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A Beautiful Beautification Day

Barnard Elementary School in Petworth is a great school. Principal Grace Reid has a dedicated faculty and staff. Parents and community members help to make the school a well kept educational center for children.
Barnard Elementary School in Petworth is a great school. Principal Grace Reid has a dedicated faculty and staff. Parents and community members help to make the school a well kept educational center for children.
Photos by Professor Metze

The present writer has many former college students who are now teachers and principals in public schools across the nation and in Africa. Public school teachers and principals answered the call to help students who do not have parents who can afford to pay the $25,000 a year to send their children to private school. The public schools in America were designed to give every child a chance to obtain an education. On Beautification Day 2014 the writer spent the day visiting DCPS schools across the city. One of the best kept secrets found that day was the work being done at Barnard Elementary School in Petworth.

Barnard Elementary School is as good as the community that keeps it
Photo by Professor Metze

Not seeking attention or asking for a press interview, the principal of Barnard, Dr. Grace Reid, was going about her business, as she does every school day, taking care of her children. She granted an interview to because the present writer covered the Beautification Day opening at Barnard every year for the past four years and never said a word or disturbed her parents or children. He quietly took pictures in the background and left. This year the school invited him in for a grand tour and even gave him a ride to the Metro and to the grand opening of the first event at the Dunbar High School Stadium.

Since joining the District of Columbia Public Schools 14 years ago Reid has only worked at one school. In preparing for the 2014-2015 DCPS school opening on Monday August 25, 2014, the principal was moving across her school with tremendous energy as she greeted parents, community volunteers, corporate partners, and her faculty, staff, and teachers all working on Beautification Day to get the school ready for the school opening.

Reid took a few minutes to share her thoughts with on the importance of the District of Columbia Public Schools. She also shared an insight that many District of Columbia residents are not aware of in some schools. Although public school begins August 25, 2014, in the District, there are many other schools that admit District students; however, if they decide that they don't want the student they can release them in October. These students have to find another school. “We, the public schools, are here to accept every child after October when the other schools have selected the best that they want and then rejected the others. We open our arms to say you have a place with us and we welcome you,” Reid said.

The October purge highlights why the DCPS schools are so important to students when the elite schools have picked the star students from the ones they let in and then reject the students who might be discipline problems. The public schools are the only place for these students to go. As a substitute teacher and Dean of Students in the District of Columbia Public Schools for 14 years the present writer observed this process over and over again. A full two months after school started students would show up after being rejected by other schools. The District of Columbia Public Schools always accepted these students.

Principal Grace Reid told the present writer that her children are her passion. “I am dedicated to my children. I was offered $50,000 of higher pay to leave my school for another school. I turned the offer down because I am committed to my children," Reid said. In the January snowstorm a father arrived at the school to find the school entrance was cleared of snow and school was open.The Barnard father had walked his child through the snow to get to school and he was the recipient of the dedication the principal showed when she rejected the offer of more money from the group that tried to steal her away from the great job she was doing. Reid placed her students ahead of money. It reminded the present writer of the $50,000 offer he rejected to go to teach in a school in Africa for nothing. To those who are only concerned about making money, they think that people who reject large cash offers are seen as fools. However, educating children is not about making money, it is about saving a child’s life. And there is nothing more important than a child.

Imagine a school with fruit trees and plants to teach child that the food they eat does not originally come with a grocery store wrapper. Grocery stores perform a great service of preparing the food and displaying the food for sale; however, the food came from trees, plants, and gardens. The principal at Barnard Elementary School like the retired Principal Amy Jones of the former Ruth K. Webb Elementary School believes that education is the key to the future of every child and the District of Columbia Public Schools offer education to every child long after October has come and gone. "We welcome all students," Reid said.

So sit back and relax because you are about to enter the school of the principal who never left. A Department of Education high official told the present writer in an earlier interview that one of the problems with the public schools is that once a school leader implements reforms and improvements to the public schools, due to the high turnover rate, most of these people are fired before the reforms go into place. It is a true assessment.

