Introducing Ward 7’s New DCPS Principals

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Kimball Elementary School

Kristie Edwards of Randle Highlands Elementary School (1650 30th St. SE)
Serving the whole student means more than teaching language, math, and science; it means helping students who might need help outside of the classroom or with problems stopping them from succeeding at the highest level. Kristie Edwards, the new interim principal at Randle Highlands Elementary School (1650 30th St. SE), believes that helping students succeed happens both inside and outside of the classroom.

Using her background in working as an inclusion teacher and also in special education, Edwards helps her staff reach students wherever needed. “We have the IEP [Individualized Education Program] response and intervention,” she explained. “We use wraparound services, and not just for students who have an IEP, but students who have been in trauma too.”

Going into the 2016-17 school year, Edwards focused on improving the school’s performance on the District’s Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test. But she also wants her students to learn the value of setting goals for themselves. The school offers movie nights, basketball nights, and pajama days to encourage engagement with its goals. Classroom observation and lesson-plan reviews give teachers feedback for improving their pedagogy. The school offers teachers two specialized aids in English language arts and math.

When not in school, Edwards spends as much time traveling as she can manage – every three months at least, she said. “Exposure is a big piece in what allows people to gain more knowledge about self-awareness and cultural competency,” she said. “I think being able to expose myself and the students I work with to global culture is important.”

Edwards earned her bachelor’s degree in political science, with emphases in international relations and foreign policy, from Shaw University, and her master’s in school administration and supervision from the University of Phoenix. She served as assistant principal for Columbia Heights Education Campus (3101 16th St. NW) from 2011 to 2016; as an instructional coach and special education teacher at the same school before that; as an English language arts, math, science, and social studies teacher in various positions; and as a special education teacher for the Wake County Public School System in 2000. She is a native of Rocky Mount, N.C. Follow her on Twitter @kedwardsNC.

Terri Fuller of Plummer Elementary School (4601 Texas Ave. SE)
Fourth and fifth graders at Plummer Elementary School (4601 Texas Ave. SE) may get a chance to hit the ski slopes this year. Academics are fundamental to success in school, but children need opportunities to build experiences outside of class, said Plummer’s new interim principal, Terri Fuller. “Many of them have not had these opportunities before, and [I] as well as the other adults in the Plummer community believe in educating the whole child,” Fuller said. “Sometimes that includes providing extracurricular opportunities that they may not otherwise receive.”

Although the 2016-17 school year started just over three months ago, Fuller said it feels like she’s been in the role for 10 years. “Every day is a new day, great day, and you learn more about yourself and the building,” she said. Her goal as she continues in the role is to continue to build relationships with the students and staff in order to set a goal of growing together. She wants to help her staff teach the children how to accept and process feedback for the future. “We know that as an adult responsibility and ownership are critical for success and being reflective,” she said.

Outside of school, she admits to an obsession with “A Game of Thrones,” the book and HBO series. She said she’s already perusing the blogs for the new season. Fuller earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration from Bowie State University, and her master’s in organizational management from Trinity Washington University. In 2015 she was resident principal at J.O. Wilson Elementary School and Cleveland Elementary School as a Mary Jane Patterson Fellow. She was previously an instructional coach at Prince George’s County Public Schools.

Johann Lee of Kimball Elementary School (3375 Minnesota Ave. SE)
Kimball Elementary School (3375 Minnesota Ave. SE) wants to certify as a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) school and is on target to succeed. With the leadership of its new principal, Johann Lee, the school hopes to earn its certification by 2019 when the staff and students return to a modernized building.

A STEAM approach to the Common Core curriculum lets students tinker and process their lessons through trial and error, just like the scientific method. “That speaks to a larger sense of excellence and what we define as excellence – every child, every day, and an ongoing sense or approach to development,” Lee said. “We really, truly believe you have to have a growth mindset in order to connect to the real world these days.”

Lee has strong faith in the skills of his staff to implement the STEAM goal. He said he plans to help them embrace the Common Core approach and build upon their expertise to push themselves and the children. He plans to add classes like robotics and coding.

Lee brings a background in working with youth who have behavioral problems and may even face criminal charges. He worked with early-release youth at the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services to prepare them for the GED, and that experience now helps him speak with parents and the community about how early behaviors may manifest in later life. When it comes to issues of suspension, he wants to help families solve the problem in the best way possible. “It’s walking the fine line between opportunity and accountability,” he said. His approach considers that the students need to take responsibility, but that he and the parents can use the chance to correct the underlying issue.

Lee earned his bachelor’s degree in education from Temple University and his master’s in secondary education from George Washington University. He previously worked at Kimball as assistant principal and helped increase the school’s proficiency on the Text Reading and Comprehension assessment (TRC) by 28 percent. He also worked as the social studies and science department chair at KIPP DC Promise Academy (4801 Benning Road SE); and as a social studies teacher at Hardy Middle School (1819 35th St. NW).

