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Principal Katherine Castleberry has spearheaded a number of programs at Lincoln Elementary School, including guided reading supports to targeted students, an afterschool enrichment program consisting primarily of free- and low-cost program options; and a summer slide prevention program.
Castleberry has generosity of spirit
August 22, 2022
ACSA Administrators of the Year graphic.
Name: Katherine Castleberry Award: Elementary Principal of the Year Title: Principal, Lincoln Elementary School, Torrance USD ACSA highlights: Member since 2000; ACSA Region 14 President (2013-14); Region 14 State Equity Committee Rep. (2021-Present).
Under Katherine Castleberry’s leadership, Lincoln Elementary School became the top Title I school in Torrance Unified School District. Her eagerness to try new strategies and dedication to being collaborative and inclusive were key factors in improving student achievement at her school.
A few programs Castleberry spearheaded include developing an intervention program to provide guided reading support to targeted students; creating an afterschool enrichment program consisting primarily of free- and low-cost program options; and initiating a summer slide prevention program that encourages students to read during the summer.
Her involvement in her district initiatives has empowered staff, too — it’s common to see Lincoln Elementary teachers represented on district committees and Castleberry’s teaching team outperforms other schools in Torrance Unified with similar demographics.
Sidney Morrison, retired principal from Torrance Unified and former ACSA President (1998-99), said Castleberry’s “generosity of spirit” inspires loyalty from students, parents and staff.
“I have learned from her, and can learn so much more … I know she remains deeply engaged in the improvement of her skills and her knowledge of what’s best for children,” Morrison said. “Others can list awards, achievements, test scores, and note patterns and trends. I would rather praise her character and spirit, for in the end, isn’t that what matters?”
What’s your favorite book or quote on leadership? I love this quote from Jill Merolla who contributed to the April 2021 edition of Educational Leadership Magazine. She wrote: “The one great myth about being a school principal is that there is a perfect prototype that all leaders must follow: Fearless, strong, compassionate, and all-knowing. The real secret is that a great leader needs to be their authentic self, willing to take risks, fail, love their community, get creative and be a lifelong learner.”
My new favorite book on leadership is “Culture of Love: Cultivating a Positive and Transformational Organizational Culture” by Dr. Luvelle Brown. His message of being a servant leader who fosters a school community rooted in love and relationship building is so timely given all that we’ve endured societally and educationally these past couple years. He reminds us that our calling as educators means commitments that are bigger than ourselves and our personal aspirations.
What is the best advice you’ve ever been given? The piece of advice that I’ve often come back to as I’ve navigated my professional life was given to me by Alice Petrossian, ACSA State President, 2011-2012. As I found myself at a crossroads with making a professional decision, Alice nudged me along by saying, “Opportunities are presented to us for a reason and perhaps it is because they are ready for us before we are ready for them, so lean in.”
What’s your best strategy for work/life balance? Laugh as often as you can! The job of school leaders is tough, there’s no doubt about it. But we have to firmly plant ourselves at the intersection of joy and optimism to remain focused on what’s most important in our work — keeping students safe and providing them with a quality, well-rounded education. I believe laughter simply makes every situation a little better and positively brings people together … thus making the demands of the job much more manageable.
What are some life hacks that you would recommend for a new administrator? Don’t reinvent the wheel — make your needs known and someone will be there to help. We can’t lead schools on our own, so work hard on building and nurturing relationships … for you will need to leverage them at some point. Transparency, although not always loved, is always respected.
What would people be surprised to learn about you? I have a laugh and personality that can usually be heard and felt long before I ever enter a room, yet I’m truly an introvert … I think it comes from being an only child.
What made you want to become a school administrator? I am fulfilled, exponentially, when I’m making a positive impact; school leadership allows me to do this every day. I get to nurture and shape the lives of young people. I get to support teachers and assist in the development of their craft. I get to mentor new administrators as they realize their leadership potential. I want to leave this earth having left a remarkable legacy and not one that is talked about once I’m gone, but one I can look back on myself.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome to get to where you are? I think the same as for many people, taking the necessary risks to pursue what I want and love. Early in my career, I often settled for being comfortable with where I was, when really I was being complacent and not growing. I’m better about distinguishing this now and being more open-minded by welcoming new opportunities. I’ve also learned the importance of not being defined by one’s shortcomings, but rather by one’s gifts.
What are you proud of accomplishing? I’m most proud of how much my school, Lincoln Elementary, has grown over the many years I’ve been principal. I’m not referring to growth in things like API and Dashboard measures (although we’ve made tremendous gains in these areas), I’m referring to growth in school pride, growth in believing that all students can and will learn, growth in collaboration and collegiality. Lincoln has simply blossomed over the years and has truly become a shining example of what working collectively as a school community looks like to best meet the needs of students. This is not cliche for us — we live this every day and we have fun doing it.
How has ACSA supported you in your career/current position? I can’t say enough good things about ACSA’s support. I have learned so much from being part of this community of leaders who simply want to do what’s best for California’s students. I’ve learned how to positively advocate for educational rights, my school, my students and myself. The networking opportunities have broadened my perspectives on my work as a school leader, which allows me to stretch myself innovatively and creatively. ACSA has meaningfully nudged me and enabled me to think deeply and thoughtfully on important matters such as diversity, equity and inclusion that allows for my staff and I to truly connect with the students we serve, thereby validating their educational and life experiences. I’m grateful for the numerous professional development opportunities that have helped to grow my skills in so many areas. ACSA is truly a wonderful organization.
What new strategies are you using to ensure student success in the post-“return to school” period? Being intentional about spending quality time with students so as to ensure school connectedness. Honestly, this is best accomplished by doing the simplest of things — stopping students for a quick chat in the hallway, scheduling more time to read to classes or listening to a student read the book they’ve checked from the school library, knowing everyone’s name and being able to address them accordingly. We are continuing to leverage all of the amazing gains made as we all had to navigate and learn to use technology in more meaningful ways.
We have become more innovative in the ways we support students, not just stepping in at times when things aren’t going well, but rather capitalizing on times when great things are happening. We call it Concierge Support Services — what can we do to support and celebrate students being back on campus? What can we do to be a constant source of encouragement for students? How can we maintain good morale so that both staff and students love to come to school?
2022 Elementary Principal of the Year Katherine Castleberry
2022 Elementary Principal of the Year Katherine Castleberry.