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Courtney Egelston
Assistant Principal and Co-Founder,
Innovation, Design, and Entrepreneurship Academy (IDEA)

I think in terms of growing professionally, Sarah (Ritsema, IDEA principal) and I planned this together as co-founders of school. In that way, a lot of leadership responsibilities landed on me from the beginning. I have my hands in all aspects of running a high school. I think the biggest thing that has pushed me was managing emotions when faced with challenging situations that are confidential regarding a student or teacher. It has been a struggle keeping composure and a happy face through the experience of student trauma. I think learning to manage my emotions has been the most impactful thing in my first year in this role, and it’s helped me grow as a school leader.

We have one year of EOC data and are second in the District, as compared to comprehensive high schools, in Algebra and English. We attribute this to implementing personalized learning at our campus and the instructional feedback and support provided to our teachers. For example: There are weekly lesson plan feedback sessions and a system school-wide schedule for intervention hours (these have resulted in higher achievement in reading). 

We want teachers to have the autonomy they need to develop their instruction based on student data so they can meaningfully address students’ gaps in knowledge. We talk a lot about the content they are teaching and we also target their support based on what they need to learn in order to improve their instructional delivery and knowledge of student gaps. We personalize professional development sessions, lesson plan feedback, and teachers’ attendance at conferences and site visits to best support our team in increasing student achievement.

The Innovation, Design, Entrepreneurship Academy is a new, personalized learning high school in Dallas ISD. At IDEA, our students are matched 1:1 with a community mentor who serves as both a cheerleader and coach, helping students develop the self-efficacy they need to become agents of change in their own lives and in their communities. Mentors commit to spending two hours every month checking in with their mentees and helping them establish academic and personal goals. Mentors typically connect virtually, using a secure learning management system to check-in with students. Most mentors meet their mentees on our campus for at least 30 minutes every month – during the school day – to provide the valuable face time necessary for building a long-lasting relationship. For mentors who need a different schedule, we organize a handful of evening events to attend in lieu of coming during the academic day.

If you or anyone in your network would like would like to be a mentor at IDEA, please take our Mentor Match Survey (3 min) and go through Dallas ISD's Volunteer Registration (5 min). Our next mentor matching will be in February and we are looking to add about 30 more mentors by then! 


Courtney Egelston is the Assistant Principal and Co-Founder of Innovation, Design, and Entrepreneurship Academy (IDEA). She is a Cohort 3 graduate of Teaching Trust’s Aspiring Leaders Program.