David Walker, who most recently was a vice principal at Linden High School, took the helm of School No. 10 this summer: “This is a great school. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
By Gary Miller
When David Walker walks into School No. 10, he is home.
It was there that, in 1986, he was a student in a Pre-K program for children with developmental delays. It was there that through love and encouragement from his teachers, he was able to overcome a speech impediment and form the roots of what became a lifelong love of education.
The difference is that now when he walks through those doors on Highland Avenue, he is the principal.
Walker, who was most recently a vice principal at Linden High School, took over this summer at the helm of Highland Avenue School No. 10, filling the job vacated by the retirement of Sandra Coglianese, who was with the Linden Public Schools for 20 years.
It’s a big change for Walker, but he is excited to be going full circle.
“It means so much,” he said. “For me it’s such a special place. When I started here, I was in Pre-K and I had a speech impediment. This is the school that helped me at such a transformative age to be able to overcome that barrier and to be able to move forward. I owe so much to this school, and I’m just so happy that I can be here again and help teachers and students thrive and do well.”
Walker will be hosting a “Popsicles with the Principal” event at the school on Aug. 28 at 6 p.m. to allow parents and other members of the public to be able to meet their new principal and learn about the school.
“I think it’s so important that people in our neighborhood and in our city see what amazing things go on here,” he said.
Walker has been at Linden High School since he joined the district in 2008 as a social studies teacher. He later became chairman of the Social Studies Department and was named Teacher of the Year for the district in 2012. He became vice principal in January 2016.
Going from a high school with a population of over 1,600 students over two buildings, to the district’s smallest school with about 250 students could be a startling change. But Walker said he is ready for the change, and for the challenge.
“I’m used to a very rushed pace,” he said. “There’s always something going on at the high school. I think the fact that I’m not the type of educator to be stuck in the office means that I’m going to be out there with the kids, with the teachers, reading the pulse of the school, helping teachers. That’s where the action is. The action’s not here in the office. So I think that doing that, I’ll still have a great pace.”
Superintendent Danny A. Robertozzi said Walker’s experience and passion made him a natural fit to fill the opening at School No. 10.
“Mr. Walker has distinguished himself as an outstanding educator and a natural leader who has earned the respect of teachers and administrators throughout the district,” Dr. Robertozzi said. “The passion that he shows for his roots makes it even more special that he was able to step into the job at School 10. I know he’ll do amazing things for the students on Highland Avenue.”
Walker was a member of the LHS Class of 2000 and he also attended Soehl Middle School, School No. 4 and School No. 6. He studied history and African studies at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, and attained his master’s degree in instructional design and technology from Seton Hall University.
Walker realized he wanted to be a school leader during his days as a teacher, and said he learned a lot from LHS Principal Yelena Horré and other administrators during his time as VP.
“To me it wasn’t necessarily a natural step, but it was something that I really wanted to do,” he said. “I really wanted to lead a school, and this is a great school. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
“There are nights that I can’t go to sleep. And normally you think that if you can’t go to sleep you must have anxiety, but I have excitement!”
Walker credits several of the district’s other elementary school principals with helping him make the transition to the lower grades – including the woman he is replacing.
“When I first got appointed, Mrs. Coglianese was so welcoming and so gracious,” he said. “The day after I got appointed by the board, she called me and welcomed me. Such a class act.”
He also gave a nod to School No. 4 Principal Anthony Cataline, who was the School No. 10 principal when Walker was a student there: “Mr. Cataline is a such a great principal, so to live up to that mark …”
Among his top goals as principal, Walker wants to maintain the high academic standards at School No. 10, but he also wants to make sure children are engaged in learning.
“The root of it all is that I look at everything through the eyes of a child,” he said. “I like to pose this question: If our children didn’t have to go to School 10, if they could stay home, would they still want to come? Our staff want to make it that absolutely they would come. No questions asked.
“Learning should be rigorous, teaching should be with the standards in mind, but it should also be fun, it should be engaging. They go hand-in-hand. Our teachers’ passion is everything.”
Walker has already seen that passion in action, from teachers who came in during the summer to get their classrooms ready for September, and from staff members who have worked to remake the school’s lobby and media center, which will host the school’s new technology classes in the coming school year.
“It’s not like I came in here and said I want this whole front lobby to be different,” he said. “They said, ‘Hey, can we try this, can we do this?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, do it. Absolutely.’ Our teachers have this passion and desire. When you have teachers who come in the first week of July to get their classrooms ready for the next year, you can’t help but feed off that atmosphere.”
Walker, who is married with four daughters ages 3 through 7, is not planning to have a desk in his office – only a table – because he wants to “live up to my last name” and spend most of his time walking around the school. During one of his strolls this summer, he stopped into the classroom where he started out in Pre-K.
“I walked down the halls and I went to the old classroom where I was at, and it had that feel,” he said.
“It is like coming home. I know it is a cliché, but that’s how it feels.”