Erin Barksdale-Coles, Highland Renaissance Academy

  • Erin Barksdale-Coles says there is beauty and power in giving yourself time to grow. At 28 years old, she transitioned from being an assistant principal at Ranson Middle School to a principal at a charter school in Dallas, Texas.

    Her mindset then was to work, grind and exhaust herself to get the results she wanted. But a first-year teacher at her school told her, “work can’t be a hobby.” Barksdale-Coles said it took her years before the meaning clicked, and now she always tells it to her staff.

    “We got great results, and we got it done, but at what cost?” said Barksdale-Coles. “I tell my teachers that they have to take care of their full selves to sustain their work. It’s important.”

    Education wasn’t Barksdale-Coles’ first career path. After graduating from Butler High School, Coles said she wasn’t sure what she wanted to study — just that she wanted to go to a historically black college and university (HBCU). While attending Spelman College, Barksdale-Coles thought she wanted to go to law school. But after a few internships, Coles said she felt conflicted.

    It wasn’t until she took a student teaching class in her junior year and started working with high schoolers that she realized her calling. Barksdale-Coles is in her 10th year as a principal, five years at Highland Renaissance Academy.

    “I’ve learned a lot,” said Barksdale-Coles. “Seeing kids grow and develop is great, but seeing adults grow in their practice brings me a lot of joy. When you take care of the adults, the adults take care of the kids and build great relationships with the families.”

    Alison Harris Welcher, who Barksdale-Coles considers her mentor, attended Spelman with Coles, and both went through Teach for America. When Welcher was the principal at Ranson Middle, Barksdale-Coles was her assistant principal, and Welcher saw her dedication and passion first hand.

    “(Erin) is a visionary,” said Welcher. “There wasn’t a lot I had to do to support her. It was more of giving her the confidence and support she needed to lead. She led our eighth-grade team for most of the time she was at Ranson Middle, and she was ready with a vision to do what needed to be done.”

    Welcher and Barksdale-Coles remain in touch, and Welcher is excited to see what the future holds for her.

    “It’s been beautiful to see her journey into the principalship,” she said. “I’ve loved seeing her grow and allow herself to sit back and support others in their leadership.”

    And supporting others in their leadership development is something Barksdale-Coles finds very rewarding.

    “Being able to see the possibilities in people and nurture that is scary because we don’t want to lose our people,” she said. “But that’s the business we’re in. The business of developing leaders.”