Alumni Spotlight: George Little's journey from football star to building principal

Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 12/8/2023

A man sits at a desk with his hands together

George Little’s life has come full circle. Eighteen years ago, Little graduated from the Duquesne City School District before going to St. Francis University on a football scholarship. Now, Little is the district’s Acting K-8 principal, and an essential piece to the district’s turnaround.

Little’s path to this point was somewhat winding, but considering the type of person he is — a kind, empathetic leader with a special care for his hometown — his destination makes perfect sense.

“It always felt right. I’ve always felt that Duquesne is my home, and it’s where I grew from a young man and gained my experience to propel me forward academically and socially and emotionally,” Little said. “And to be able to give back to my community, it just always kind of felt right.”

For as long as he can remember, Little has been a leader and a people person. The former quality manifested itself on the football field, as Little’s prowess at quarterback brought him to St. Francis University. The latter quality drove him to thrive in that new environment in college, despite it being quite a change demographically. 

“I went from being at a predominantly black school, to sometimes being the only black student in a classroom,” Little said. “It was a culture shock.”

Through that change, Little had a revelation. When Little got to college, he thought he’d like to try out business or accounting. But when considering his people skills, and his ability to adapt and understand his peers — despite cultural differences — Little went on a sociology track for his bachelor’s degree.

“I started to reflect, and even though I was in an environment that was a total culture shock for me, I was still able to establish positive relationships,” Little said.

“I’ve always had a passion to advocate, I’ve always had a passion to mentor. Even at a younger age, I was always someone who wanted to advocate and give back to my community, and give back the experiences that people were grateful enough to pass onto me.”

After obtaining his bachelor’s degree, Little returned to the Mon Valley area, working at Auberle as a counselor, mentor and case manager. The experience was both rewarding and eye-opening.

“Once I started working at Auberle in child welfare and the different programs with delinquent youth and trying to teach them the social skills that they need to be productive citizens in society, I think that kind of brought out more of an urge to want to give back in more of a bigger realm,” Little said.

“I could see that the impact that I was looking to make had to happen before it got to that point.”

Upon some reflection, Little decided he wanted to work in the school system. More specifically, he wanted to get involved in social work. So Little went back to school, obtaining his master’s degree in social work from the University of Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, Little did some of his field work in the Duquesne City School District, working as a paraprofessional.

After graduating with his master’s degree, Little returned to the district on a full-time basis, working in attendance then as the social services coordinator. In that role, Little was able to start making the impact that he wanted to. But eventually, the assistant principal job came open, and Little’s interest peaked.

Little had never really thought too much about working on the administrative side of the school system. But knowing the greater impact he could make in that role, he jumped at the opportunity.

“Once I had the social worker experience, I did start to think about how I could continue to advocate and be a person who can continue to give back to their community,” Little said.

“I never truly set out to be a principal as I was growing up, but as I continued to learn how schools operate and continued to build my learning capacity around the school system and the impact that it has on our youth, I started to think that a principal role would give me the opportunity to help manage and support our staff to ensure our students are getting the highest quality education academically and socially and emotionally.”

Little served as the district’s assistant principal from 2020-2023. This school year, he took over as acting K-8 principal after the former principal, Eric Harper, was named the high school principal. Taking on different and additional responsibilities, Little said it’s been a learning experience, but one that has come natural, given his natural proclivity for leadership.

“As a principal, if you try to work in silos it will never work. You need to empower your staff. You need to make sure that they feel comfortable and prepared to advocate and provide high quality instruction to our students and challenge them academically and socially and emotionally every day, so that we can master the appropriate academic concepts and so that they can be productive going on to post-secondary educational opportunities,” Little said.

“It’s about learning your staff, it’s about building relationships. It’s about trusting that those relationships and your team are all on the same page. We all have one vision, and that’s to advocate for and educate our students.”

Through it all — from his start at Auberle, to his multiple career changes at Duquesne City — Little has remained the same person, with the same driving characteristics and values. Little’s plate might be a little fuller nowadays, but he still prioritizes getting to know the district’s staff, students and families, regularly walking the halls with a smile on his face, and a genuine care to know how everyone is feeling. It’s that care that brought him back to the district, and it’s the care that will continue to drive Little forward.

“Over the years and in the different roles and responsibilities that I had in the district, I’ve been able to establish a lot of positive relationships with the students and their parents. I’ve been in the social worker role providing support, I’ve been in a disciplinary role talking to a lot of parents,” Little said.

“But I’ve continued to be as visible as I can within the community, and I always try to be as approachable and accessible as possible, and I think that goes a long way. I’m always at arrival and dismissal trying to talk to parents and chat with whoever wants to talk. I just always try to be that stable piece that the students and the parents and the community feel safe to talk to.”