How One Charter Network Leader is Managing Virtual Schooling
Faced with the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic, Center City Public Charter Schools in Washington D.C. will provide fully virtual instruction through January. Dr. Demetria Gartrell, a New Leaders alum and Managing Director at Center City, is rethinking how best to support her principals in all-virtual schools. “I want to create a space where leaders can be vulnerable about their challenges and frustrations… and develop the empathy to coach people as they rise and fall along the way.”
Like educators across the country, many principals and teachers at Center City’s six campuses will have to manage their child(ren)’s remote learning alongside their students. Mindful that a new virtual reality presents a need for greater support, Dr. Gartrell is shifting her leadership development and coaching practices to focus more intently on empathy and stamina: empathy for how individual principals, teachers, and staff will experience this fall; stamina given how long remote learning will last.
Center City’s back-to-school professional development is shifting as well. Based on input from multiple stakeholders—the curriculum team, campus leaders, teacher leaders—Dr. Gartrell and her team will devote four weeks to training before school starts as opposed to the usual one week. For the first two weeks, synchronous and asynchronous sessions will prepare staff for a new digital platform and virtual instruction. The latter two weeks will focus on building a virtual school culture and community engagement.
Listen as Dr. Gartrell discusses practices that need to start, stop, or shift in all-virtual schooling, including redefining professional development, student attendance, and family engagement. “We have to stop making assumptions that we know what is best for our families… and bring them to the table… allow them to speak up and out about what they will need during this first semester to be successful.”
Currently participating in New Leaders’ freeDr. Gartrell is gaining a window into how other principal managers are rethinking schooling and professional development. She shares her learning and VLA tools with her principals. Best-practice tools, weekly check-in and meeting templates, and COVID-19 resources are proving to be useful. “On our weekly call,” she adds, “we talk about how they can modify any given tool to support their context.”
Committed to her own professional learning, Dr. Gartrell is also examining her leadership style. As part of the VLA, she is reflecting on her own mission, what she values most, and how she shows up in the work as she engages her principals in transforming students’ learning experiences. “In order for me to lead others,” she reflects, “I have to do my own self-work.”
Her advice to leaders across the country: Lean in no matter how hard or unknown or scary. “Just lean in and keep applying great effort and pressure to get through to the other side.”