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Kent charter school hires dean of academics
Excel Charter School is one of the first charters in the state, and will set the example for future charter schools, as well as the public’s perception of charters in Washington.
That means the dean of academics Myra McCormick has her work cut out for her at the new Kent school that plans to open for the 2015-2016 school year.
A Pacific Northwest native from Medford, Ore., McCormick is returning after a four-year hiatus in New York. It’s the second time she’s moved back from the East Coast and the third time she’s moved for a job in academics.
She received a bachelor’s degree from Willamette University in 1999 in Salem, Ore., and then spent several years in Massachusetts at a volunteer program. She returned to the Northwest several years later to get a master's degree in public administration from the University of Washington and then traveled to New York to teach sixth grade science and mathematics in Brooklyn. In 2011 she received a master of education degree from the Relay School of Education
“It’s challenging, but it’s also kinda nice,” she said regarding her constant travel and relocating. “I’ve had amazing opportunities to work in great places, but ultimately want to be on the West Coast.”
During her time in Brooklyn, Excel director Adel Sefrioui tapped her for dean of academics.
“In the school environments where i’ve worked, the traditional principal role has been very different,” McCormick said. “It seemed more appropriate to call it dean of academics because a lot of the (administrative) things that principals do will be in the hands of Adel Sefriuoi.”
Unlike a traditional school, she says, the dean will handle most of the education facing services of the school and leave administrative work to Sefrioui. These tasks will range from coaching and mentoring teachers, designing professional development courses, working with families or simply taking care of disturbances around the school.
“I feel quite prepared,” McCormick said. “I haven’t done exactly this role yet, but I’ve got a lot of various experiences, in some ways that feels like this is the perfect build up to this position.”
McCormick says that she hopes to avoid making the same mistakes many school administrators make, particularly regarding school programs.
“I think a common mistake that some people make is seeing best practices elsewhere and assuming that those practices will magically work when implemented in a new environment,” said McCormick. “The key is being meticulous in your planning and making sure that everything is tailored to your demographics.”
Another aspect McCormick hopes to establish is a solid support system for her teachers, and making sure that her teachers, while held to a high standard, are also valued and supported.
“Preventing teacher burnout, I think it makes a world of difference," she said.
It helps, she says, to find teachers who are all uniformly on board with the school’s mission and who understand the importance of their work when the going gets rough.
When she taught in Brooklyn, it helped her to remember that the being supported by the school made a huge difference despite limitations in funds.
“I was totally on board with the mission of what we were doing and I felt that I as an individual was making a difference,” she says, “and we all had this shared goal and shared mission, and that sometimes compensated for the limited resources that we were subject to.”
McCormick hopes that her history of working in underprivileged areas, such as the Bedford-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn, has prepared her for the kinds of student demographics she’ll be working with at Excel.
According to her, almost 90 percent of the students in her district qualified for free and reduced lunches, many fifth graders read at a first or second grade level, and many of the students were first generation Americans from Caribbean immigrant parents.
While the demographics of Kent aren’t exactly the same, the city still serves a high percentage of diverse students.
“So I actually feel quite equipped working in a district with a diverse student body, whether those needs are academic, housing, or immigration related,” she said. “At the school where I was working we certainly had to address all of those issues.”