In this issue, we would like to recognize Orlando Reyna, the principal of S.F. Austin High School in Houston ISD and a 2014 graduate of HCDE Educator Certification and Advancement (ECA) Principal Academy. Principal Reyna is an innovative, transformational leader always laser-focused on his students and community. We caught up with Orlando to get his insights on leadership.
Tell us about your campus leadership experience and the impact HCDE’ s Principal Academy had on your development as a campus leader.
I began my leadership career in 2009 as an instructional coordinator at Sam Houston Math, Science, and Technology responsible for parent engagement and the Biology curriculum. I transitioned to an Assistant Principal in 2011 and joined the team at Albert Thomas Middle School where I supported Math and Science for all grade levels. Working in these roles afforded me the opportunity to apply the skills that I learned from working with exemplar leaders in our district who instilled the confidence I needed to pursue my Principal Certification. HCDE’s Principal Academy provided me with a wealth of knowledge and skills that I prepared me for what was to come. I did not know at the time, that the opportunity would come so soon to lead a school. The Principal Academy connected me with seasoned leaders that shared their experiences and provided mentorship for aspiring leaders like myself at the time. I was chosen as the Principal of James S. Deady MS, where I served for two years before transitioning to lead James Madison HS for four years. The relationships I made while attending the academy helped me through the transitions of my leadership career. Many times, I called upon those peers to be thought partners and asked them to share ideas that I could use to implement programs successfully at the campuses I served. I have now entered my 9th year as a principal at Stephen F. Austin HS and I can honestly say that choosing HCDE’s Principal Academy played a major role in this journey.
Leading has pivoted due to COVID-19. How did you change or rethink your leadership style?
The COVID-19 pandemic provided me with a blank slate of what education would have to look like in these unprecedented times. We were all caught by surprise in late March of last year when our schools shut down, however, I knew that we would not be closed forever. I began to read as much as I could about the virus and how it was transmitted. I think we all became better versed in virology due to this crisis. My main concern became the health and wellness of staff and students, which are paramount in all schools but now a threat unbeknownst to all of us could be present every single day if safety measures were not executed effectively. I collaborated with colleagues daily to discuss the possibilities of how we would eventually return to our campuses. I felt challenged by the abrupt thrust into change but never discouraged. This crisis caused me to shift my thinking about how to continue to provide a quality education in an uncertain environment that was still not defined by anyone, all while keeping the entire faculty and staff safe from exposure to a deadly virus. It really made me revisit the competencies and apply the COVID-19 lens to them. I discovered that every idea or vision of how education should continue depending on flexibility and constant communication.
As an HCDE alum regarding leading during a crisis, what one piece of advice would you offer aspiring leaders?
Become the expert of the community you serve. Consume information and relevant data that is specific to your school community. Manage your time- we tend to let our everyday duties prevent us from taking time to work and learn from others, but the key is to seek opportunities to collaborate more with and learn from others about scenarios that could impact your community positively and prevent any pitfalls that others have already experienced. The last thing I would recommend is to make time to take care of your physical and mental health. Your leadership is important to the community you serve, so it is important that you are present, engaged, and functioning at your optimal level.
Austin HS, Houston ISD https://www.houstonisd.org/austinhs