New charter school chief outlines vision
BY AMELIA HARPER
Sunday, June 23, 2019
After three years of serving in the number two position at Rocky Mount Prep, the new leader stands ready to take over the reins.
The board of trustees of the charter school appointed Chaunte Garrett to the position of head of school earlier this week. Garrett officially will begin serving in her new leadership position on July 1 after Todd Pipkin’s tenure expires. Pipkin resigned his position as head of school at the June 3 board meeting.
In a speech delivered after her appointment was announced, Garrett told board members that she was accepting the position with “great pride and humility.”
“Thank you for entrusting me with this opportunity. I do not take this appointment and your faith in my leadership lightly,” Garrett said.
During her three years of service as chief academic officer at the school, Garrett already has had a great deal of input into the academic changes affecting students and the professional development of teachers. As the school prepares for the state’s decision on whether to renew the school’s charter in the fall, some board members felt it was important to maintain continuity in these areas.
“Dr. Garrett has a great deal of experience and I feel it is important for us to have her on board as we go through the renewal process,” said Jean Kitchin, who will be assuming the position of board chairman in July when Ricky Parks steps off the board. “Garrett is an excellent choice for this position.”
However, some parents and teachers have been outspoken over the past year about the job they felt that Pipkin and Garrett have done at the school and have maintained their outspokenness even after leaving the school. Some former teachers have said that Garrett’s methods are too aggressive and affect teacher morale, while some parents are concerned that not enough support has been provided to students at the high school level.
In her speech, Garrett acknowledged that there have been challenges in the past.
“I acknowledge our hard work. I also acknowledge that there are members of our Prep family who may not be pleased with events and outcomes from our past. I regret any hurt feelings or misunderstandings that may have resulted. I stand before you ready to support you, ready to listen to you and ready to work with you to ensure that Rocky Mount Prep moves forward,” Garrett said.
Garrett said the school, which serves roughly 1,200 students in grades K through 12, has a proud tradition to build on.
“Rocky Mount Prep is one of the oldest charter schools. It is also one of the largest. I entered a school community with a clear sense of the type of education desired for scholars and a sense of pride in how it was achieved,” Garrett said. “What was also very clear is that the success and pride of Rocky Mount Prep is due to the phenomenal families that choose us and send their scholars every day, the amazing staff that plans, supports and promotes learning every day and the amazing community that cheers us on and provides resources.”
She also shared her personal motivation for serving students in the field of education.
“I am the daughter of two parents who grew up farming in rural communities. My mother was told by her high school guidance counselor to continue farming because she was not college material. She would go on to prove the guidance counselor wrong and become the first in our family to earn a college degree as well as an advanced degree. My father was denied his high school diploma because when told he had to stop driving the black students to school on the school bus in order to transport white students, he refused,” she said.
Garrett’s mother went on to become a high school principal and to later work for the state Department of Public Instruction as an expert on supporting the needs of low-performing schools. While this role model affected Garrett’s career decision, she said the injustices her parents experienced in school also affected her approach toward education.
“My life and legacy have taught me that every child deserves access to educational opportunities that will enhance their learning, support their wellbeing and not just prepare them, but advantage them in their future,” Garrett said.
Garrett already is working to reshape some of the school’s experiences. The elementary and secondary schools both will have remodeled and enhanced media centers in the coming year and the elementary media center will have a new makerspace. The school is investing in more Chromebooks. And high school students will have access to their own guidance counselor and improved support in preparing for the ACT.
In her message to parents, Garrett said she expects great things in the year ahead.
“We expect our entire campus will benefit from our emphasis on social-emotional support, increased support and feedback and licensure support to our teachers and family and community engagement,” Garrett said. “Rocky Mount Prep is a family and we are a learning community where every scholar can and will excel. I see it. I know it. We can be it.
“I am excited to serve you and work alongside of you on this journey to our next level,” she said.