Today’s episode features a conversation with host Joel Gagne and Carolyne Albert-Garvey. Carolyne was the reason that Joel’s family moved to DC as they wanted their kids to attend Maury Elementary School in the District of Columbia Public Schools. Joel and his wife had one meeting with her and knew she was the right principal. In this episode, Joel and Carolyne discuss adjusting to changes in urban schools, from demographics to funding.

Joels asks about the changes Carolyne had to navigate, especially that the school lost its Title I funding.

“Gentrification is happening everywhere in that community, and in other places in DC as well,” Carolyne says. “When I first started at Maury the school was mostly African-American with about 70% of the students qualifying for free and reduced lunch, which did give us that Title I status (for extra funding).”

Maury also qualified for an aftercare program. Carolyne says it was about four years into her time at Maury that the percentages flipped and they lost Title I status.

“The loss of funding was significant,” she says. “We still had so many students who needed the additional support, like reading intervention. Kudos to the Maury community for understanding how complex gentrification is in an urban environment.”

Carolyne says they were able to continue providing the high-quality level of intervention and services because of the additional support of the PTA.

They worked hard to raise money and launch a think tank to support the literacy lab for reading intervention.

“From a financial perspective we really were able to keep the community going thanks to our parents,” she says.

Joel asks how Maury approached strategic planning, knowing how much things might change in three to five years down the road.

Carolyne says she looked at it through two lenses. The first was long-term planning, knowing they had to have a clear vision of what the school should look like in three to five years. At the same time, every year they took a close look at how the families currently in the urban school district were being served.

“So that we could make sure that we were addressing the needs, the wants, the hopes and the dreams of the families who were coming through our doors every single day,” Carolyne says. “And I think we did a great job with that.”

Joel asks how those two viewpoints are balanced.

“By keeping our students right at the center of everything,” Carolyne says. “When you make sure that you keep students and their hopes and dreams and their needs always as your North Star, then talking and addressing difficult situations becomes a little easier because every single parent wants the best for their child. It doesn’t matter if they’re the most wealthy parent or the most struggling parent. You always have to know your families and your kids and what they’re going through.”

Carolyne was able to build relationships with some of the families who had been at Maury for years, while she established relationships with the newer families.

The school went from 245 students to more than 400 students while she was the principal at Maury.

Joel asks about any major misconceptions people have about urban schools.

“Very sadly, they immediately get this look of almost pity,” she says. “But I would always proudly say, I am a D.C. principal. I still introduce myself as that.”

Carolyne says she invites everyone to come to the school to see the high quality of teachers and the level of engagement of our parents.

Joel asks Carolyne what she would change if she could change one thing about public education.

“I would probably say, at a higher level, teacher preparation,” she says. “I’m not sure that all of the universities that we recruit from have moved as quickly as we have at the public school level in what’s expected of teachers. Of course, there’s some great schools out there who do great work and we recruit some great teachers at Maury. Overall, though, I have to wonder if all of our teacher preparation programs at the university level are where we are right now in regards to equity and rigor and addressing bias, mindset issues, brain research.”

Closing out the episode, Carolyne recommends the book Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

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