Former principal of West Oak Lane’s Martin Luther King departs to go west after 4 years

 Former MLK principal William Wade on the first day of school last year. (Brad Larrison/for NewsWorks, file)

Former MLK principal William Wade on the first day of school last year. (Brad Larrison/for NewsWorks, file)

Bittersweet. Difficult.

That’s how William Wade described his recent decision to step down as principal of Martin Luther King High School in West Oak Lane after four years on the job.

“I could have stayed forever. It was the best job of my life,” said Wade.

Still, he said he couldn’t pass up an opportunity to become an assistant superintendent. It’s his dream to be a superintendent. And so, with a heavy heart, he took a job at another struggling school district in Santa Fe, N.M.

It’ll be his job to manage a group of high school principals and help guide school improvement efforts.

“It’s a great opportunity for me,” said Wade.

Wade’s departure comes on the heels of a challenging stretch for MLK, one of the city’s lowest performing high schools.

In 2013, budget cuts closed nearby Germantown High School, King’s longtime rival. Some students transferred to Roxborough High School or charter schools, but the vast majority — roughly 400 students — enrolled at MLK.

The move, crystalized in an award-winning documentary about King’s football team, made residents in both communities nervous. Students in Germantown and West Oak Lane have historically clashed with one another. There was fear that violence would erupt if those same students walked the same hallways.

While the transition has had its bumps, Wade is credited with shepherding King through the toughest parts and putting the school on track to shed past perceptions and succeed. Awarded with a Lindback Award for Distinguished Principal Leadership at the conclusion of the 2013-14 school year, Wade said he was “elated” to recieve recognition of how far the school has come. 

“He did his part to get the wheels spinning,” said math teacher and head football coach Ed Dunn.

Dunn, one of the most visible faces during the merger between Germantown and King, said Wade will be missed, but he’s confident MLK can continue moving forward.

“We were able to reestablish Martin Luther King’s good name,” he said.

Keisha Wilkins, Wade’s replacement, wants to make sure that doesn’t change.

“A school with a name of such magnitude should facilitate the same expectations,” she said.

For Wilkins, who grew up in Northwest Philadelphia, that starts with students. It’s her goal to instill in them that they are capable of achieving great things and that King is a place where that can happen.

As part of that vision, Wilkins said she’ll be asking students to think of themselves as “royal scholars” — king and queens of the classroom — and act accordingly.

“It’s about expectations. What you model, what you expect and what you can grow,” said Wilkins.

Throw in a strong partnership with the community and Wilkins thinks a successful school can — and will — blossom.

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