When students at Rhame Avenue Elementary School return to class next month, a new face will be there to greet them: Dr. Ayesha McArthur, the school’s incoming principal.
“My biggest goals are just getting to know the community and to understand what the needs are here,” McArthur said. “I plan to be outside as students return, so they feel at home and know that just because there’s a new person here doesn’t mean anything is different with this being a place that makes them excited and makes them feel safe and ready to learn.”
After a multi-round interview process, district officials hired McArthur, 46, of Kew Gardens, Queens, who has spent many years teaching and taking on a range of administrative duties in a number of states. She started her new post in East Rockaway on July 26, and said she had already met with many staff members and administrators.
McArthur was born and raised in Harrisburg, Pa. After earning a bachelor’s degree in elementary education at South Carolina State University, she began her career as a fifth-grade teacher in Prince George’s County, Maryland, in 1995. She then moved to New York and earned a master’s and doctorate in curriculum and teaching from Teacher’s College, Columbia University, in Manhattan while continuing to teach.
McArthur was also an elementary school principal in North Carolina and Maryland over an 11-year span, and an assistant principal in the Freeport School District. Most recently she served as interim superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Long Beach.
Having been a teacher and a principal in the past, she said, gave her insight into the delicate balance in the relationships between administrators and staff.
“I understand the bigger picture and how everything needs to work as a system,” she said, “so I know how that translates into the building. I need to prioritize what my focus is for teachers. I don’t want them to be overwhelmed. I understand the balance of it because I’ve worked both sides of it.”
McArthur takes over as principal for Erik Walter, who spent five years at Rhame Avenue before accepting the principal’s job at Riverside Elementary School in his native Rockville Centre. In July, Walter said his time in East Rockaway meant a great deal to him and helped ready him for his role at Riverside.
“That opportunity helped me be prepared to assume this position and really fulfill that lifelong dream,” Walter said. “It’s really an exciting next step on my journey, and I feel like it’s a place now that I’m really going to be able to call home.”
McArthur said she enjoyed the long interview process because it helped her better understand East Rockaway. She added that she was pleased that district officials are emphasizing math, science and writing instruction, which, she said, she hopes to expand on. The district’s focus on professional development also stood out to her, she said.
Most of all, McArthur said, the feeling of a tight-knit community in such a small district drew her to the village. “There’s a strong sense of community in East Rockaway,” she said. “It’s a small school, so you really get to know your students. You get to know their families and really get a chance to connect with your staff, all while enabling students to grow.”
McArthur said she looked forward to working with Superintendent Lisa Ruiz and continuing to develop the district’s strategic plan, which focuses on achievement, opportunity, innovation and connection. She noted that she hoped to establish a connection and fluidity between Rhame, Centre Avenue Elementary School and East Rockaway Junior-Senior High School.
While there are areas that she would like to expand on, McArthur said she was not looking to change too much in her first year. Education tools such as thinking maps and visible learning, as well as writers workshops and innovative math and science programs, are already in place in the district, she noted
“I think we have to stay the course because the district is doing quite a few things that are pretty trailblazing,” she said. “I’m looking forward to being a part of leading that process.”
McArthur said her main goal is to get to know the community, and that she was most looking forward to meeting the students. “Seeing the kids, that’s what I’m most excited for,” she said. “That’s the most exciting part.”