the school year via a diary on social media. Click here to access the feature article that details Jenkins’ path to becoming a principal.

‘I was planted here’

As shown in the reaction to his announcement, Jenkins was overwhelmingly embraced with celebration at the news of the diary. Over the year, his followers and the public gained insight to the joys, challenges, responsibilities, and lessons that he experienced. As his second entry mentions, throughout it all, Jenkins remained assured that he was “planted,” not buried, at W.A. Pattillo Middle School with a purpose.

Leshaun Jenkins, principal at W.A. Pattillo Middle School’s Viking Fest

The entire thread may be found on Facebook under #PrincipalDiary. Below are selections from the diary and messages from some of his staff members, in addition to reflections offered by Jenkins from what he has dubbed his “Rookie Season.” 

Super excited to partner with EdNC, one of the leading educational publications in NC. Principal's Diary will be a daily…

Posted by Leshaun Jenkins on Monday, October 24, 2022

Entry #2 Today I wrapped up my second and final full day of training. One thing that I try to do at trainings such as…

Posted by Leshaun Jenkins on Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Facing the challenges

For Jenkins, it was no surprise that the year would be filled with various obstacles to hurdle. Throughout the diary, he mentions the work-related struggles, such as “principal anxiety,” around testing or managing the onslaught of tasks on his to-do list.

However, as displayed in entry #48, Jenkins states that “the most challenging moments really were when it comes to a lot of things happening in the community near our school throughout the year.”

In the face of neighborhood shootings and other travesties, Jenkins understood that “how I respond to a traumatic experience in the community has a lot to do how my kids will respond.” Often, these circumstances immediately brought into question how the events would impact the kids, or how something in the community may bleed into the school, intentionally or unintentionally.

According to Jenkins, moments as such is what create a heavy lift mentally and emotionally. He further stated that even if he was a 10-year principal, “that’s not a reality that ever gets easier.”

Entry #41 1.18.23 Today was one of those days that made me feel that I got to do everything on everyone else's "to do…

Posted by Leshaun Jenkins on Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Entry #48 1.30.23 Truthfully, today was heavy. It was taxing. It was down right emotionally difficult. Sunday night I…

Posted by Leshaun Jenkins on Monday, January 30, 2023

Entry #66 2.28.23 Today was a day of drills. We started the day off with our Spring lockdown drill and ended the day…

Posted by Leshaun Jenkins on Thursday, March 2, 2023

Entry #111 5.22.23 Today we took our Math EOGs and I must admit I started feeling some "Principal Anxiety". Not because…

Posted by Leshaun Jenkins on Sunday, May 28, 2023

A culture of joy and celebration

Despite having the interim role, Jenkins said that he understood he would still be up against a lot of things when rebranding the school.

His mindset was centered on helping “people understand this is an environment that is conducive for progress and personal development.” Furthermore, he wanted to be intentional about creating a space where there’s constant praise and recognition — where celebration is a constant. As shown in the posts below, this past school year was, in fact, nothing short of celebration for Pattillo Middle School.

When reflecting on highlights from the year, Jenkins referenced the very beginning, when Pattillo created an airline theme throughout the entire school, including many staff members dressing up as airline stewards and pilots. This set the bar for the school and was followed by a middle school homecoming, several spirit weeks, building-wide competitions, visits from professional athletes and college students, and so much more.

Post #99 shows that the energy flowed both ways, demonstrated by the dinner, affirmation, and Pattillo color way Air Jordan 1’s that Jenkins’ staff gifted him for National Principal’s Day.

Regarding his commitment to being intentional behind celebration, Jenkins stated “I want every little thing to be a big deal at Pattillo.”

