Thursday, September 2, 2010

From China to McGilvra

Mary Lane takes control

It was with a certain sense of déjà vu that I sat in the McGilvra principal’s office today for a chat with the School’s incoming head, Mary Lane. The new school year is about to begin and McGilvra is under new leadership. That, of course, was also the situation last year when I sat in the same office talking to the then-new principal, DeWanda Cook-Weaver, about her plans for the upcoming school year. Those plans, as we now know, didn’t quite pan out.

When listening to Lane, however, I had the strong sense that this time the School has someone in the top job who’s likely to be around for the long haul. I fully expect to be interviewing her at the end of this school year about all that she and her team accomplished in her first term.

But before we get to her plans and objectives, let’s do the bio. Lane is a Virginia native who began her career in education as a 3rd and 4th grade classroom teacher. She’s a bit coy about how long she’s been an administrator but admits to having been a principal “for many years.” This experience included stints at schools in the Olympia area, as well as Hawkins Middle School in Kitsap County. Then, after eleven years in Washington, she packed up and moved to the Dominican Republic, where she served as an assistant superintendent of a school district catering to the children of expats. She followed this up with a move to China, were she served as principal of a large private school, Shanghai American.

Why go overseas? “I was at a point where I was able to do it,” she says, “and I wanted to experience education in a different way. Change is good—every five to seven years or so.” She learned a lot during her seven years abroad, she notes, but her goal was always to return to Washington. And when the McGilvra position came open this year it was one of several job prospects she considered. Lane decided that after having lived in Shanghai, she might have found Olympia to be too small. But Seattle was the right size—and McGilvra was the “perfect match.” Her goal had been to live downtown and be close to her work, preferably located in an old red-brick schoolhouse. Well, she achieved all of that. She now makes the short commute to Madison Park’s 1913 brick elementary from her new abode in Belltown.

So how does she like it so far? Well, first a nod to what she terms the ”highly involved” parents (some might say notoriously involved parents) of McGilvra. “They’re delightful, dedicated, and interesting,” she tells me, “but I don’t see this parent group as at all different from what I’ve dealt with in the past.” She notes the similarity of McGilvra’s parents with the parents of kids in the private schools she’s administered. “These are parents who are very interested in their children’s education, people with high expectations.” And it’s certainly better to have “highly involved” parents, she adds, than the other thing.

Next, a nod to the “wonderful, talented and dedicated” teachers and staff of the school, who she has discovered are “nice people too!” She says she’s making it a point to try to sit down with each one individually, asking three basic questions: what are your concerns, what are your hopes, and if you could change one thing, what would it be? She’s not telling me specifically what she learned, but she notes that she was surprised by the consistency of the responses. And she professes enthusiasm about the level of interest everyone on the staff has in their own professional development. She says she believes that this bodes well for new methods of delivering education at McGilvra.

She points, in particular, to the rollout this year of a different kind of literacy program in the school that encourages students to take more ownership in the learning process and, hopefully, view themselves as authors. For innovative programs such as this, she notes, “we have the luxury of being able to look at growth, since the students in the school are already doing well.”

What she hopes to foster at McGilvra, she says, is “a professional learning community, one that focuses on what we want to accomplish so we know when we do accomplish it.” This means working together, understanding student data, utilizing new tools, and setting goals. “We need to create cultures in our schools where teachers have as many ‘light bulb’ moments as the children have.”

It’s a tall order, but she’s ready to get started. And next Wednesday, the first day of the new school year, a full school assembly will get to see the new principal in action for the first time.

“It feels good be home and in a community,” she says in closing. “I think this is the right fit.”


  1. Have you figured out what a nut case Mary Lane really is? Has anyone bothered to ask her former staff in Shanghai?

  2. Unfortunately, past co workers from SAS and the Carol Morgan School have nothing positive to say about Mary Lane.

  3. Her current staff rates her very high and her community based surveys are strong. I'm very happy that she is at our school and I hope she stays! Mary Lane's leadership over the past two years during significant change has been thoughtful and student focused. Thanks Mrs. Lane!

  4. Her staff ratings, in fact, are lower than the District average. Look again.


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