Celebrating National Principals Month: Alicia Hunsberger, Vestavia Hills City

Alicia Hunsberger
Vestavia Hills Elementary Cahaba Heights
Vestavia Hills City Schools

Dr. Alicia Hunsberger was named principal of Vestavia Hills Elementary Cahaba Heights in 2016. Prior to coming to Cahaba Heights, she served as an assistant principal at Vestavia Hills Elementary West. Additionally, spent 12 years teaching students with special needs at Cherokee Bend Elementary School in Mountain Brook. Alicia earned her bachelor’s and doctoral degrees at Samford University and completed her master’s and Education Specialist work at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Briefly describe your education journey.

I love to learn. Throughout my learning experiences, I have become more reflective in my own practice as I work to help meet the needs of students and teachers in my school. My National Board Certification experience taught me that real learning requires in-depth reflection to assist in making changes that provide lasting impact. In addition, my recent experience working toward my doctoral degree proved to be a real challenge. The rigorous program gave me great appreciation for collaboration and research. These two educational experiences have been the most valuable to me as a learner and leader in schools.

What are 2-3 insights you would share with others who want to become principals?

Being a principal is hard work, but it is rewarding work. Watching students and teachers learn together is a gift I get to experience every day.

In order to be effective, I have to have a balanced approach to leadership. I have to know my staff well enough to know when they can be pushed harder, and when they need time and space to work on their goals on their own. I want my teachers and staff to own our mission and our core values, while also providing them autonomy within the classroom. This requires on-going evaluation, feedback, and reflection.

Being a principal means being with people, and managing people. Every role within the school is of value. Whether a student, teacher, secretary, custodian, instructional aide, counselor, nurse, or parent, you have to take each viewpoint and consider the needs of those roles and how they impact student learning.

Learning to communicate well with all stakeholders and learning to utilize each individual’s unique roles within the school are a challenge. However, when you are able to balance these well, the school becomes a successful and enjoyable place to learn, work, and play.

What are 2-3 essential skills that all leaders should possess?

  • Communicating with understanding and remembering to include all stakeholders
  • Learning with the teachers and staff and being flexible when changes need to be made
  • Managing with kindness using organization and feedback

How do you create opportunities for your own professional learning?

I am goal-oriented, and I love to learn. So, this one is not as difficult for me. I know that to be an effective leader, I need to be an effective learner. I try to align my learning experiences with my personal and/or school goals.

This year, I have committed to lead our school through a positive behavioral model. We developed what is called “Safe and Happy Heights.” Through this model, we are working on character education, positive supports, morning meetings, and unique opportunities for encouraging students to be “Heights Heroes” by being kind.

In connection with of this initiative, I have asked a team to join me through a character development PD that is on-going throughout this school year. This will give us an opportunity to reflect on the work we are doing, and add to the strategies we have already put in place.

I believe that learning can only enhance the good work we do every day. This must be a priority for principals. Find good professional learning that aligns with your goals or school goals, led by reputable facilitators and researchers, and commit to learning with your teachers.