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Story By: Darwin Campbell, African-American News&Issues

Dr. Shirley Rose-Gilliam, Principal, Phillis Wheatley High School
Dr. Shirley Rose-Gilliam,
Phillis Wheatley High School

Dr. Shirley Rose-Gilliam understands the meaning of growing up in tough, challenged and disadvantaged settings with very few opportunities. Her experiences as a child have been both a catalyst for changing her situation and today motivates her to answer the special “calling” to make a difference in the lives of youth. That calling has brought her to Phillis Wheatley High School, where she takes over reigns as principal at a school that has struggled with principal turnover and image issues in recent years. “I believe that God put it in me to be a servant-leader,” she said. “I am here to make a difference in kids lives and make things better and looking for the same enthusiasm from teachers to help make that happen.” Rose-Gilliam said she comes into an environment seeking cooperation at all levels and hopes to build relationships that result in restoring “Wildcat Pride” to heights not yet seen in school history. She has a history of turning problem schools around and working to improve and restore a positive tone in the school and communities surrounding her schools. Wheatley has been a campus that has struggled with principal turnover in recent years.

I remember how one school and one teacher made a difference in my life by instilling a vision and dream in me,” she said. “Why Wheatley? Why not. My goal is for every child to change the the way they look at themselves, to believe in the possibilities and stop thinking negatively.” Rose-Gilliam is a long-time Houston area resident and a 25-year veteran educator and administrator with a proven track record for turning around struggling schools and knows the uphill battles that some schools face when not in more affluent areas. She comes to Houston Independent School District from the Fort Bend Independent School District, where she spent 10 years as a high school teacher and another 15 years as a campus administrator. While in Fort Bend, she was tapped by the superintendent to lead the turnaround effort at Thurgood Marshall High School, a campus that successfully emerged from an academically unacceptable rating during her tenure. She also served as principal at George Bush High School and Christa McAuliffe Middle School, both in Fort Bend ISD. “African-American and Hispanic children may come from tough backgrounds, but that has nothing to do with their ability to learn and achieve and what we as teachers and educators can do to serve them,” she said. “Our roles as educators is to be consistent in showing them how to learn, instill a positive dream in their hearts and lead them towards success.

She has a powerful presence in the hallways, but a soft “motherly” approach to motivating students and getting them to look at themselves and assess their futures. “It’s about the children and building positive trusting relationships with them,” she said. “From hallways to classroom, we will provide a consistency and routine that will set new standards inside the school that transfers our school spirit, success goals and culture from the school into the neighborhoods.” Her caring attitude and genuine approach to administration and education has built her respect from students and solid reputation among her colleagues. “I am a cheerleader for the school and youth,” she said.

My goals are for kids to believe they matter and change the current flow of negative culture into the school and turn that tide by building pride, setting a new direction with new expectations. Dr. Rose holds a Bachelor of Science from University of Houston, a Master of Education from University of Houston-Victoria, and a Doctorate of Education from Texas A&M University. To demonstrate her commitment to her goals Dr. Rose has already has started to transition into her new role and is begin working with faculty, staff, parents, students and the community. She plans to meet with students and develop a new school “motto” and use peer mentoring development and some other ideas to help boost attendance and  encourage academic achievement. “Pride happens when you build a culture from within the school that spreads outside the school into homes and neighborhoods,” she said. “It’s about taking responsibility and ownership for yourself, your school and your community.”