New Lake Highlands High School Principal Dr. Joshua Delich isn’t letting grass grow under his feet. After I chatted with him Thursday, he met with Kathy Stewart and Vicky Taylor from the LH PID (Public Improvement District) and a group of LHHS teachers. He later sat down with Chief Avery Moore and a group of Dallas Police officers from the Northeast Division.
And it’s just his first week.
Delich knows there’s no time to waste. After school offices close for summer break today, he will head back home to Minnesota with his young family. He wants to learn all he can, he said, before his address to teachers in August.
Born in Bogota, Columbia, Delich, who’s name is pronounced “Dell-itch,” was adopted at 10 months by white parents and raised in Minneapolis. He grew up in a racially diverse household with adopted siblings from Brazil and Ecuador. This background will likely be an advantage at LHHS, where the makeup is 33% Hispanic, 30% African-American, 29% White and 53% Economically Disadvantaged, and which is seeing rapid growth in its immigrant and refugee populations.
I asked how LHHS differs from Delich’s former school, Polytecnic High in Fort Worth, where minority enrollment is 97%.
“Poly doesn’t have the diversity Lake Highlands has, in terms of the vast difference between haves and have nots. We did have the different languages and the different home structures – students with diverse needs. We also have great pride and great traditions – Poly is over 100 years old – so there’s a lot of history there, as there is here.”
Respecting Wildcat traditions, in fact, was something Delich says several folks have coached him about already.
“I’m learning about the pride and history. It’s special.”
When I first posted the article with Delich’s photo announcing that he’d be the next LHHS principal, some commented at his youth and good looks.
“Man, they never looked like that when I was in school,” said one.
“I admit, I was asked a few times at Poly, ‘are you lost?’” laughed Delich. “I guess they thought I was a student. The kids think that’s cool, but pretty soon they see I’m not a pushover. I’m firm and fair. Kids like the structure and order but also my ability to connect. They appreciate my authenticity and my ability to be who I am.”
Teachers will know, too, that he has big expectations.
“It’s about educating all students. That means all – kids that may be refugees, kids in AVID, kids in the middle and also high-flying, advanced students that have opportunities to get into Ivy schools. The staff will know very quickly the focus will be instruction. We are going to be pushing instruction rigor and what we are asking students to do and what they are capable of doing in the classroom. I’d like to meet with some of our advanced AP students to ask, ‘what are we missing in the classroom to help prepare you for your future dreams?’ I know there are much brighter kids here than I am, and there’s no reason they couldn’t do Harvard or Yale. That becomes our responsibility – to educate all students.”
Delich, who was an all-state soccer player and basketball player during his high school days (he was also in the band, but says he wasn’t very good), describes his style as “visionary transformational servant leadership.”
“I think the kids will see me as a coach at times, and hopefully as a role model. I think they will see that they can confide in me, but I’m also a person who will push and challenge them.”
I wondered if Delich planned to move his wife, Desiree, and his daughters, Reagan Hope and Nile Rae, here from Fort Worth.
“I’ve been asked that a lot,” he said, laughing. “We are putting our house on the market. We are committed to what we are doing in Lake Highlands. Most importantly, I have to be around as a husband and as a father, and I can’t do that in the car.”
Last year’s principal, Frank Miller, faced a daunting task in merging the Lake Highlands Freshman Center with the high school, and as teachers advised Delich on some of the pitfalls he might face in continuing that work he took careful notes. Seniors don’t appreciate having to visit the “freshman” school to visit their counselors since counselors were relocated, some 9th grade teachers don’t know their 10-12th counterparts well and weather can be a problem for students transitioning from one building to another. Teachers were brainstorming a-mile-a-minute, including choir director Kari Gilbertson’s suggestion that “the White Rock campus” and “the Church Road campus” (or somesuch) would carry less stigma for older students with classes in both buildings.
And the hardest thing he expects to face in his new job?
“My biggest challenge will be the pressure that people think change has to come immediately,” Delich told me. He said he’d be listening to input from “students, parents, teachers, community members, school custodians – anybody who wants what’s best for Lake Highlands. It’s about the kids.”
Allison Griffin, incoming LHHS PTA president, served on the committee that interviewed Dr. Delich and says she was impressed.
“He is bold. He has a record of turning around students and schools in crisis. Although LH is certainly not in crisis, we do have a very large percentage of our student population that is struggling academically and socially. Dr. Delich very much ‘gets’ these kids, connects with them and has a record of inspiring these kids to perform.
“Dr. Delich has a strong vision. He was very articulate and passionate about getting at-risk kids to achieve. He has taken a creative, outside-the-box approach and seems to have the ability to bring the teachers, students and parents along to be part of it. He also said he wanted to be at LH specifically because we have such a good reputation for strong academics and community involvement. He’s excited about getting to work not just with at-risk kids but also with good students.
“He respects and honors tradition. Though he doesn’t have experience with LH or RISD, he expressed his belief that preserving tradition is important. At Poly (which is where my mother in law graduated), he worked closely with the alumni from a better era to help craft the turnaround plan and bring back some of the traditions that were part of Poly’s heyday.”
The PTA will be planning a welcome reception for Dr. Delich, likely in August. We’ll bring you those details here on Advocate Media when they are set.