Two prin­ci­pals say good­bye

Downes, West Park to get new lead­ers

Newark Post - - FRONT PAGE - By BROOKE SCHULTZ [email protected]­

Ev­ery morn­ing when Tr­ish Pret­ty­man ar­rives at Downes Ele­men­tary, Aca­demic Dean Josh Co­hen greets her with, “Morn­ing, boss.” She’ll miss that – and a host of other in­tri­ca­cies – when she re­tires at the end of the month.

“I al­ways con­sider us a fam­ily,” she said. “In fact, I al­ways ad­dress my staff, when­ever I email them, I al­ways say, ‘Dear fam­ily,’ be­cause that’s the feel­ing that I al­ways wanted to in­still.”

In her nearly four-decade ca­reer in the Christina School District, Pret­ty­man has had great ex­pe­ri­ences, she said.

She re­counted how, as a teacher, she took part in an ex­change pro­gram that al­lowed her to take stu­dents to France in the late 80s, and how she trav­eled to study dif­fer­ent schools around the coun­try when the district de­cided to re­struc­ture its ele­men­tary pro­grams in the 90s.

“When I look back on my whole 39 years, it re­ally was a great run,” she said. “I have to say I was very for­tu­nate that I had some very dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences that prob­a­bly the typ­i­cal teacher doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily get an op­por­tu­nity to do.”

Pret­ty­man be­gan her ca­reer in ed­u­ca­tion in 1979, even­tu­ally leav­ing the class­room to be­come a writ­ing teacher for the district, help­ing small groups of stu­dents in the Wilm­ing­ton schools im­prove their pro­fi­ciency.

She later ser ved as a coach who worked with teach­ers on pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment be­fore she was of­fered the po­si­tion of as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal at Ba­yard Ele­men­tary School. When Ba­yard be­came a mid­dle school, she fol­lowed the prin­ci­pal to El­bert-Palmer.

In her sec­ond year there, an as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal po­si­tion opened at Mar­shall Ele­men­tary, and she de­cided to “take the plunge” and ap­ply.

“When I got it, it was like, ‘Oh my, I’m leav­ing my ba­bies,’” she said. “And I can re­mem­ber just putting my head down on the desk say­ing to my­self, ‘Am I mak­ing the right de­ci­sion?’ But, you know, I wanted to fur­ther my ca­reer.”

She worked at Mar­shall for three years be­fore she felt pre­pared for the next step and came to Downes, where she spent seven years as prin­ci­pal.

“What I’m most proud of, I think, is that when I came here, there was very, very lit­tle tech­nol­ogy in the build­ing. And now ev­ery class­room is equipped with the ap­pro­pri­ate tech­nol­ogy – the smart boards, laptops, doc­u­ment cam­eras. They all have the ca­pa­bil­ity to do the things that they need to do to teach,” she said.

She added that she is proud of the school’s con­tin­ued aca­demic suc­cess, as well as the Man­darin lan­guage im­mer­sion pro­gram, which be­gan at Downes dur­ing the 2013-2014 aca­demic year.

“The Chi­nese pro­gram, that was an­other new ad­ven­ture,” she said. “It was not any­thing we’d ever heard of, or thought of, and then sud­denly, it was pre­sented as a pos­si­bil­ity. Now our school is a K-5 Chi­nese im­mer­sion school.”

Pret­ty­man said she de­cided to leave half­way through the school year so her re­place­ment ar­rives when things in full swing.

“I thought also that it would be nice for some­one to come in and kind of get an idea of how things go be­fore they have to make a mil­lion de­ci­sions,” she said. “It’s al­ready run­ning. It’s kind of seam­less.”

She noted she will have things in or­der for the in­com­ing prin­ci­pal Anne Parks – who has started meet­ing staff and par­ents – and will be close by if she is needed.

“How can you not?” she said. “It’s my baby.”

Last June, she watched her first group of kinder­garten­ers ma­tric­u­late through their fi­nal year at Downes. She plans to come at­tend the an­nual “clap-out,” where the old­est class is cheered on as they leave Downes for the fi­nal time, to see the first class in the Chi­nese im­mer­sion pro­gram grad­u­ate.

