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Virginia Journal of Education

Ten Minutes With...

   Rhonda Carper
Position:   Assistant Principal, Stonewall Jackson High School
Local Association:  Prince William Education Association
Years worked in education:  25

What is a typical school day like for you?
If there’s a full moon or an impending storm front, I know my days will be hectic and chaotic. If neither of those two forces is at work, then I can gauge the pacing of my day by who’s in my office when I arrive and what awaits in my email. Those two factors rule the day’s activities. The center of my day should be teacher observations and student/teacher support, but that’s not the case if time-sensitive issues arise. Perhaps my biggest and most important responsibility is coordinating and maintaining remediation programs. Of course, at intervals throughout the day, I perform various supervisory duties, including lunch and bus duty. This is when I try to nurture relationships with students and support staff in the cafeteria, as well as the custodial crew.

What do you like about your job?
My job affords me the opportunity to do right by people. I have the privilege of being a shepherd of sorts and being able to watch over my flock—adults as well as students. If I’m lucky, I can make obstacles surmountable and the complex simple. Anytime I can create more time for teachers to concentrate on instructional practice and their students, it’s a good day.

I always tell people my favorite two days out of the school year are the two half-days when I run graduation practices. I get to work with students as a large group and individually.  These experiences remind me of the magic that’s in the classroom.

What is hard about your job?
The hardest part of my job is accepting that which I cannot control. Political interference into education by non-educators has hindered my ability to provide the “appropriate” education guaranteed to students. I’m seeing students in larger numbers simply giving up academically. School is no longer relevant for kids who are at-risk, who struggle economically, emotionally and in every other way due to lack of resources. Graduation is seen as an impossibility. Students who have resources like emotionally-connected parents who provide a stable, enriching home environment will always succeed. All too often politicians laud themselves for raising the level of expectation for our young people and congratulating themselves for doing so while their kids sit in private school, immune from the same public policy that makes education so difficult for less privileged students.
It’s my fear that common sense and equity won’t return to public education in my lifetime. Trying to fit square pegs into round holes so students see graduation as a possibility is the most difficult part of my job.  

What are some of the most fun and unusual things that have happened on the job?
Students sometimes amaze me. Most recently, I put out an all-call to the staff that a local food pantry that serves our school was empty. As usual, the response was great. One afternoon a teacher knocked at my back office door, and I opened it to find her in tears, holding a first aid kit, several greeting cards and some cash. She’d told her class the food pantry was empty and she was going to bring in some donations. Later in the day, in the pouring rain, the most unlikely student left school, came back and brought the teacher what she was holding in her hands. This student wanted to donate money from her paycheck and a brand new first aid kit. She’d also chosen five cards to give to people she didn’t know to let them know they weren’t alone. In one of the cards, the student explained who she was, that her heart was with the recipient, and that she would do everything she could to fill their stomachs and their souls.

Three of us stood in the middle of my office crying. Our hearts were full. This student, out of nowhere, reminded three somewhat war-weary adults that what we do makes a difference.

How has being an Association member been helpful to you?
Being a member has helped me remain connected to teacher concerns, but more importantly, it gives me some comfort in the knowledge that there’s an army down in Richmond fighting for our students and teachers. These days, what is politically popular rules, with no regard for unintended consequences. In theory, current educational policy sounds wonderful. In practice, it’s made Pearson a multi-billion dollar company on the backs of our students. Someone must advocate for those who have no voice. I believe it was James Madison who said, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance.” These days, it’s quite the opposite.



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