Allecyn Howard. Courtesy of Allecyn Howard.
By Guy Aldridge
Jefferson Middle School Academy is getting a new principal this fall. Allecyn Howard joins the school with decades of experience in Special Education, literacy coaching, teacher training and more. Howard told The Southwester she has a series of educational goals she hopes to achieve. On top of those, she hopes students will love coming to school, and wants to show the broader community that she’s here to stay.
An Atlanta native, Howard has gained education experience in diverse communities in multiple states. While participating in Teach For America, for instance, she developed first-year teachers in Alabama and Arkansas. That experience will be important this year because she will oversee six new teachers, as well as 10 others who are new to Jefferson.
Howard considers being a Special Educator at the “core” of who she is, and sees that experience as having wider applicability. Providing resources for students who are the “furthest from opportunity” isn’t just for them – “everyone else will benefit.”
While at KIPP, a network of college-preparatory public schools in DC, 80% of students Howard led achieved their reading growth goals, while another 40% or more reached or exceeded grade-level reading proficiency, according to her bio on the DC Public Schools website. In 2022, just 31% of eighth-graders nationally performed at or above reading proficiency in reading, the most recent Nation’s Report Card showed. A nationwide decline in math and reading proficiency, which began before the pandemic, is continuing.
Students will remain “at the center of the work,” as for Howard it’s not just about “growing the numbers.” She is bringing her approach to bettering writing skills to Jefferson, applying it to both that area and to math. Students will have a “regular math class” as well as an enrichment class “aligned to math.” Her goal is that students are “prepared to take algebra in eighth grade.”
Teachers in the upcoming academic year will be compensated to stay for a “power hour” after regular school hours to provide homework and tutoring support. Other partners have also reached out to Jefferson about doing additional mentorship work.
Another outcome Howard hopes to achieve at Jefferson is lowering chronic absenteeism. At weekly staff meetings, Jefferson educators will aim to identify and address barriers to children arriving on time. For instance, students who are late to Jefferson because they were dropping off their siblings at elementary school – which starts later in the morning – shouldn’t be penalized. Instead, the focus should be on making up for the time missed.
Howard’s approach aims to prepare Jefferson graduates for high school and the world beyond. Individual Education Plans (IEPs), for example – a program for school specific to a child with a disability – are only a part of a student’s life while at school. The new principal said it’s important also to prepare them for “when they graduate.” She wants all students, including those with disabilities, to “build those skills themselves so they can function in the real world.” For some students, this could mean social skills, while for others it may mean pronunciation or technology.
Howard is aware she inherits a “legacy” at Jefferson. Though she did not attend the school, her wife is just one of the people in her life who did. She described Jefferson as a “family first community,” with many former students now sending their children. The new principal is also eager to step into the large shoes of her predecessors, Natalie Gordon and Greg Dohmann. “Overall, it’s a phenomenal school,” she said, and she wants to “leverage the good that is happening.”
After hearing from parents, Howard hopes to deliver on the consistency desired by the community. They want someone who will “be with us in this work,” and she doesn’t “don’t plan to go anywhere else.” As for her own goals, beyond those she has for Jefferson attendees, the new principal wants to cultivate a “love” for school. She remembers her own love for middle school, both in the academic and social dimensions.
“I want every student who attended Jefferson while I was principal to say that while they were here they loved school. I want that to be my legacy.”