School leadership matters: Principal LaWanda Polydore

Principal LaWanda Polydore participated in JPEF's School Leader Summer Residency.



Principal LaWanda Polydore is the Principal of Northwestern Legends Elementary School. Last year, she was recognized as the Duval County Public Schools’ Principal of the Year after she worked with her team to bring her school’s grade up from a “D” to a “B” at St. Clair Evans Academy. This summer, she participated in JPEF’s School Leadership Initiative Summer Residency Experience. She recently spoke to JPEF’s Board of Directors about her experience, and shared the following.


LaWanda Polydore, Duval County Principal of the Year from Duval Schools on Vimeo.

How are you balancing health and safety and academics with the reopening of schools?

Health and safety is a big job, but it must be at the forefront of everything we do as leaders. Our staff follow CDC regulations, DCPS and health department regulations. My goal is to keep approximately 500 faculty and students safe, every day.

How is the experience of leading a Title I elementary school different from leading a school in other settings?

I’ve had experience leading in both urban settings as well as other school settings. Urban school students have different needs, so it is important for our staff to focus on the child as a whole. I’ve seen students come to school wearing shoes that were way too small, or without basic school supplies. If a student needs eye glasses, that is really important. By focusing on the student’s needs first, we are able to teach them more effectively. 

On the other hand, students at non-urban schools came prepared. They had all of their supplies, they were wearing the correct shoe size, and they had clean clothing. It’s just different how you have to support the individual child. I believe that all students should have high standards and an excellent learning experience, no matter where they attend school.

What was most valuable about the Summer Residency Experience?

JPEF was very organized. It was meaningful that I could receive everything that JPEF planned for me. I was able to fill up my toolbox. Based on the feedback and collaboration, each day I would reflect on what skills I could implement and use to improve my leadership.

I loved being able to collaborate with other principals. We had an opportunity to collaborate and talk and even think about celebrations. I was able to build relationships with principals that I don't have the opportunity to talk to a lot. That was life-changing for me. 

There were several guest speakers featured in the Residency. What did you enjoy about them?

The speakers were amazing. It was great to listen to Michael Moore of the Urban Schools Human Capital Academy. Because I am in an urban setting, I have a revolving door of teachers that change all the time. Sometimes they get burned out, or maybe it's just not the right setting for that teacher. In that case, I have to make changes. With new teachers that come on board and it is very important for me to build that human capital. 

Dr. Rebecca Parrott, JPEF’s School Leadership Consultant, presented on human capital and it was fabulous. After the presentation I immediately started thinking about how I plan to retain both new and old teachers. I began to survey and implement the strategies. Because of the skills that I learned at the training, my teachers want to be here and feel like a part of a family. We need people to give us things to put in our toolbox so that we can use it and see the fruit of it.

Dr. Colin Rose, former assistant superintendent of Boston Public Schools, talked about being culturally responsive. As an African American, I thought that I would know everything that there is to know about our ethnicity. We know that in urban schools, if students don't feel culturally a part of the school they do not respond well. The training taught me the importance of being culturally responsive. Every leader needs to know that. 

Learn more about JPEF’s School Leadership Initiative.





of public schools in Duval County earned an "A," "B," or "C" in 2021-2022.