Entry #22 12.8.22 Today was Thankful Thursday at W.A. Pattillo. During my morning announcements, I took a page out of…

Posted by Leshaun Jenkins on Thursday, December 8, 2022

Entry #68 3.3.23 Today we kicked off our March "Gladness" Campaign. For other school leaders/educators who love…

Posted by Leshaun Jenkins on Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Entry #99 5.1.23 Today was apparently National Principal's Day, and I had no idea. I knew that there was a such thing as…

Posted by Leshaun Jenkins on Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Entry #101 5.3.23 Today was amazing. My AP & Staff apparently thought it was a great idea to have a surprise dinner for…

Posted by Leshaun Jenkins on Sunday, May 7, 2023

Entry #29 12.19.22 What an action packed day. There was so much on our agenda. First and foremost, one of our partner…

Posted by Leshaun Jenkins on Monday, December 19, 2022

5.17.23 Entry #109 Today was exciting as we kicked of our final Pep Rally of the year; 2023 Exam Jam! I wanted our kids…

Posted by Leshaun Jenkins on Sunday, May 21, 2023

5.12.23 Entry # 106 Tonight we had Mayball and it was amazing. Our kids looked really really good. It is always so…

Posted by Leshaun Jenkins on Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Lessons and reflections

As someone who has always set high expectations for himself, Jenkins shared that one of the greatest lessons that he continues to learn is offering grace.

Noted in entry #10, on the days where he may come up short, he recognized that, “the same grace and space that I offer my kids and staff daily; I too deserve that!”

Entry #10 11.16.22 Today I went into the day truly focused on the tasks that I needed to finish before the end of the…

Posted by Leshaun Jenkins on Thursday, November 17, 2022

Entry #24 12.12.22 Serving as a "rookie" Principal is demanding. I say this because theoretically it is your first…

Posted by Leshaun Jenkins on Monday, December 12, 2022

5.16.23 Entry #108 Today I decided that as soon as the school day was over, that I would coin the day as a self care…

Posted by Leshaun Jenkins on Sunday, May 21, 2023

In addition to self care and celebration, two primary reflection points for Jenkins pertained to the power of community and relationships with families.

Being native to the area, as well as having a lengthy resume in both education and coaching, all factored into Jenkins’ connectivity to the community. However, he was still intentional about expanding his community relationships and partnerships.

Jenkins said that the list of supporters is long. One organization that he specifically named is the Pattillo Alumni Association. Stemming from the days when Pattillo was a high school, Jenkins said the collective still has a heart for the school and appreciates the contributions to the school’s continued success.

Also, among the list of supporters are the parents of his students. Jenkins asserts that parental engagement is vital to the success of a school. He shared that even if he is not available at the very moment a parent requests an unscheduled meeting, he at least makes an effort to briefly greet them face-to-face to communicate his care for the matter, followed by his availability.

Being intentional in his relationships with parents is important because he wants them to try to understand the depths that the school team goes to for their children, “to mold and shape their kid into, whatever it is they feel that they can be.”

Entry #16 11.29.22 Today I received a phone call from a concerned parent; a father in fact. He called to inquire about…

Posted by Leshaun Jenkins on Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Entry #19 12.2.22 I think one of the most frustrating things that I have ever experienced as an educator and even now as…

Posted by Leshaun Jenkins on Saturday, December 3, 2022

End of the rookie season

It was only fitting that Jenkins completed his principal diary the same way he started the school year: by celebrating. Entry #118 was completed on his birthday.

As seen below, he expressed his gratitude for all those who have supported and engaged with his journey thus far. As he prepares for all that the summer has to offer, Jenkins offered a message directly to principals preparing to enter the first year:

First year principles, don’t allow yourself to feel like you are on an island on your own. Sometimes being a principal can get very lonely. I think being a principal and pastoring are very similar. You’re responsible for a lot of flock. No matter what you got going on in your own life, you still have to show up and be present for people. I heard T.D. Jakes say that ‘sometimes you give people all your encouragement only to leave discouraged.’ You’re not alone, you’re not on an island by yourself, reach out to ask for help if you need it.