He earned awards for the 2010 National Archives DC Patricia Behring Teacher of the Year, the 2013 New Leader’s Emerging Leader, and the 2014 New Leader’s Principal Resident.

Courtney Wilkerson of Sousa Middle School (3650 Ely Place SE)
Sousa Middle School’s new principal wants her school to embrace the “A” in the STEAM approach to education – arts. She spent her childhood in ballet, tap, and jazz dance classes, and during her summers she taught at dance theaters in Harlem. Now she wants to bring that to her students at Sousa (3650 Ely Place SE).

“I learned how to DJ when I was eight. I used to sneak into the basement and practice on my brother’s turntables,” Wilkerson said. “It was so important to me to bring the arts back to Sousa, which was originally an arts school.” Wilkerson started the 2016-17 school year with a focus on helping her staff dig into the Common Core curriculum and also capitalize on the high quality of their arts teachers. “The primary goal was to increase the quality of every learning experience the students have – core content or exploratory,” she said.

Beyond arts, Wilkerson also offers the school an educated approach to handling discipline policies. She once volunteered for a courthouse projects program and learned that a lot of the youth were caught in systemic issues of the area. She decided to continue studying juvenile justice for her master’s degree. Now she applies what she’s learned to her approach at school. The goal of discipline is to resolve conflicts with the help of families and rebuild relationships with the students. “One of the things that was not present here was a restorative justice program and alternatives to suspension,” she said. She wants all students that face discipline to return prepared for success.

Wilkerson earned her bachelor’s degree in biology and her master’s degree in juvenile justice policy and planning from Virginia Commonwealth University. She earned her doctorate of education in organizational leadership, with an emphasis in curriculum and instruction, from Grand Canyon University. She served as a Mary Jane Patterson Fellow in 2015-16 at Columbia Heights Education Campus (3101 16th St. NW) and Burrville Elementary School (801 Division Ave. NE). She was also assistant principal at H.D. Woodson High School and taught math and science before that. She is a native of the District.

Benjamin Williams of Ron Brown College Preparatory High School (4800 Meade St. NE)
He helped plan the District’s first all-male public high school. He set goals for the first class. Now he has the opportunity to lead the Ron Brown Preparatory High School’s students in their first year. Principal Benjamin Williams launched the school with the goal of giving young men the opportunity to succeed both culturally and academically. And with a high expectation standard. “The main goal is to successfully open the school and to build some foundations that we can carry over the next three years of these students’ lives,” Williams said.

The Ron Brown school’s model “The Sword of Justice.” Students take ownership of their behavior and their lives, Williams said. Ron Brown’s approach helps young men follow that model by meeting them at their education level and getting them into online programs if needed to raise their skills to the standard. Then they can better prepare for the advanced placement (AP) offerings. This personalized approach also applies to the teachers. “It’s because we have a smaller staff and smaller cohort of students that we are able to personalize our professional development and time.”

Williams doesn’t want to just help students get into college. He wants to help them navigate life after they graduate from college. “If we don’t have high expectations of them, then they won’t have them for themselves,” he said.”

In his free time, Williams admitted, he is an adrenaline junky with anything from sky diving to extreme motorcycling. “I don’t think many principals are into that,” he said. Williams earned his bachelor’s degree, master’s in teaching, and doctorate in leadership and administration from the University of Virginia. He previously served as the associate principal at School Without Walls at Francis Stevens (2425 N St. NW) and as a social studies teacher and elementary and high school assistant principal in Charlottesville, Va. Follow him on Twitter @BenWilliamsRBHS.

Kiana Williams of Smothers Elementary School (440 Brooks St. NE)
During class this fall, third graders at Smothers Elementary School (440 Brooks St. NE) had weekly visits from special guests – dancers from the Washington Ballet. Thanks to a partnership spearheaded by new school Principal Kiana Williams, the students got a chance to work with professional dancers and attend a performance of “The Nutcracker.”

“We’ve partnered with various organizations to make sure our students are exposed to the arts,” Williams said. “We have all these rich experiences right outside our door, living in the District, and exposure is extremely important.”

Williams and the staff at Smothers want to bring the District’s offerings to the students, including trips to the National Portrait Gallery, the Marian Koshland Science Museum, the national monuments, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. She wants students to see what careers and opportunities they can pursue, and she wants the teachers to take on leadership roles. “People are happier working in an environment where they can get positive feedback and grow,” Williams said.

Outside of school, Williams keeps busy traveling and reading. Also sewing, a hobby she’s had for years. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English and master’s in administration and supervision from Tennessee State University. She previously worked as assistant principal at Drew Elementary School (5600 Eads St. NE) and as an English-language arts teacher, reading specialist, and instructional coach in the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. She participated in the 2012 Educational Leading and Learning Exchange Program (ELLE) in Guangzhou, China.