On Monday outside the Hugh Roe O’Donnell School the school’s new Principal Emily Berman stands outside greeting her students in the morning. The first time principal officially started work last Thursday as Boston Public Schools began the first day of the 2018/2019 school year.
In the schoolyard on Lexington Street she greeted the students by name and brushed up on her Spanish with some of the parents.
“I want to learn all my students names by the end of September,” said Berman. “I’m up to 50 names after three days. I want my students to know I know them, not just their names, but what their interests are, what’s challenging for them.”
With 282 students at the O’Donnell the New York native is confident she’ll get there.
“But kindergarten hasn’t started,” she joked. “But I’ll get there.”
Berman grew up in the suburbs of New York City but moved to Boston to attend Boston University and never left.
“I received two Bachelor’s Degrees from B.U. and a Master’s in Education so I’m a Triple Terrier,” she proudly says. “But I love Boston and once I was here I didn’t want to leave and I don’t plan on leaving anytime soon.”
After graduating from B.U. , Berman enrolled in the Teach for America, a national program that places future educators in the classroom for two years of teaching in a low-income community.
“I was really lucky to be placed in Boston Public Schools and started teaching when I was 21,” said Berman. “I started the Edwards in Charlestown teaching 6th grade and then 7th grade. I knew then that elementary school was my fit and that education was going to be my career path.”
Following her stint with Teach for America Berman became a BPS teached at the Blackstone School in the South End where she taught 4th grade.
After a few years teaching at the Blackstone, Berman was recruited by the Lynch Leadership Academy (LLA) to begin training to become a future principal. Founded in 2010 the LLA established a bridge between the Carroll School of Management and Lynch School of Education at Boston College–latticing the necessary learning school principals need to do to become skilled instructional leaders and executive managers.
“I started with the LLA two years ago at the Russell School in Dorchester,” said Berman. “The program was great because it was less shadowing and more of a role as assistant principal because you are doing evaluations, administrative work, and leading. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a productive struggle on your own and really prepares you for the craziness that is principalship.”
Then Berman interviewed for the Principal position at the O’Donnell after the former principal retired last year.
“I was really excited to interview here because the O’Donnell was one of the schools that was on my personal radar…I was really interested in coming here to East Boston,” she said.
Berman said off right off the bat she wants to celebrate the school through numerous community engagement events.
“I want to do lots of events throughout the year instead of one big event,” she said. “If you noticed at drop off in the morning most of the parents were here. We only have one bus at drop off and pick up so most of the parents are here in the community so I want to figure out better ways to engage them.”
One of the things that attracted Berman to the O’Donnell may just be one of the school’s weaknesses. Tucked away in the middle of Eagle Hill between Trenton and Lexington Streets the relatively small O’Donnell school has long been a diamond in the rough.
While the school is one of the few schools in Eastie where most students live a stone’s throw away it is also one of the schools that gets the least attention from the community at large.
“I love that this is a small community school,” said Berman. “And when you are a small community school like the O’Donnell there is huge potential in what you can do for not only the kids but from the entire community. I’m slowly trying to introduce myself to all the small businesses in the area because I really believe it takes a village for our kids.”
One of the issues Berman realized was that the O’Donnell, unlike other school in Eastie, lacked clear branding.
“Talking to the teachers and staff we feel like we are not very well known outside our little area,” said Berman. “What we are doing is creating clear core values and mission that will guid not only the staff and students but families and the community around us. There wasn’t a clear vision for the school. We really want to create a sense of community were the opportunities become more limitless for our students.”
As far as defining her role as a principal, Berman said she will not be in her office with her door closed shuffling through endless paperwork…at least not during the school day.
“Unless I have a meeting you will always see me in classrooms, in the hallways, in the schoolyard, in our new cafeteria,” she said. “My job is to be with the students and the staff and supporting them all day. The other part of this job, the administrative part, is what I will do before and after school. But when the kids are here I really want to engage them.”