Kenneth Gorham is the principal of Movement Freedom Middle School in Charlotte, North Carolina. During his time as a classroom teacher, Gorham made many remarkable contributions to the academic rating of the school including his class having the highest end-of-year test scores across his grade level.
When senior leaders in the school approached Kenneth Gorham to consider applying and interviewing for the position of principal to oversee his community school, Kenneth Gorham’s initial reaction was one of surprise as he asked, “Are y’all sure?”
His appointment as the principal of Movement Freedom Middle School in Charlotte, North Carolina was met with astonishment due to his relatively young age. At just 24 years old, Kenneth Gorham made history as the youngest principal to ever lead the school. This is particularly noteworthy considering that the average age of charter school principals in the U.S., as reported by the National Center for Education Statistics, is 47.
“I’m like, this has to be too good to be true. This is unheard of,” Gorham, now 26, tells CNBC Make It. “This never happens.”
However, Kenneth Gorham attributes his success in securing the highest leadership position to three soft skills: people leadership, networking, and resilience.
People Leadership: Treat people as humans first
Kenneth Gorham possessed strong leadership skills, evidenced by his involvement in six executive board member positions for on-campus organizations at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, which he held before graduating in 2019. After two years of teaching, he transitioned into an instructional coach role, assisting fellow educators in developing lesson plans. The teachers under his guidance experienced significant improvement in their students’ reading and math end-of-grade test scores, with double-digit growth observed.
He states that overseeing nearly 200 students and ensuring that teachers have the necessary tools and resources to perform their duties are not significantly distinct from his previous experiences.
“When I was approached by senior leadership to apply and interview for the role of principal, my ability to lead people stood out,” says Kenneth Gorham. “People were able to follow me just based off of my rapport with them.”
Gorham’s empathy-forward leadership style and his ability to “be a champion” for others is his superpower, he recalls his superintendent once telling him.
His exceptional leadership style, characterized by his profound empathy and unwavering dedication to advocating for others, serves as his unique strength – qualities that have also been acknowledged by his previous superintendent.
Networking: Build a network of supporters
Kenneth Gorham attributes his career growth thus far to a supportive network of sponsors and mentors, often quoting the adage, “If you want to go far, go together.”
Lauryn Jackson, the current principal of Movement Freedom Elementary School and Gorham’s former instructional coach during his teaching days, is among them. Kenneth Gorham acknowledges the significance of Jackson’s advice and guidance. Recognizing Gorham’s unwavering commitment, Lauryn Jackson commendably endorsed him for the principal role.
Lauryn Jackson further reassured Kenneth Gorham that he could handle the higher position, emphasizing that his age would not determine his potential accomplishments.
“Your age is not going to be the thing that depicts what you can achieve,” he recalls her saying.
That environment of encouragement helped: People sometimes need a push to “allow themselves to be cultivated, grown and developed to the best version of themselves,” says Gorham.
The atmosphere of support proved beneficial to Kenneth Gorham, as individuals occasionally require motivation to embrace personal growth and development.
People often need support and encouragement to “allow themselves to be cultivated, grown, and developed to the best version of themselves,” says Gorham.
Kenneth Gorham draws inspiration from his grandmother, who was one of the pioneering African-American teachers to integrate a school with no people of color. He believes that if she can be resilient in the face of adversity, so can he.
This quality has helped him excel in his current role, where he has demonstrated his proficiency in many areas, including assisting students and fellow educators in transitioning back to in-person classes after the virtual era of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He assisted teachers in coordinating their curricula and reacquainting themselves with the teaching dynamics in a classroom as an instructional coach.
“I had to remind myself that we are also modeling for our students how to be resilient.” – Kenneth Gorham.
Kenneth Gorham endeavors to attentively address his colleagues’ concerns and offer guidance; in addition to boosting the morale of his students by greeting them with hugs and high fives each morning to uplift their morale and foster resilience.
Kenneth Gorham attributes his success in securing the principal position to his talent for fostering excellence among students and teachers, and his unwavering dedication to achieving positive outcomes.
“We had to really think through how to hold [students] to a high bar … and still understand and empathize with them,” says Gorham.
“There were many challenges that came with that, but I had to remind myself that we are also modeling for our students how to be resilient, based on our adaptability and flexibility,” he added.