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Atasha James, Principal, Leckie Elementary School

Atasha James, Principal, Leckie Elementary SchoolStep into the halls of Leckie and you might think you’re in Disneyland. Instead of Mickey and Minnie, though, you’ll see colorful displays of student data marking their reading progress, student artwork on the walls, and above all, lots and lots of genuinely happy smiles.  It’s a testament to the staff—none the least Principal James —that Leckie is so lively.

She said, “Having been in four different districts, Leckie is different than any other place I’ve ever been. The kids are so happy. The other day, we had a kid cry because his mom picked him up too early from after school.”

It doesn’t just end with the students. Parents and the community are deeply involved at Leckie as well. “We have a relationship with parents; they know that we’re going to be allies, and we’re going to work together. We’re family—good, bad, or indifferent. We’re going to be here for all of it.”

Ms. James’ career in education started in 1999 when, as part of America Reads, she taught a girl how to read. “Teaching wasn’t initially in the cards. One student, Shaquillah, changed my plans. She was a 2nd grade student getting kicked out of class all the time and was a struggling reader. By March, she was reading—“it felt as if the heavens opened up to guide my path into teaching. It worked, and it was so fulfilling to be a part of this accomplishment.”

After college, she worked as a teacher in Cheektowaga Central School District in New York, where she became known for her creativity (she had her students stage “West Cell Story” in her science class). Leaving the classroom to earn her doctorate at SUNY University at Buffalo, she returned as Assistant Principal in Buffalo City Schools. Then, one night, “I was watching Nightline and they showed a segment on DCPS. I emailed that night and said if there’s an opportunity to join forces and be a partner in your mission, count me in. A couple months later, I got an email from DCPS and we started a relationship. In spring 2011, I came to DC.”
Her impact at Leckie since 2013 is impressive:  enrollment climbed by 25%, adding over 100 students to her membership.  Her leadership practices are narrowing the achievement gap. Students have seen a 5 percent increase in reading scores, a 10 percent increase in advanced math performance, and the 5th highest scores in DCPS on Composition. Atasha hasn’t limited her leadership to her students and staff at Leckie. She has served as a Mentor Principal for the Mary Jane Patterson Fellowship since its inception.   And she’s just getting started.

“For me, it’s about the high of seeing the kids’ progress and how happy they are getting there.”