20 Under 40: Katie Eska

Katie Eska | 32

North Dallas High School
Education: Harvard Graduate School of Education

Katie Eska may have been the youngest principal of her time hired by Dallas Independent School District, but her accomplishments quickly measure up to the most tenured of staff. During her first year as principal, Katie launched the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme at Arthur Kramer Elementary, which soon became the first elementary school in DISD to achieve IB Authorization and is still only one of four to offer an IB education to the district’s youngest learners. Last year, she was one of 11 principals selected to participate in the Superintendent’s Principal Group. Daily, she is responsible for 116 employees and the safety, well-being, and progress toward graduation of nearly 1,100 students. “A leader has to be thinking ahead to ensure that every short-term decision aligns to the long-term goal by “sweating the small stuff” and absolutely taking care of their people,” she said. Katie’s passion for education also can be seen in her community civic work with Incarnation House through North Dallas High School.

Q: If you could, what advice would you have for your teenage self and why?
A: Enjoy the journey. Driven and goal-oriented people love to rush the process, but the path is an enormous part of making us ready for the challenges and success we have in the future.

Q: If you could buy a book for your neighbor, what would it be and why?
A: A book I am loving right now is “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson, as it reminds us all that “each of us in more than the worst thing we have ever done.”

Did You Know?
My very first job was working as a gymnastics coach in my hometown of Marietta, Georgia. This is where I solidified my love for working with children.

Q: What was your first job and what did you learn from it?

A: My very first job was working as a gymnastics coach in my hometown of Marietta, Georgia. This is where I solidified my love for working with children, as well as having the opportunity to share something I was passionate about at the time. After many odd jobs throughout college, my first professional job was teaching at Spruce High School in Pleasant Grove. Just prior to my tenure at Spruce, the school had been reconstituted by the State Board of Education. While teaching at Spruce, I learned that every family and community wants what is best for their children and that children can ALWAYS reach the expectations you set for them.

Q: Where do you see yourself and/or your career 10 years from now?

A: While I am not sure exactly what job I will be doing in 10 years, I know I will be in the field of education working and advocating for children.

Q: Which leadership skills were the most challenging for you to develop and why?

A: The most challenging leadership skills for me to develop were two-fold. First, it was developing the confidence in myself that it was okay not to apologize for having high expectations; meanwhile, it is my responsibility to ensure I support and develop my people to meet those expectations. Second, it was learning to simultaneously execute on the daily level, while ensuring I stay true to the broader vision and goals we set up for ourselves. A leader has to be thinking ahead to ensure that every short term decision aligns to the long term goal by “sweating the small stuff” and absolutely taking care of their people!

Q: What do you love about the Park Cities or Preston Hollow community and why?

A: I love my neighbors! About once a week, we end up standing in the middle of the street catching up on each other’s lives, checking in on puppies, families, and jobs, and just generally supporting each other. It is wonderful to live around people who share a strong sense of community and family.

Q: What is your favorite local store?

A: Kendra Scott– especially the one in West Village; walking distance from North Dallas HS.

Q: Where is the best place in the Park Cities or Preston Hollow for a power lunch – what do you order?

A: Taco Diner – Los Cabos Salad

Q: If there was ONE thing that you could change or improve in the community, what would it be?

A: If there was one thing I could improve in our community, it would be to increase conversation across lines of difference. While it is very easy to make judgments based on the past or what one perceives, I am consistently inspired by how much we have in common if we are willing to have open dialogue and learn about one another. For example, 190 students that attend North Dallas are housing insecure, meaning they do not have a consistent home to live in, yet every year, these students compete against their higher-income peers (within North Dallas and beyond) to be accepted to schools like the University of Texas and SMU. In fact, each year, North Dallas sends multiple students to SMU on a full ride, room, and board scholarship.

Q: If we looked at your social media accounts, what would we learn about you?

A: You would learn that my students, faculty, and community are my inspiration, but first and foremost, I am inspired every day by the students on my campus. From the senior who fought homelessness her entire life and just received word after being admitted to SMU that she also earned a full-ride scholarship, to the freshman who just entered our doors and said that he has never felt like he belonged to anything until he came to North Dallas, to the junior that works through the night and struggles to get to school each morning but is hell-bent on graduating, I am inspired. Our students are resilient, kind, positive, willing, and engaged. I am motivated to create an environment to maximize student potential through excellent academics, strong adult-student relationships, and community connection.

Second, I am inspired by a team that pushes themselves every day to do right by kids. I am inspired by the teacher who sits on the phone at night offering an ex-student a pep talk which is crying during their first semester at college and wants to come home. I am inspired by the counselor who will have as many conversations as it takes to make sure a student knows that she believes in their ability no matter what a family member might say. I know that by building a team with the right people and then building the capacity in our individual adults to work collectively and collaboratively will result in the strongest advocates for our students.

Lastly, I am inspired by our community and alumni who believe in our students and partner with us for their daily success. Every child deserves a mentor and an advocate, and we have a community full of them! I am inspired to be a part of our community’s future.

Q: What, to date, has been your most impressive or rewarding accomplishment in both your professional and personal life?

A: Professionally, during my first year as principal in Dallas ISD, I launched the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme process at Arthur Kramer Elementary School. In year three, after a two and a half year journey, Kramer was the first elementary school in Dallas ISD to achieve IB Authorization and still only one of four to offer an IB education to our youngest learners. Additionally, during the launch of the IB program and inquiry-based learning, Kramer earned all six possible state distinctions in the state of Texas, solidified our immersion two-way dual language program, and increased enrollment by over 20% over that same period of time.

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