My intention in this letter is to give you a sense of who I am as a leader and my excitement regarding beginning my journey as the Head of School at The Craig School. My journey teaching students with language-based learning disabilities began many years ago with humble means. I started teaching in 1998, originally as a music teacher in a college preparatory boarding high school. What I didn’t know at the time was that this experience would lead me on a journey that would forever change the trajectory of my career. It was there, that first year, that I became acutely aware that some students thrived and others did not and that motivation or drive had little to nothing to do with it. I witnessed bright students who were not moving into their full potential, into the fullness of their being. As an educator, I yearned to find out how and what I could do so that all of my students succeeded. After those first experiences teaching students, it wasn’t until 2010 when I understood more fully that students “do well when they can.” So much of what I was seeing with my students was a fundamental lack of skill development, whether it was linked to executive functioning skills, social-emotional skills, behavioral skills, or academic skills. One of my students, in particular, was diagnosed with dyslexia early on in second grade, had yet to attend a school that understood and provided evidence-based practices for students with dyslexia, but now found himself in high school, struggling, and with me as his teacher. It saddens me, but I too, at that point, did not have the specialized knowledge to teach him in the ways that would elicit his best and encourage the development of comprehensive learning and higher-order thinking. Rather than sitting idle, I did something about it. This is where my life’s journey really changed. It started with a Master’s of Education degree in Special Education, specifically focused on Dyslexia, one of the few programs in the country, and ended with a Doctorate of Philosophy in Special Education where my culminating doctoral research furthered the literature on strengths-based diagnostic and progress monitoring assessments examining the role of biases in terms of student self-report and gender. This research provided suggestions for improved training protocols for teachers and others administering strengths-based assessments for students with learning disabilities.
Not only did I equip myself with the knowledge to truly influence the lives of my students with learning disabilities, but I also began a program at that same school I started out in 1998. The program was and still is based on the ideals of full inclusion, embracing neurodiversity, building student self-confidence, resilience, and nurturing a deep acceptance and respect for all human beings. Initiated with a small group of boys who were on the verge of school failure, this program developed into a unique hybrid school-within-a-school model dedicated to the needs of the whole child that focused on leveraging student competencies and strengths while acknowledging and addressing areas for growth. From these beginnings, I concluded my tenure there with a staff of 18, a student enrollment of over 100 students yearly, and a new facility dedicated as a learning space for students with learning disabilities.
Now that you have an overarching view of my career and educational background, there are three central tenets that drive what I do and how I do it. The first is my profound adherence to the respect of the individual and the dignity of humankind. This is followed by the belief that education is not only an equalizer, but also a powerful tool to lift up society and break down barriers between individuals of different backgrounds, values, and abilities. Finally, I believe as an educator it is my role to celebrate the strengths of each child and to seek to understand how to bolster growth areas by first understanding the student’s strengths, competencies, and abilities.