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Guilford Gets a Confident Principal

If there’s a word that Rolando Tillman, the new principal of Guilford Elementary School, projects, it’s “confidence.”

“You have to make sure you represent yourself appropriately, but you also have to make sure you represent yourself confidently,” said Tillman. (Tillman succeeds Lauren Sprowls, who became LCPS’ supervisor of leadership development.)

Tillman takes some of the lessons he’s learned as a football and basketball referee and applies them to his role as an instructional leader. “Going with your gut and keeping a fine eye on detail. When you blow that whistle, you’ve got to blow it confidently. Walking through these hallways, I’m going to walk confidently.”

Being confident doesn’t mean ignoring the opinions of others, Tillman added.

“You have to be able to listen, because sometimes coaches have valid points on certain calls you make. It’s the same thing with staff and families, they’re going to have valid points on certain calls you make. You’ve got to state your case and let them know ‘I hear your opinion. You know what? We might be able to work with that.’ We can meet halfway sometimes. People want to see that we’re able to adapt and meet them where they are.”

Tillman uses some other words to describe himself.

“Driven, determined. I’m a family-oriented and team-oriented person. I love to get the strengths out of other people and to learn from other people; become a better person myself. I’m not easily discouraged. I’m always reflecting on daily decisions. Most of us are tougher on ourselves than other people are. I’m definitely one of those people.”

Tillman comes to Guilford after a short tenure as assistant principal of Horizon Elementary School. He previously served as an assistant principal in Charlottesville City Schools and as a health and physical education teacher in Henrico County Public Schools.

Tillman said that his first order of business at Guilford is building community relationships. “Try to get out there as much as possible to build those early relationships with the community and staff.” Tillman added he is excited to come to Guilford because of its diversity. “I come from a similar school. I worked with a lot of diverse students; students with whom you can truly make an impact.”

Making an impact is something Tillman does beyond school through his “I can, I am, I will” Summer Book Drop. He estimates he’s distributed a thousand books through this effort during the past couple of years. 

“I go to different communities and drop off books at random places. If I see families in barber shops, I drop off books. Families waiting at transit stops; I try to drop off books, put books in kids’ hands. Same thing with beauty salons. I love road-tripping up and down the East Coast. My family is in New York, and I make random stops along the way in different places.”

Tillman said he obtains books from retired teachers and he buys them to donate. He wants these efforts to reinforce the importance of reading. He also wants to expand his charitable stock to include learning packets for math and social studies in the future.

Getting the community involved in students’ education is of critical importance to Tillman. Families are always welcome to come to school and get involved. “The goal is always to make sure our students feel safe, feel included, feel welcomed, feel affirmed. We want to make sure that our families feel a connection to this school.”

Another goal is making sure students feel good telling their families what happened – and will happen – at school. Tillman hopes that students go home, saying “this is what I learned today. This is what I’m going to learn tomorrow. This is what is going to happen next week.”

Published August 31, 2022