Why I’m a Principal, Not a Statistic

Sharif El-Mekki

As October, National Principals Month, comes to an end, I cannot help but to reflect upon what led me into the principalship.

As a twenty-one year old African American male, I could have very easily become a statistic. Five months after graduating from IUP in rural Pennsylvania, I was shot and left for dead on a football field in Philadelphia.

Many people struggle to recover from such an experience and I am blessed to have a community that rallied around me and refused to let me succumb to the trauma that could have easily overwhelmed me. Instead, I was led to become a career changer, transitioning from counseling adjudicated youth to one of the most important careers in the world-being a principal.

As a teacher leader, my principal, Charles D’Alfonso, supported and encouraged me to take on the immense challenge of becoming a principal. He guided me, connected me with other mentors (like Yvonne Savior, who would serve as my new teacher coach and new principal coach years later), and provided various resources to spur my growth and success. And, although, I viewed myself as a leader of middle school students, my principal saw me as a leader of a school community.

Today, I make it part of my mission to encourage all my peers to mentor the brave, humble, and up-and-coming leaders in the principal pipeline. We need to do this to strengthen our profession and to ensure that there is a higher level of diversity in the principalship. By expanding leadership opportunities for women and minorities, we acknowledge the diversity of the students we serve. By harnessing the unique and life-impacting experiences and perceptions of culturally distinct principals, we will help to strengthen students’ outcomes – including and especially for the most vulnerable students in our communities. We will impact these students in ways that equip the next generation to master the incredible challenges and seize the incredible opportunities of our time.

It’s said Albert Einstein, the great scientist and philosopher, believed that one of the most powerful forces in the universe is the effect of compound interest in finance. I’m not sure if this attribution is true, but I do know that – like the power of earning “interest on interest,” – a great principal is a force that elevates, amplifies, and supports the great work of teachers and other school staff. And, that’s a mighty force! In my experience, it’s certainly one that moves mountains, uplifts communities, and accelerates student achievement.

My fellow Ambassadors Jill Levine and Rachel Skerritt and I have visited many cities and schools over the last several months, and we’ve spoken with over 875 principals. Research is clear about the tremendous lever that principals represent in school improvement efforts. Our conversations with our colleagues around the nation affirm the research below.

  • Principals’ actions have a have influence on why 70 percent of our best teachers leave the classroom
  • There are 90,000 principals, for 98,706 schools, employing 3 million teachers all of which serve the 55 million students in American public schools. On average, then, each principal impacts 611 students, each day, of each year, over their life at a school.
  • Principals account for 25 percent of a school’s total impact on student achievement, second only to teachers
  • Principals can have enormous impact on all students because principals ensure effective instruction year to year across the entire school

I am humbled and inspired daily by the work that we do and the impact that we have. As principals, we must continue to identify and develop those leaders in our buildings that can join us in this mission of the principalship – just as Charles D’Alfonso did twenty-two years ago.

Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School-Shoemaker Campus in Philadelphia, PA, and a 2013-15 Campus Principal Ambassador Fellow of the U.S. Department of Education. El-Mekki serves on Mayor Michael Nutter’s Commission on African American Males and is an America Achieves Fellow.


  1. To be a fortune, every man has to be America’s best. Selling skill’s good, but the teachers want to sell their dedications off to die hard. Students do not envy and just model after their models. Be awesome and believe in your conviction to become the middle school leader. Thank you for representing the middle school students from Philadelphia.


    Mrs. Susan Cho, autographed as Mrs. SUSAN FLORENCE BUSH CHALKER, on November 4, 2014, after Chaos, Affordable Care Act, Malaysian Flight Crash on Ukrain Border, and Ebola Crisis

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