Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools opened 2021 with a new superintendent, Nyah Hamlett, who said she'll prioritize racial equity, school-based mental health and wellness, deeper learning and family engagement.
Hamlett replaces interim superintendent Jim Causby. She previously served as Chief of Staff in Loudoun County Public Schools and as an assistant superintendent in Henrico County Public Schools, both counties in Virginia.
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“I hope to model for others that equity is more than just naming inequities, or changing words and symbols,” Hamlett said in a virtual interview with local press. “It’s really about engaging in that real and raw equity work to include anti-racist and culturally responsive equity work and curriculum work and just culturally relevant pedagogy for our teachers.”
Here's a deeper look at her plans for the district.
Hamlett said she hopes to close the existing achievement gaps within CHCCS sooner rather than later. As she makes decisions at the school and district level, Hamlett said she wants to ask questions that dive deeper into the root causes of the inequities she sees and how to change the structure that perpetuates those gaps.
Hamlett said the equity lens has to be widened because the school district must work with the county and both Chapel Hill and Carrboro to close those gaps. This includes building trust with marginalized groups and communities.
“Closing those gaps can’t be done by the school district alone, so we also need to work with the county and both the towns to remove barriers that are created in the community in order to build trust with our marginalized groups and communities," she said.
School-based mental health and wellness
Another one of Hamlett’s goals is to make sure the school district is equipped to serve students and families with a comprehensive school-based mental health and wellness program during the pandemic. Hamlett said she has been a proponent of school-based mental health since before COVID-19 changed how schools operate.
Deeper learning and exceptional education
When it comes to high-quality deeper learning, Hamlett said it’s about emphasizing culturally responsive, project and problem-based teaching and learning.
Hamlett has done a lot of work in the area of special education, serving as director of exceptional education at Henrico County Public Schools. Hamlett said it’s important the CHCCS district makes sure it’s clear students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, also known as exceptional children, are part of the equation.
“I tend not to use the word 'inclusion' when it comes to our exceptional children, because that really suggests that exceptional children or students with disabilities have to be included into a system that was designed for general education students,” Hamlett said.
Marisa Kathard, whose daughter is an exceptional child in separate setting classrooms at East Chapel Hill High School, said she is excited Hamlett has a background working with exceptional education.
“It’s really hard for somebody who doesn’t have that background to really understand the very diverse and specific needs of this student population,” Kathard said.
Engaging with the community
Kathard said she hopes communication between administration, schools and families is among Hamlett’s top goals as superintendent.
Hamlett also said the district staff has gone to lengths to make sure it is connecting to refugee families, English learners and students who may not have access to Wi-Fi and other necessary resources.
“We’re really beefing up our family engagement efforts and moving into communities and meeting families and students where they are,” Hamlett said.
Marcellus Bland, an assistant principal at Henrico High School who worked with Hamlett when she was a teacher for exceptional students, said Hamlett creates an atmosphere of support.
“She’s so caring, so authentic, so transparent,” Bland said.
Monika Vereb, an assistant principal at Lightridge High School in Aldie, Virginia, who worked with Hamlett and reached out to her as a mentor, said she really admired seeing a woman of color in leadership.
“I’ve always appreciated her willingness to say something bold but true,” Vereb said. “Especially during the pandemic, where it’s hard, she wasn’t afraid of backing down and she knew she was taking us in the right direction.”
With the pandemic ongoing, Hamlett said she and her team are meeting to discuss the sharp increase in infection statewide. In regards to athletics, she said any superintendent is thinking about the benefits and risks of having student athletes in person and gathered together.
“As a parent myself, I recognize how important it is to know that our students will return to in-person learning as quickly and as safely as possible,” Hamlett said. “I’m really committed to making conditions-based decisions, not time-based.”