The 2020-21 school year got off to a different start, with buildings closed and staff and students scattered as most began learning virtually. But the three new principals who took their offices in the time of COVID-19 say that while the pandemic raises challenges, it also creates opportunity. They say they’re leaning heavily on their school values to help carry their educational communities through.
The new principal at Peabody Watkins Elementary School says he is excited to enter the role of principal in such an uncertain time because, he said, it offers a chance to innovate.
A former Principal of Jefferson-Houston International Baccalaureate School, Berkowitz started as a math instructional coach in Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS).
He said his goal as principal this year is to ensure all students stay connected to school. Peabody-Watkins started daily engagement monitoring and a tiered system of support for students who aren’t engaged yet.
So far, the schools have made changes to their approach to communication by redesigning the website, adding school-led social media outreach (@PeabodyWatkins on Instagram and Twitter), and establishing structures through teacher teams to ensure families are receiving regular, consistent communication. Berkowitz is leading a class that all students can join, “Books and Belonging with Berkowitz,” read-aloud experiences for all ages that focus on inclusion and identity.
Berkowitz said it is important that the leadership team stays connected to staff. In addition to frequent class visits, we’ve established weekly “office hours” for anyone to drop in to connect and ask questions. We’ve also begun weekly a professional learning community to support paraprofessionals whose roles have changed significantly.
The school value he connects with most is equity, the principal said. “Engagement, joyful rigorous experiences, and a sense of belonging are only possible for every student when we lead and teach with equity in mind,” he said.
Interim Principal at Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School Shaunte Daniel started at DCPS in 2011 as an instructional aid, finishing a masters in teaching from Trinity Washington University while transitioning to teaching and serving as an instructional coach.
A former Assistant Principal at Langley Elementary and Stanton Elementary, she said she wants to be an active and fair leader who models with actions, makes decisions with care and learns by listening. Her goal for the Ludlow-Taylor community, she said, is for all to feel loved and prepared for all things the school year will give. Daniel said that she wants to focus on what works well and what the community can make happen. “I acknowledged, once I committed to Ludlow-Taylor during this time, I was committing to learning and leading with no handbook of how to do so,” she said. “I recognize the reality, accept the truths, and begin planning.”
“This season is really exposing who we are as people and how far we are able and willing to go within ourselves to continue each day,” Daniel added.
The interim principal said that she identifies with the Warrior emblem at Ludlow-Taylor right now. “Warriors are those that are presented with conflict or struggle and persevere.” she said.
But she also leans heavily on the HOPE that lives in the school heading, embedded on the emblem of the Capitol Building. “I know I am in the right place when Hope is a value we stand on and we are symbolized by a body of people who do not quit,” she said.
Stuart-Hobson Middle School’s new principal, Eric Fraser earned his bachelor’s degree, Master of Science for Teachers and Master’s degree in Education in New York City, spending the early part of his career teaching and leading a school in Brooklyn.
At Stuart Hobson, he said he wants to continue the school’s long history of providing all students with academically demanding courses of study and enriching experiences in arts and athletics.
Fraser said that while the uncertainty raised by COVID-19 can be stressful, it also gives staff a chance to develop new routines and structures to improve school for students. Those are exciting possibilities, he added.
For instance, COVID-19 has also changed the structure of the school day, challenging staff to slow down in ways that are beneficial to relationship building. There is more “asynchronous” time, fewer physical transitions and more limited activities in the school day, so the community has to make more of less. “This means that teachers can spend more time deliberately building relationships with students and families,” Fraser said, noting that virtual learning allows staff to check in with more students without having to physically travel.
While Fraser said he loves all five of Stuart Hobson’s core “P.R.I.D.E.” values (Positivity, Respect, Integrity, Dedication, and Excellence), he said right now positivity has resonated the most. “I am reminding myself every morning of how important it is to communicate and model optimism and positivity for our students and school community. Keeping myself in that stance helps me keep my bucket of hope full and makes me excited to face every day with our students, and I hope it is contagious.”
See all of the new DCPS principals for 2020-21 by visiting dcps.dc.gov/page/principal-announcements-school-year-2020-2021