LaToya Walker has been an intern for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Peter Gorman for only a week, and already, she says, she has learned some invaluable lessons.
Walker, 34, is pursuing a doctorate in education at Harvard University. As part of those studies, she was assigned to shadow Gorman for six months.
A native of Newport News, Va., she earned an undergraduate degree from William and Mary and master’s degrees from Harvard and Regent University. She moved to Washington, D.C., and spent four years teaching and two years as principal at an urban elementary school.
Walker, who aspires to some day lead a school district of her own, sat with Qcitymetro.com to talk about her love for educating children and what it’s like to shadow Gorman.
Q. Why education?
I did not follow a traditional route into education. I took time off after college. I worked with a church ministry group for about two years, and in that experience, I did a lot with schools. I traveled over the nation with a team that did motivational speaking and motivational rallies — anti-drug, anti-gang, anti-alcohol rallies. That drew me back to education. I always had a love for kids, so it was that experience that made me realize that education was the major lever for change in the world.
I moved to Washington, D.C., and entered an educational program there and began to teach in an urban community. I moved into the community and lived next door to my school. I had some of my students who lived in my building. What I loved most about it was the opportunity to shape and mold kids, to give them an opportunity for a bright future through education. One of the things I prided myself on as a teacher was pushing my kids to do their best, to achieve more than they thought they were capable of. And I carried that into principalship as well. I was principal of a small school that was designed to serve an at-risk population, a population of kids who were being underserved by the public school. Most came from economically disadvantaged communities. A big part of my role was also being actively engaged in fundraising so that we could give scholarships for students to receive high-quality education.
Q. You have a master’s from Harvard. What was your field of study?
Education Policy Management. I also have a master’s degree in teaching from Regent University.
Q. What’s your ultimate goal?
I’m striving to be a superintendent some day, but my goal as a person, as a human being, is to provide an opportunity for children to achieve their full potential, particularly children who face challenges and obstacles in their lives.
Q. After only a week, what is it like to shadow Mr. Gorman?
Dr. Gorman is an amazing leader. There’s a quote — I can’t remember who said it — but it says, “Leadership is doing the right thing and management is doing things right.” When I read that quote, it made me think about Dr. Gorman. As an educational leader, he has a laser-like focus on doing the right thing. He’s also an efficient manager of operations and he knows what it takes to run the business side of the business.
Shadowing him provides me a unique opportunity to learn from someone who I believe is an expert in both areas — as an educational leader and as a business manager. In many aspects, running a school district is like running a large corporation, except our bottom line is student achievement.
Q. Given the criticism Gorman has faced for cutting teachers, do you ever see signs of frustration?
I’m new to the district, so I will stay away from anything that’s controversial. I haven’t had much of an opportunity to learn the ends and outs of the issues, but I will certainly say that as a leader his focus is always, first and foremost, what’s best for kids. That’s what I appreciate most. In all of the shadowing that I’ve seen, in all of the time I’ve spent with him, everything goes back to what’s best for the kids and what’s going to increase student achievement in this district. That’s at the core of everything he’s about and what he’s striving to do. I’m sure there are challenges; there are challenges with any type of leadership position, especially when you’re in times of constraint. But when you’re focused on doing the right thing and doing things right, then you’ll be successful.