10. Navigating a Pandemic: A Conversation with Principals

In the Season 1 Finale of the Saracast, we look back on 2020 with principals Kevyn Bowles and Jessica Drzewucki from NYC and Dr. Melinda Johnson from Charles County, Maryland to learn about their experience leading their school communities through a global pandemic.

In the Saracast, Sara uses Creative Exercises to ground herself & her guests before each interview. We can bring moments of intention and creative expression to our day in small ways, like at the start or end of meetings, or as we transition from one activity to the next, to feel centered, grounded, and present as we move through our days.

Creative Exercise: Sound it Out

Think about how you are feeling as you breathe. What does that feeling sound like? In this episode, we start by thinking about how we’re feeling as we begin the conversation, making a sound to express that feeling. Then, we think about how we hope to feel as the conversation ends, making a sound to express that feeling too. 

“I also keep myself grounded by realizing that there are young people who have been on this earth far less years than we have that need us. And so, although I am experiencing this, I kind of put it on the back burner, but I’ll also know that that’s my passion. That’s what pulls me through knowing that when I log into the classes that it looks like the students are climbing into the Zoom camera because they want to get that connection. You know, it’s just being okay with collaborating with other leaders, things that we don’t know, but we’re all we have right now. And we’re going to get through this. We come up with different sayings and different mantras, but I have a fabulous team of vice principals that I rely on. My principal secretary, everyone in the building, I’m completely vulnerable with them. And they’re like, how are you coping? I’m like, well, today I’m not. And I’m obviously very honest and I’ll say, COVID is not going to take me out. It is not to take me out. And we have to be very real in that space. And with how we’re feeling. I just have to name it and call it at that moment.”-Dr. Melinda Johnson, Principal

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About Dr. Melinda Johnson

Dr. Melinda B. Johnson was named principal at J.P. Ryon Elementary School in 2019. She has amassed over 22 years in private, public and charter schools. Prior to Ryon, she served as the primary school principal and was placed on the chief academic office team as the director of teacher and scholar effectiveness for the Marion P. Thomas Charter School District in Newark, New Jersey. Dr. Johnson began her career in education as an elementary teacher in 1998 in Baltimore City, Maryland where she received an Outstanding Educator Award. 

 “I had this experience that from the first day New York city public schools were officially remote. I was able to continue working in person as a volunteer leader of an in-person childcare center for the children of New York city’s essential workers. And so the group of people, the teachers, teaching assistants, subs, and the other leaders, the cafeteria workers, school safety, everyone who was in that space. I feel like it’s such clear, direct, powerful evidence of the way crisis bonds people and brings people together. And the emotional support, even though we didn’t often have time to talk about it during the experience, because we were busy going, going, going that that group continues to provide to each other to this day, even though we don’t all work in the same space anymore is really powerful and resonant. Just the shared experience of, of going through a crisis with people provides you so much care and support.”-Kevyn Bowles, Principal

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About Kevyn Bowles

A lifelong New York City resident, Kevyn Bowles became a teacher as a Corps Member with Teach for America after graduating from Georgetown University. Kevyn served as a part of the founding group of teachers of a new school, PS 317 – the Waterside Children’s Studio School in Rockaway Park, Queens. After receiving his Masters in Special Education from Hunter College and Masters in Education Leadership from the Summer Principals Academy at Teachers College of Columbia University, Kevyn was selected by the Office of New Schools at the New York City Department of Education to found and lead New Bridges Elementary – PS 532 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn where he is currently Principal. 

“One of the things that I have emphasized from the beginning of this is that some of our big routines of the day have continued. So one of the things that we do in my school is our first period of every day on all grades is a leadership and movement period where we use the modules from Move This World. We’re also a Leader In Me school, so we do direct teaching around the seven habits. That time has always really been sacred to us and we’ve maintained that virtually as well. So everybody kind of gets up and starts the day together in a similar way.”-Jessica Drzewucki, Principal

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About Jessica Drzewucki 

Jessica Drzewucki is the principal of PS128 The Bensonhurst School, a small elementary school in Brooklyn.  She has served in this role for eight years, after spending much of her career in middle schools.  Jessica believes that the primary job of educators is to guide children to become self-advocating, curious people who care about others and recognize their own value toward building a great world.  Jessica is a parent, a fiction writer, and an avid reader who grew up in the mountains of western Pennsylvania.   

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