Spanish, Social Media and, Smucker’s

    Q&A with a Principal: Surprising Combination Amount to A Recipe For Success

    Dr. Carrie Marz, Principal
    Willbern Elementary School
    Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, Houston, Texas
    Raise Your Hand Texas Alumna ’12 (REEP)

    Dr. Carrie Marz — 32-year public education veteran and principal at Willbern Elementary in the Cy-Fair Independent School District — is a most unassuming school leader. Her calm, congenial demeanor belies her virtue as the kind of fiercely innovative leader in which Raise Your Hand Texas loves to invest.

    She is also quite possibly the only Texas educator who keeps an unopened jar of Smucker’s Red Raspberry jelly on her office bookcase. (More on that in a bit.)

    In 2012, Raise Your Hand Texas sponsored Dr. Marz to attend the Rice University Education Entrepreneurship Program (REEP), a yearlong course that teaches school leaders how to apply business theories to the public school setting.

    Here, Marz answers questions about school leadership, REEP, and a major challenge some K-12 educators in Texas face today.

    Q.When did you know you wanted to be an educator?
    A.When I was going to college, I took an aptitude test that said I should really go into the sciences — perhaps chemistry, biology or physics. And I said, ‘No Mom. I want to be an elementary school teacher.’ My mother was an educator and a principal. I’m actually a 5th-generation educator. My daughter is a 6th-generation educator, so it’s in the blood. We’ve always been educators.

    Q. What aspects of being in public school education appeal to you most?
    A. I was teaching first grade and my principal said she had a bilingual kindergarten opening. I said, ‘Oh, I really want to teach kindergarten.’ But, she said ‘It’s bilingual. I can’t give it to you.’ So, I said ‘If you’ll put me in that position, I will be bilingual.’ So, I became a bilingual educator. I did it with the help of a lot of friends and people who were Spanish-speaking who helped me with editing and grammar and fluency. It took a village to get me to be a bilingual educator, but I did it. It’s my love and my passion — meeting the needs of at-risk kids, especially Spanish-speaking kids and their families.

    Q. How have you evolved as a school leader over the years?
    A. I think I’ve become a more compassionate leader. I have on the bookshelf behind me a jar of jelly because one of my mentors told me I’m very driven and very goal-oriented — if I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it — but, I kind of bulldoze anybody who gets in my way. My mentor said, ‘You know, you’re like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You have all the nuts and the bread and everything, but you don’t have enough jelly. You have to be a little sweeter.’ REEP taught me about being a more compassionate leader and balancing the personal part with the professional part and not being afraid to let that personal part show.

    Q. What is a challenge REEP has helped you overcome at Willbern?

    A. REEP tries to shake up your thinking. It tries to get you to question your own thinking. We’ve been doing things the same way for a long time in education. It’s time we look for things that are going to be more effective in our schools. Our kids are coming to school and they’re proficient in technology. We may or may not be. With the 21st-century learning our kids need to have in place in order to be successful, we can’t keep doing the same thing. We have to change with the times. Some really simple changes (at Willbern) were the way we’re using technology for communicating with parents and the community. I had to get out of my comfort zone because I’m not really a Facebook person. And we now have a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and we use the school messenger to do call-outs. We’ve gone from having 20 dads show up for Donuts for Dad to 260. Our parents are young, and those are their means of communication.