Meaghan is the principal at Ashley Park PreK-8 School.
“Good morning, Malik! I am so happy you are back today!” In response to his third grade reading teacher, Malik’s shrunken shoulders lift and he struggles to hide a smile as he echoes back, “Good morning.” He brings his cereal and juice to his desk where he finds his daily behavior chart from his special education teacher. He scans the top of it to find a note in red marker. Malik, I love you and I know you’re going to have a great day ☺
I am a leader at Ashley Park PreK-8 School and I am a witness to exchanges like this one between 640 kids and 40 teachers daily. We serve students — who we call scholars — in the west Charlotte community as part of Project LIFT. Last year, our school ranked worse than 96.8% of schools in North Carolina as measured by our end-of-grade test scores.
So it might sound ironic or even foolish when I say that I support some of the most exemplary educators you could meet in a lifetime. I support teachers who open our school doors at 6 a.m. and leave 13 hours later. I support teachers that spend their extra planning time pulling scholars for targeted support when their assessment from earlier that day showed a misunderstanding that cannot wait another 24 hours.
I support teachers who bring extra jackets to school for their scholars in the winter, who drive them home when they miss the bus, who — when given free Charlotte Hornets tickets — chose to bring kids from their classrooms with whom they want to build a stronger relationship.
You might ask then, what’s the gap between how the state sees our success and how we perceive it every day? Well, we have tremendous gaps to close — kids who come to us years behind their expected grade level. But we are working on it.
We are working on it with professional development that stipulates my teachers script every word of their model lessons to ensure no connection is lost and no tough word in a text is untaught. We are working on it with coaches who “real time” teachers from the back of their class with a walkie-talkie and ear piece to upgrade their teaching mid-lesson. We are working on it with content planning meetings where teachers stand up and practice their directions and questions to get feedback from peers before they ever “go live” with kids.
We are working on it through home visits and field trips and mentors and tutors. We are working on it by owning every single scholar action as one we can analyze, control and improve. We are working on it together as a family, knowing that our individual success in classrooms and with particular kids is nothing without our collective growth, and that every single scholar matters.
As I reflect on my feelings and observations as a leader, there are plenty of messages I can send and share with you. Maybe a statement about increasing teacher pay? Because my teachers deserve to make up to six digits, whether you measure their hours at school, the length of their scripted lesson plans, or the duration of their nightly parent phone calls.
Or maybe a message about student reassignment in CMS? Because the community deserves to know that potentially coming to Ashley Park — regardless of race or socioeconomic status — would mean their children would be taught by educators who pour their entire heart into every child, every day.
Or maybe a charge about educators’ value? Because our world should know that education is the most important and influential filter every citizen of our country passes through. Regardless of how our success is measured, I am proud of the filter we are creating at Ashley Park.
It’s just that all of these intentions sound political and even narrowing, and my teachers and my kids are not. So I will call this a love letter. Because my teachers don’t stop loving our children because of the lack of pay, or the high concentration of poverty at Ashley Park, or because of the messages they receive from the world about the value of their occupation. They love our children in spite of all of those circumstances.
They come to work every day driven by a passion to dramatically impact the trajectory of 640 scholars who deserve everything this world has to offer. They consider what we do “life or death” work. They teach with fire, with heart, with head, with humility, with high expectation – knowing that every moment matters in the 10 total years we have the ability to shape our children at Ashley Park PreK-8.
In doing these things, they make our city brighter. My teachers arm Charlotte’s children with hopes and dreams, and then teach the skills, confidence and habits of character to turn those aspirations into realities. For that reason, and so many others, I love each of them deeply. You should too.