Three Arlington elementary schools are getting new principals for the coming academic year, bringing fresh ideas on teaching and education policy.
At Ashlawn Elementary, students will meet Edgar Miranda, an educator with almost 30 years of experience, much of it teaching in bilingual classrooms. Miranda, 52, was born into a Spanish-speaking family and has early memories of trying to learn English in the classroom with very little help.
"I had the experience of going through a rough period to pick up on the language," said Miranda. "I was able to do it because of my teachers and the people who put in the extra time."
His own academic trials led him, he said, to take on a career in education, starting with his first job as a bilingual specialist in Hempstead, N.Y.'s public school system after graduating from Hofstra University. With students speaking about 30 different languages in Arlington schools, he said, expanding Ashlawn's already strong ability to meet the needs of those children is a priority.
"I'm a child of the 60s," said Miranda. "I grew up with the sense that if you make it, others have to make it too. If someone has opened that door for you, you have to give back to the community."
And it is that spirit, Miranda said, that is motivating him to engage Ashlawn's students in more community service work.
"I've been convinced that schools need to do more to develop a sense of social responsibility," he said, giving possible examples like volunteer cleanup work and programs to help the homeless.
Miranda's resume includes teaching experience in two New York State school districts and a term as director of the Xerox Center for Multicultural Education. Along with a masters in education from CW Post College in New York, he also holds one in divinity from the New Brunswick Theological Seminary in New Jersey. His new position at Ashlawn, he said, poses some new challenges.
"Ashlawn is a small school, and there are some times there's going to be limited flexibility," he said. "One of the challenges will be to do something to more creatively maximize the resources that come with being a smaller school."
Added obstacles come with the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Miranda said it takes more than a good school to raise student achievement. Parents must be involved in the process, and other factors play into academic success.
"My concern with No Child Left Behind is that it kind of takes the pressure off society in terms of what's happening with student performance and puts it all on the schools," said Miranda. "It takes society off the hook because all of a sudden poverty is no longer an issue, inequitable funding for schools is no longer an issue. Look at inner-city schools. Some of the best teachers you'll find are at schools that are the lowest in terms of academic achievement."
CORINA CORONEL, the assistant principal at Jamestown Elementary School since 2000, said that in her new role in charge of Carlin Springs Elementary, language instruction and further developing the school's reading classes are central. An important element to keep in mind, she said, is the school's multi-faceted student body.
"Carlin Springs is a very diverse student population," said Coronel. "Anyone who takes on a principalship here needs to be aware of that."
Coronel joined the staff of Arlington Public Schools in 1992 when she taught at Randolph Elementary School. She later served as a special education teacher for the Lab School of Washington.
Educated at George Mason University, she earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education in 1986, a master’s degree in special education in 1987 and a master’s degree in educational leadership in 2000.
Coronel also holds a postgraduate license in overseeing the education of students with learning disabilities and has been recognized for her work integrating them into mainstream classrooms.
"The school has a lot of strengths," she said. "And I can support a lot of instructional practices and needs."
GLEBE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL'S current assistant principal, Jamie Borg, is rising through the ranks to her new position there beginning in the fall. Borg said her objective is to continue the school's interdisciplinary approach to learning.
"That's a great focus for us," she said. "It's a way to enhance the lessons and for the students to extract more from the curriculum.
As an example, Borg pointed to hands-on projects like a first-grade class that raised butterflies as a science lesson and the school's SMART (Science Math Art and Technology) initiative aimed at demonstrating the interplay of ideas between science and the humanities. This year, she said, third-grade students also wrote and directed a play for the school about machines.
"The idea is that the finished project is something that demonstrates their knowledge," she said.
Borg divides her time now between Glebe and Barcroft Elementary School, where she also serves as assistant principal. At both schools, she said, closing the achievement gap seen among minority demographics is always a priority.
"That's just a constant," she said.
But Borg sees a challenge in the student body's ongoing growth. Glebe is one of the few elementary schools in Arlington with rising enrollment.
She began her career with Arlington Public Schools in 1996 as a special education teacher at Swanson Middle School. Before coming to Arlington, Borg was a teacher for Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland.
"I'm very excited and very lucky," she said.