Portland native transforms underperforming New York school
NOBODY was as shocked as Dr Pauline Pearce when she was asked to be the principal of Mount Vernon High School in New York, as the school was underperforming.
But in July 2021 when the Portland native started in the role she made up her mind to improve the school’s operations, and she has maintained an attitude of determination ever since.
“I just finished my second year as principal at a middle school. I had all my systems working and preparing now for summer, when there was a new superintendent for the Mount Vernon city school district and as a member of the executive team. I went with the president of the union to get her flowers and she said, ‘I need to talk to you’,” she told the Jamaica Observer.
“We started to chit-chat until she told me, ‘You’re going to the high school’. I almost had a heart attack because a year before I went, the school was in total disarray. There was a lot of violence, poor performance — everything bad that you could think of,” added Pearce.
She said she had to ‘pull her big girl pants up’ and follow God’s lead, in order to reap the results she wanted.
Pearce said she always had the innate characteristics of persistence and courage ever since she was a little girl and her mother was very encouraging.
“Growing up in Jamaica, the only thing that I was concerned about was getting my homework done and studying. So when the other kids were heading to the river and doing childish things, I was doing my homework,” she said.
“I can remember my mom every morning when she got up and combed her hair she would keep saying, ‘Put something inna you head, so no man cyaan box you roun’. Because of that, my focus was always my studies and I was always a competitive kid, so in my class if someone was ahead of me in the current marking period, by next period I would be ahead,” Pearce said, chuckling.
She admitted that while the field of medicine had been her first passion, it did not work out. She delved into teaching instead and, after leaving teachers’ college, taught at Titchfield High School for about three years before migrating.
In the United States, she held numerous positions at learning institutions including a post as assistant principal of curriculum and instruction at Mount Vernon High School.
“Once I came here, things started happening, people see you and see your work and then every opportunity in leadership that came up, I was asked to fill that role. Now, here I am,” she said.
In her current post, Pearce noted that she has already seen improvement at the school.
“I have been here before, I would’ve known the building, known the type of children that were here and staff we had to work with. So I think the bulk of the work heavily rested on the staff feeling competent to do the work, making them feel like there is someone there to lead them — not to bash the prior leadership, but every context and time is different,” she said.
“They wanted to be able to see someone who would be there with them doing the work, and that is totally me. Most times I am not in my office but I am walking the halls, getting to know the kids, and that’s what the staff needed at the time,”said Pearce, who has already won the Principal of the Year Award and other accolades.
As she approaches a new school year in which she will welcome 300 new students, which will bring her school’s population to approximately 1,200 students, she will be focusing on developing a designer lab and making the institution more community-based.
“The vision is to make it a community school where the school is opened early mornings to late nights, where students can have their three meals a day, take a shower, wash their clothes and also have boutique, after-school activities, tutoring services,” she added.