Interview and Photos by Jan Osborn.
This spring United to Learn (U2L), a Dallas-based nonprofit that partners with Dallas ISD elementary schools to accelerate student achievement and grow purposeful leaders, is set to kick off five weekends of its annual Community Campus Day event on February 26.
During these five Saturday events, United to Learn will mobilize community volunteers from companies, schools, and other organizations to improve campus cultures across 45 elementary schools. The events will occur on February 26, March 5, April 2, April 9 and April 23.
One of the participating schools is Eddie Bernice Johnson Elementary School. Dallas Doing Good interviewed their Principal Umoja Turner to learn more about his journey in education and the impact of United to Learn’s Community Campus Day.
Would you share your story of why you decided to get into education? And, what inspires you to continue your journey?
I aspired to become an electrical engineer and earned a bachelor’s degree in Pure Mathematics. Once I graduated, I decided to move to Dallas and work with an organization called Project S.E.E.D. I was trained to teach mathematics to students in grades 3rd through 8th. I loved teaching students. It was so rewarding to help children build their academic and social/emotional confidence. After working with SEED for 4 years, I pivoted from engineering to education because it felt like my moral purpose. I didn’t see many Black male teachers and I wanted to fill that void. I’m inspired by the relationships that have been created through a shared vision of building a legacy of equity and excellence for all students. I’m also inspired, more than ever, by the commitment and passion of our team.
What was your catalyst for becoming a Principal? Is there a specific story or event that propelled you to want to become a Principal?
While serving as a teacher at Paul L. Dunbar, several of my colleagues and mentors motivated me to pursue the principalship. I initially left the classroom and was an instructional math supervisor in Dallas ISD’s mathematics department. After five years in the math department, I began to miss being on campus, making a direct impact on the success of children. Because of this, I returned to the campus as an assistant principal at C. A. Tatum in Dallas ISD. I loved the experience of coaching students, parents, and teachers to develop a shared vision and succeed. Once I became a principal at W. A. Blair, I knew I had found my calling. Now, I’m the founding principal of Eddie Bernice Johnson STEM Academy.
Tell us about United to Learn’s Community Campus Day project and how this project and this day impact your learning community?
I’m extremely excited about how our Community Campus Day project aligns to our STEM focus. There are 11 of us who are pursuing our national STEM certification. Once we complete the program, our campus will be a nationally certified STEM campus. As part of our innovation plan, we want to enrich academic learning, nurture relationships, and create a positive authentic learning environment. In addition, we want to foster partnerships with parents and the community. We believe that by working side-by-side with parents and our community partners, we strengthen our partnership. United to Learn has connected our campus with many valuable community partners
Why do you feel like organizations like United to Learn are important for our local schools?
I believe that organizations like United to Learn are important for our local schools because these organizations connect schools with community partners who create relationships that have a direct impact on students’ achievement, leadership development, and building stronger communities.
What is your vision for Eddie Bernice Johnson STEM Academy five years from today?
Our vision for Eddie Bernice Johnson STEM Academy is to be a model school for student success, STEM instruction, leadership development, and community empowerment.
For more information about United to Learn, go to unitedtolearn.org.