Despite the challenges of transitioning to online instruction, the Irving ISD Leaders Excelling and Advancing Performance (LEAP) program continues to turn out new, innovative and passionate leaders. Started by the Human Resources Department in 2018, LEAP was spearheaded by Katie Gilleland and Jorge Acosta and operates in partnership with departments across the district.

Since its inaugural year, three cohorts have graduated from the program. Each cohort is kept intentionally small, usually less than 30, so that each member can receive specific support and mentorship that the program revolves around.

The program consists of differentiated leadership development curriculum, guest speaker sessions and leadership mentors, and an extensive capstone project designed to help the LEAPers excel in service to our students, staff and the broader community of Irving ISD.

“The one thing that was always pushed home every single time, whether said indirectly or directly, is that leaders are called to serve. A lot of times people have that wrong,” says Katie Hawley, LEAP graduate of 2020. “Often times people think if you’re the leader it’s the job of those around you to just follow. But the example set by Katie and Jorge was just the opposite.”

Hawley, who was named Teacher of the Year in 2018, applied to LEAP out of a desire to do more for Irving ISD students. Her capstone project, which concentrated on the research and development of Professional Learning Communities, lead her to close involvement with the Curriculum and Instruction team. Hawley recently accepted a new role on this team, where she will help educators across Irving ISD teach reading at an expert level.

New to the LEAP program for the 2020-2021 cohort are two distinct pathway options: “Aspiring Team Leader” and “Instructional Team Leader.” Each route is designed to fit the passion of each student and provide practical experience in what leadership looks like in their area of interest.

“Getting to be around a group of people, in my case it was Professional Learning, and getting to work with [the leaders] in the department was really beneficial,” says Leslie Haddock, LEAP class of 2018. “It was a really cool opportunity that’s not something that would have just happened organically had I not been through LEAP.”

Haddock first joined Irving ISD as a new teacher and coach at Nimitz High School before transitioning to being an academic specialist at Lamar Middle School while earning her principal certification. A learner by nature, Haddock applied to the LEAP program to further explore areas of interest and opportunity within the district.

“What LEAP did for me is what I feel Irving [ISD] has always done for me, give opportunity. I’ve always believed and felt that I had opportunities to keep growing and become what I want to become,” says Haddock. “I can do that here, it isn’t necessary for me to look elsewhere when there are already so many opportunities here in a place where I love the kids and the community.”