“I have no doubt that I’ll keep in touch with many, many, many of my my staff over the years, be­cause they’re very spe­cial to me,” she said. “I still keep in touch with my Mar­shall staff that I left seven years ago. It’s spe­cial, spe­cial re­la­tion­ships.”

Mean­while, across town at West Park Place Ele­men­tary, stu­dents and teach­ers are ad­just­ing to life with­out Prin­ci­pal Le­don­nis Her­nan­dez, who left last week for a job at the district of­fice.

Her­nan­dez, who spent eight years at West Park, at­trib­uted her suc­cess to the team around her.

She re­counted the recog­ni­tions they’ve re­ceived for aca­demic achieve­ments – in­clud­ing a forth­com­ing recog­ni­tion by Sec­re­tary of Ed­u­ca­tion Su­san Bunt­ing next week – nav­i­gat­ing the Com­mon Core stan­dards, and en­sur­ing all English­language learn­ing stu­dents are in­te­grated into a gen­eral ed­u­ca­tion class­room.

She is also proud of the school’s ef­forts to de­feat a pro­posal by a com­mit­tee of res­i­dents who wanted to rename the school for film­maker Ken Burns, who at­tended West Park from 1959 to 1963.

“[It] was re­ally im­por­tant to us as a school com­mu­nity, re­ally band­ing and sup­port­ing one an­other against the name change,” she said. “The West Park com­mu­nity feels very pas­sion­ately about the school, [and] are re­ally pas­sion­ate about our name.”

She noted the stu­dents were a high­light of her time at West Park.

“Ul­ti­mately, they’re the rea­son we ex­ist as a whole,” she con­tin­ued. “And so the op­por­tu­ni­ties to re­ally en­gage and get to know stu­dents are cer­tainly the high­light of my time at West Park.”

Her­nan­dez’s last day at West Park was on Nov. 30. On Mon­day, she be­gan her new role in the district. She’ll be work­ing as a su­per­vi­sor of grants and the English-learner pro­gram.

“At the school level, I was re­ally in­volved in teach­ing and learn­ing. That was my pri­mary fo­cus. In this role, I think my fo­cus is def­i­nitely fo­cused on the stu­dents, but on the dol­lars and cents side of it, so to speak,” she said.

Last Fri­day, Her­nan­dez spent her fi­nal day at West Park join­ing her stu­dents for lunch.

“The mixed feel­ings are re­ally just around leav­ing a school and just leav­ing the school en­vi­ron­ment. All of my years of ed­u­ca­tion, I’ve worked in a school build­ing with chil­dren and adults,” she said.

She added that the new prin­ci­pal, Tracy No­vack, started her ad­min­is­tra­tive ca­reer at West Park as an ad­min­is­tra­tive man­ager.

“She knows the cul­ture of the school. She’s a re­ally strong in­struc­tional leader,” Her­nan­dez said. “So al­though it’s bit­ter­sweet for me to leave, and it’s kind of pulling at the heart­strings, I knew that in Tracy they would have an amaz­ing leader.”

Look­ing back at her own time serv­ing as a leader at West Park, she em­pha­sized what a good school it is.

“Par­ents are in­volved and en­gaged; stu­dents are re­ally ea­ger to learn,” she said. “Like ev­ery other school in the U.S., we’ve had chal­lenges, but I think one of the things that made West Park amaz­ing is that we’re re­ally a fam­ily. It felt like a fam­ily at­mos­phere. When you’re at West Park, you feel like you’re home.”

She didn’t take all the credit for the suc­cesses and warmth at West Park.

“When I look back on things that were ac­com­plished at West Park, I don’t nec­es­sar­ily look at it through the lens of what I ac­com­plished. I look at it through the lens of what we ac­com­plished as a school com­mu­nity,” she said.


Tr­ish Pret­ty­man, prin­ci­pal of Downes Ele­men­tary School, will re­tire at the end of this month after 39 years in the district.


Out­go­ing West Park Place Prin­ci­pal Le­don­nis Her­nan­dez (left) greets stu­dents and their par­ents on the first day of school in 2013.

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