HISD school leaders, business executives pair up for ‘Project Principal’

Nine HISD schools give business leaders an opportunity to shadow school principals

It was 8 a.m. on a typical morning at HISD’s Benavidez Elementary School, and Principal Zabeth Parra-Malek was on the go. After making the morning announcements, she stood at the front door greeting late arrivals, making sure they were fed and ready for the day. By 8:45, she landed in a PALS pre-K classroom for a drop-in observation with the school’s therapy dog, Lucy.  

What made this morning different was that she had a “shadow” – Kristie Ketron, an executive with Ernst & Young. Parra-Malek was one of nine HISD principals who hosted visitors like Ketron for Project Principal, an opportunity for business leaders to walk a mile in principals’ shoes. 

And they did plenty of walking, in and out of classrooms and meetings, highlighting the main message Parra-Malek wanted the community to hear: schools, teachers, and students are more than test scores and accountability ratings. 

“We are doing everything we can to help our community,” Parra-Malek said. “Benavidez is a very diverse school. I want to showcase how hard we work to teach all the students we have from different countries and the supports and experiences that we provide for them.”  

This is the first year that HISD has partnered with Leadership ISD, a nonprofit public education advocacy group, for the initiative. The campus visits are aimed at building partnerships between the schools and the executives and companies they represent.  

Ketron spent three hours shadowing Parra-Malek, engaging with a bilingual pre-K class, observing the campus’ interventions lab, and working with Parra-Malek on grade-level planning. The eye-opening experience helped Ketron better understand what was needed at Benavidez to empower students to reach their full potential.  

“I was very humbled today,” she said. “These kids are here to learn. Students were engaged in every classroom. I just hope that we can do as much as we can to help these kids succeed as adults.” 

Cornelius, Elrod, and Wainwright elementary schools, Lawson Middle School, and Austin, Kashmere, Madison and Worthing high schools also welcomed executives from Amegy Bank, Bank of America, CenterPoint Energy, Direct Energy, and Sapient digital to participate in Project Principal.  

After the campus visits, a luncheon was held at Amegy Tower in which members of Leadership ISD, along with Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan, issued a call to action.   

“It so important that our students and schools have support from business leaders like you,” Lathan said. “But it is also important that you all received the behind-the-scenes look at how our schools operate on a daily basis.” 

For more information on Project Principal, visit https://leadershipisd.org/projectprincipal