The current principal at Barnard has seen seven school leaders hired and fired at the helm of the District of Columbia Public Schools. That’s right seven. How can seven school leaders implement changes to the schools when they are fired before the reforms can take place? The answer, of course, is also the root of the problem. The present writer was hired as a substitute teacher for the District of Columbia Public Schools after retiring from a distinguished career as a college professor. A former student of a half century ago, Salifou Keita, asked “Professor Metze why do you work as a substitute teacher for minimal pay when your degrees and years of experience would allow you much higher positions for more money.” The answer had been given by the present writer in an interview with The New York Times on April 21, 1994.

Helping children is not about money. Helping children is about service. Any teacher or principal who works in a school to make money should look for another job. Education is a sacred trust between the community and the educator. Fortunately, the current principal at Barnard Elementary School not only believes this concept; moreover, she has put it in place at Barnard Elementary for 14 years. She works to save her children.

The programs at Barnard Elementary School come with titles in: art, music, poetry, reading, language, math, science, and history. There are posters for college to get the small children ready for their future. The library is fully stocked with books. The classrooms are picture perfect designs for educational learning. The teachers are prepared and supported to give their best instruction.The school uses digital technology and computers to enhance learning.

“My favorite quote is “Don’t bring anything negative to my door,” the principal said. “I let my teachers and staff know that if you are not here to serve my students the EXIT sign is over the door. We are committed to our children,” the principal said with a stern face and very serious intent. There is no question in the writer’s mind, at this point, that the woman in the interview means business. This is her life. “I have no regrets about dedicating my life to my children. Like Condoleezza Rice said when asked if she had any regrets about choosing to serve her nation in lieu of having gotten married and having children. Rice said she had no regrets over the path that she had chosen," Reid said. The principal at Barnard Elementary School has totally given her life to her children at Barnard Elementary School. It is the only school that she has served since completing her doctorate degree.

Principal Grace Reid leads by example. Her positive personality is infectious. Children love her. These are all observations from her students, staff, and faculty. Some have worked with her for 14 years. Students come back to see her. Teachers bring family members to meet her.

“I am driven by my passion and purpose and calling in life. I view my work as my contribution to humanity, and making the world, or my corner of the world, better than I found it. Children are my passion, and they make every moment, even the very difficult days worth it,” Reid said. Antioch College President Horace Mann at the first college commencement said, "Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity." Reid is working to win victories for humanity every school day. Her work is long from finished and her teachers, faculty, staff, and students are thankful.

She uses a team approach to the work at Barnard. She believes that everyone matters. She believes that everyone is an important piece of the puzzle. “Every adult at Barnard is a teacher (they all model in some way for our children). It’s a team approach. This is not MY school, but OUR school. Consequently the buy-in is unparalleled. Commitment of my teachers is unique. My problem is not getting them to come to work, but to get them to go home. Several have been at Barnard for over 15 years, and refuse to leave even for promotion within in the system, “she said.

The community is supportive and happy with their school. It’s a real community. The principal has made partnerships with community stakeholders who are invested in the work that is being done at Barnard. Volunteers are encouraged to work on Beautification Day and any other day that they want to help children. The school motto is “A school is as good as the community that keeps it.” When it comes to education and helping children Petworth is the greatest community in Washington, D.C.

And there is more good news for all District of Columbia parents looking for a great school for their child. Barnard is a school that can accept students from all over the District of Columbia. Principal Reid said that her door is always open to parents. She works long hours because she is committed to making certain that every child in her school has a quality education. For many District children today is the first day of their path to a brighter future. No educator understands this fact better than Principal Grace Reid.

For more information contact: Dr. Grace A. Reid, Barnard Elementary School, 430 Decatur Street, NW, Washington, DC, 20011.

Professor Metze has served as a Dean of Students and Substitute Teacher in the District of Columbia Public Schools since his retirement from Howard University. Barnard Elementary School is his community school where he has been called upon to substitute only once in 2006. As the principal stated, the teachers at Barnard hardly ever miss school. It is great for the students because their teachers are always present. There is no need for a substitute teacher when the regular teacher is like the teachers at Barnard Elementary School. Their dedication to the students is unique.

Remember the District of Columbia Public Schools will open for the business of education on Monday August 25, 2014. All teachers and students are expected to be present in class.

Have a great school year in 2014-2015.

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