An Interview with Liliana McIntosh, Jayla Turner, and Mikela Jones, Education Change Interns
Dr. Nash joined Common Ground as our Assistant School Director at the start of the school year. She sat down to share more about herself with students in our Educational Change Internship, who then put together this introduction to a critical member of our team!
What’s the path that brought you to Common Ground?
I started at Amistad, in its beginning years, when they were just getting things in place. I learned some sound teaching structure from their early successes and failures. I learned that if you have systems that work well, you can get results. My students’ scores went through the roof. I thought to myself: If I could do this for a small group, I want to do it for more students. I went straight back to graduate school, so I could learn how to run a school.
After a few years, I applied to become Assistant Director at Highville Charter. The school was in the middle of a turnaround. I could bring all these foundational pieces – take what I loved from my experiences so far, and make it into a whole school. I was there for 7 years, and we made a lot of progress during that time.
I knew it was time for me to make my next move. I felt like the best way for me to do that was to go back for my doctorate. I had to walk away from working if I wanted to get a degree. I got to be a graduate assistant for the Vice President at Southern Connecticut State University. She was no-nonsense, a really inspiring person.
While I was going to school, I worked at a New Haven elementary school. Everything you do, it deposits some seeds. One thing I know about NHPS: They have some of the best professional development, some of the best tools.
What is your job at Common Ground What can students and families look to you for?
One thing I’m responsible for is the Pathways Team, and our work related to career and college connectedness. It’s our job to put as many experiences in your backpack as we can, so you go out into the world ready for what comes next.
I am the person who provides guidance for the math, arts, and science departments. Every Sunday night, I read through all the activities students will do in those classes to make sure they’re aligned with the state standards, the rigor to which we want to hold our students. I meet with the teachers in those departments. I’m constantly pushing them to create experiences that are going to be exciting for students – integrated lessons that are more than paper and pencil activities.
I also lead the Student Support Team. If students are struggling academically or personally, we’ll evaluate that, and put together a plan, so we can help those students thrive. Part of that involves helping to improve Common Ground attendance, working on strategies to make sure all our students are present every day.
What do you want to accomplish at Common Ground?
When I worked on my doctorate, one thing I learned was that in urban communities, there is often a disconnect between families and schools. That disconnect leads to students in urban schools not walking away with the same kind of learning opportunities as in other districts. I want to apply what I learned, and do everything I can to push our students to be successful after leaving high school, and to reconnect families with schools.
To help students be successful, it’s important that we focus on what students really love. If they aren’t satisfied by what they’re working on, we aren’t creating lifelong learners. We’re creating robots. If we’re focused on identifying students’ passions, it’s no longer a chore to go to school. That is what I’m hoping to bring here.
What’s an example of work you’ve done with students that you’re really proud of or excited about?
When I taught 6th grade, I wanted to make math real for my students, to simulate real life experiences. I made my uncle, who’s an investor, sit down to teach me everything about mortgages. I assigned each student a different set of economic circumstances, and had them figure out their day to day expenses. It was a project that went on for about a month, and was incredibly enjoyable for them. There were all these calculations that they had to do – a checkbook where they kept their expenses, their rent or mortgage, how they were handling transportation costs. It went way farther than I expected it to go. They just came into class, snatched up their projects, and got busy. I was just blown away by that – 6th graders calculating mortgages! They were from one of the lowest-performing schools in the district, and walked away with some of the best math scores in the district.
What do you enjoy doing when you aren’t at school? Tell me about your family!
This may seem like such a simple thing, but what I really love is going to the movies. I really like popcorn. If I had a day where I could just go to the movies and hang out, I wouldn’t even need to go with anyone.
I have three children – two in high school, and one in elementary school. My children keep me on my toes and keep me updated about the latest trends. They keep me busy! I love them very much.
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