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New Prince William Schools Superintendent Dr. LaTanyaMcDade prepares for 1st day of school

New Prince William County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. LaTanya McDade discusses approach to student learning. (7News photo){ }{p}{/p}
New Prince William County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. LaTanya McDade discusses approach to student learning. (7News photo)

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It’s a new school year for Prince William County Public Schools with a new superintendent for the first time in 16 years, who’s bringing a new approach to student learning.

Dr. LaTanya McDade hails from Chicago Public Schools after more than two decades as an educator. 7News Ashlie Rodriguez sat down with Dr. McDade, a first-generation immigrant from Belize, the first woman and first African-American superintendent to step into the role of Prince William.

ALSO READ: Chicago Public Schools leader tapped as new Prince William County superintendent

Ashlie Rodriguez: How does that experience help you here in Prince William County?

Dr. LaTanya McDade: "Out of all the roles that have most prepared me to lead this school division here in PWC is that of a parent. I’m a mother, I have two sons. They’re adults now. But when I think about what I want out of education for my children, that’s what I want for every single student in this county. And that is the lens that I will use to lead this school division, making sure every single student has a fair shot to succeed."

"I hope it was for the body of work I’ve amassed in 23 years of education. I think that the work that PWC is primed for right now, especially the work that ensures that there’s equity for all students to have a world-class education."

ALSO READ: Leadership changes as Va.'s three largest school systems start to emerge from the pandemic

Rodriguez: You said you were drawn to coming to this district because the board has an emphasis on equity, which you called a moral imperative.

McDade: "I’m a daughter of immigrants, I grew up with really humble beginnings. And it was education that really provided me with the opportunities I needed to be able to succeed. Education, high-quality education, and access to opportunity is a fundamental right for every single student...that means every single student regardless of their zip code, regardless of their country of origin, regardless of their color of skin, every student has an opportunity to access excellence in education."

"It’s the kind of work that I want to do. When I look at all of our students, I hope that they see themselves in me. And because education has been the great equalizer for me, I hope it’s the great equalizer for them."

ALSO READ: LIST: When students go back to school in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia for 2021-22

Rodriguez: Teaching Critical Race Theory in public schools is a point of controversy in some DMV school districts – specifically Loudon and Fairfax – where we’ve seen parent protests and heated school board meetings when discussing the topic. Some say the new approach to teaching history is crucial to modern education, others argue it’s actually an ideology posing as history.

I think parents want to know, where do you stand on that and is that kind of education being introduced?

McDade: "I have to say that I did not get exposed to or take courses in Critical Race Theory until I was working on my doctorate. It’s graduate-level coursework that we will not be teaching in the Pre-K-12 space. So we will not be offering courses in CRT for our young people. And scholars will tell you that. It’s not the place for it to be taught in schools. What we will ensure is that every single classroom is a safe and supportive environment for all students, where students have a sense of identity. When you think about the diversity of PWC, it’s important for students in our classrooms that education serves as both a mirror and a window, a place where students can see themselves and value and have a sense of identity, understand their own history and resiliency and see the world around them."

After spending a school year at home, in front of a screen, many of your kids may have fallen behind in their studies. Others are dealing with mental health and social challenges as well. PWPS is the second-largest school district in Virginia, with 90,000 students, made up of majority Hispanic (36%), White (28%), Black (20%), Asian (10 %) students.

And the homes of first-generation immigrants, where Spanish is the dominant language at home, virtual learning on hard-to-come-by laptops was near impossible.

AR: How are you going to try to overcome those learning gaps that might have happened?

McDade:" One of the other aspects that often gets overlooked or not talked about is re-engagement. We have families, for all of the reasons that you named are trying to make it through the pandemic, being in a space of basic needs being met. And so we have some families that we need to reconnect with and re-engage. So we’re really focusing on doubling down on making sure that all of our students are connected to their schools and that we’re reaching out to them.

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McDade says this year they’re employing parent liaisons to help re-engage families, as well as offering services to special ed students. For any student faced with mental health challenges, Prince William Public Schools are ensuring counselors, social workers, and community partners are available for students and staff, to help with health, healing, and wellness.

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