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'Breath of fresh air': Associate School Director speaks on DSST's Advanced Leader Cohort Pipeline program

As part of DSST’s Leadership Pipeline Spotlight Series, we are excited to celebrate the leadership journey of Jimmy Cooley, who is serving in his first year as an Associate School Director at DSST: Conservatory Green Middle School. Cooley joined our DSST community in the 2022-2023 school year with a Master’s in Special Education and another in Educational Leadership.

To support his aspirations of transitioning from a Dean role into an ASD role, he applied for the DSST Advanced Leader Cohort (ALC), which is a yearlong program that serves to advance the leadership practices of campus-level leaders who want to prepare to move into the School Director in Training (SDiT) role or other higher levels of leadership in DSST Public Schools. 

Cooley’s experience in the Advanced Leader Cohort has been transformational in his leadership development. We asked him to tell us how the DSST Leadership Pipeline has impacted him personally and professionally. Here is what he had to say:

Can you tell us about your experience in the Advanced Leader Cohort (ALC) Pipeline Program?

DSST’s leadership pipeline program ALC is a breath of fresh air when it comes to leader development. I have worked in different school districts and charter networks and DSST’s dedication to its people is top of the line. 

What makes DSST’s approach to upward career growth different or unique?

I started my career as a Center-based Affective needs teacher, where I worked with students in grades K-12. I quickly realized that I wanted to one day run my own school. However, because I was hired in a hard-to-fill position, there was no opportunity to advance short of leaving the district.

Contrarily, at DSST, with the ALC program, I was made aware of many leadership opportunities and given guidance on how to prepare for interviews and develop skills to help me master the leadership positions that interested me.

How have you felt supported and prepared to be effective in your work?

I am an introvert. I prefer to live in my head and problem solve. However, the support I received from ALC is so valuable. The technical skills and the deep conversations we had during our time together were so inspiring and eye-opening. Still, the best part of ALC for me was how it helped me overcome my imposter syndrome, which in turn has made me a better, more confident school leader.

How have the opportunities provided by ALC impacted you?

The Advanced Leader Cohort (ALC) opened my eyes to new ideas from other leaders. Some, coming from similar situations, and others coming from situations far different from mine. However, our task and challenges remain the same: to create the best learning environment for the students in our charge.

Interested in learning more about the DSST Leadership Pipeline? Reach out to Vice President of Leader Development, Dr. Natalie Lewis.