Donna Ragsdale is making her imprint at Prince Hall Elementary School. Entering her third year at the helm, Ragsdale continues to provide a rigorous academic curriculum, enhance school partnerships and build leaders of the community.
“In the beginning, I think the school was a lot about community, but as far as academics, it wasn’t a major situation,” Ragsdale said. “My goal has been that we make sure we put academics first. With that in mind, I had to create a vision with the staff as far as why we are here. We are here to make sure that students become academically intelligent.
“We do not call our students, ‘students.’ Instead, we call them ‘leaders,’” she continued. “Our teachers are teacher leaders. In order for them [students] to become a leader they need to know it now. If they have a goal in place it would be easier for them to work up to that goal. When they [students] finally get there, they will not only feel a sense of accomplishment, but they will be able to see how their hard work helped them achieve their goal.”
One of the key issues that Ragsdale addressed when she took over as principal was the defunct school library.
“One of the things I noticed right away at the school was that the students didn’t have a real library,” Ragsdale said. “We ended up receiving a $10,000 grant that helped us accomplish the goal of having a full working library. The students go to the library once a week. They take books out to read.
“We participate in the ‘100 Book Challenge,’” she added. “I also have a library instructional material assistant. She does lessons with the students. She teaches them all about the usage of the library. She also correlates with the staff about the topics they are talking about in class. I wanted to make sure that literacy was a plus at Prince Hall.”
The heart of the school is through its academics. Ragsdale says she will continue to raise the standard of excellence by giving students opportunities to succeed in the classroom through the rubric system.
“One of our goals was having the building look more academic by celebrating student work,” Ragsdale said. “I talked to my teachers about how important student work is. The student work is what we value and we have to let our students know that. When students do work; it needs to be posted. All of the teachers at Prince Hall go by the rubric system. This system helps students know what they have to work toward. This system is also a great way for teachers to give feedback to the students on their work.”
Prince Hall has numerous partnerships within the community and with neighboring schools. The school has partnerships with student teachers at LaSalle University and Kardon Institute. Wagner Middle School and Hill Freedman World Academy are mentoring schools for Prince Hall. The Masons also help students at school.
“One thing that is very important to us are our partnerships,” Ragsdale said. “All of our partnerships have enhanced the school in a lot of ways. I currently work with Wagner Middle School and Hill-Freedman World Academy. We have learning networks, so I meet with the principals at those schools and discuss with them what they’re looking for. We then turn around and do professional development with our teachers so that our students know what they’re working hard for and what they have to do to get into good schools like Wagner and Hill-Freedman.
“In addition to our partnerships, I also wanted my students to go out and learn about things,” she added. “You have a lot of learning inside the classroom, but a lot of the students learn outside the classroom. I’m very big on students having academic trips. Just recently, we had students go see Grand Hank for his STEM Black History Showcase. It was a great educational trip for them, because not only did they learn about Science, Technology, Engineering & Math and past African-American inventors, but they were also in the presence of an actual inventor.”
Ragsdale says she hopes her leaders will not only excel in academics at Prince Hall, but she wants them to also realize their goals and how to achieve them.
“A lot of our students in the past didn’t know where they wanted to go,” she said. “It was important for our teachers to sit down with the students and ask them, ‘What are your goals?’ ‘Where do you want to go for middle school, high school and college?’ ‘What do you want as a career?’ We then made a board of it and displayed it in the hallway. Students can’t know where they need to go unless they sit down, say, and understand what they need to do. All of our kids have a path to choose. We just need to give them the tools, skills and guidance to help them get to where they want to go.”