Leshaun Jenkins, principal W.A. Pattillo Middle School

Entry #118 June 2, 2023 Well today is special for two reasons: One reason is because I will be wrapping up this project…

Posted by Leshaun Jenkins on Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Messages to Mr. Jenkins

“(Mr. Jenkins) is very intentional about his leadership to each individual … That’s my big bro! So, I really just appreciate all the support both professionally and personally that I’ve gotten along the way, and I just wanted him to know how grateful I am for the leadership that he gives. Not only me, but to everybody in the school. Not everybody has as close of a relationship with him, but nobody can say he doesn’t care about them, and he shows that consistently, with every person throughout the school. That’s just a blessing to have and I just appreciate and love him for that.

Abeku Abercrombie, sixth grade science teacher and Beginning Teacher of the Year at Pattillo Middle School

This past year has been remarkable. Mr. Jenkins is an awesome principal. Our culture at our school has dynamically changed. He’s all about relationships with the students, bringing the teachers together, and building relationships with us as well… My message to Mr. Jenkins would be keep doing what you’re doing. You’re in the right place. You know what your purpose is, and your purpose and your passion is what makes you a remarkable person as well as a remarkable principal. And I love you!

Tamara B. Lyons, eighth grade math teacher and grade chair at Pattillo Middle School

I love it here. I love the school. I love the leadership. I love the administration. I love the focus and the structure. It’s just a good place to work… I would tell (Mr. Jenkins) that I love him as a leader, I love him as a person, and I’m very appreciative of his leadership, his guidance. He’s helped me become a better teacher and I can’t thank him enough for that.

Joseph Morton, eighth grade social studies teacher at Pattillo Middle School

It’s been a great turnaround. Even the last three months of last year, when Mr. Jenkins did come in, we could see the progression and the path he was taking us on … He came in and he made some changes. He gave the students a voice. He listens to us. Everything that we say, he may not allow us to do, but he does give us a voice … it’s an open door policy. I would say keep doing what you’re doing. Just keep putting students and teacher at the very front most. You’re doing a great job … just keep pushing through.

Shirley Lloyd, sixth grade expanded impact teacher at Pattillo Middle School

Thank you because I understand that there was a lot on this year being his first year and then on top of that, being a mentor for a principal intern. So, I appreciated the intentional time that he would seek out throughout the school year, sometimes daily, just to check in to see where I was at and if there were opportunities that I wanted to learn more from. So, I always appreciated those moments and this has been a year where I’ve grown and learned a lot and a lot of that came from Mr. Jenkins.

Hayley Gearheart, NELA principal intern at Pattillo Middle School

I like the way he runs his leadership. He checks in with all of his teachers, especially with his coaching. His coaching has helped me progress a lot. My biggest message would be ‘thank you,’ not only for the opportunity, but for the life lessons as well. Just thank you for the most molding that he did to make me to who I am today as a teacher.

Elijah Spencer, theatre arts teacher at Pattillo Middle School

Shanetta Pittman, assistant principal at Pattillo Middle School

I have seen all different styles of leadership … Mr. Jenkins is just different.

He’s big on relationships. When I say that, not only just teacher-student relationships, he’s big on staff relationships, he’s big on school culture. Of course he believes in building a positive culture; he doesn’t want people coming to work uncomfortable or people not feeling safe in the space that they work in. He also he has an environment where there’s an open door policy.

Some days, it doesn’t feel like school … It’s been a very rewarding experience. Even though I’ve been in this leadership role for a while, and I’ve been in education for a while, this has been different. Just this year alone, it has been different, and I do believe that’s because he has set systems in place and processes in place so that there’s never a question about what we should be doing or how we should be doing it … if it goes wrong, we followed the process, so let’s learn from it, and let’s move on, let’s discover next steps.

If I ever decided to branch out and apply for principalship, I will definitely adopt his style of leadership, because it’s the best I’ve ever seen … his style of leadership is one that I’ve never seen before.

He’s a first-year principal and it seems as if he’s ‘been there, done that,’ but I guess when God gifts you with certain things, you just have it. You just have that gift.

Keeping pushing, Mr. Jenkins.

Shanetta Pittman, assistant principal at Pattillo Middle School
Derick Lee

Derick Lee is a regional storyteller for EdNC.