The new school year often brings changes — and while she may be in a new role, new Asst. Principal Leanne DeMarco will be a familiar face to students returning to beginning tomorrow.
A longtime special education and technology teacher at Ferri, DeMarco earned her promotion with a vote of the Johnston School Commitee on Aug. 6.
"I'm excited, I really am. This is something that I've always wanted to do, and I've just been so comfortable working here for 11 years. I just keep saying to everyone that I'm really excited about the opportunity because I'm comfortable with the district — I can just get off and running the first day and the first week without having to get to know the staff and the students and all of that," DeMarco explained during a recent interview. "I think a sense of pride, too, that I'm able to advance my career in a place that I've been for the last 11 years."
The North Providence resident, whose mother, Christine Murphy, was a teacher in Johnston for 35 years, spoke about how she started in education, and her work at Ferri that's resulted in her new job.
What is it about Johnston that made you want to teach here?
"I guess at the beginning, I wanted the job because I wanted to follow in my mom's footsteps, and I can remember at 10 or 11 years old going to Graniteville School in the summer and helping my mother set up her classroom. That was the reason why I really wanted the job here.
"Then it's the sense of, it's a unique place. I think there's a lot of good that's going on in the town and with the students and their education, and I don't think that always gets portrayed out in the media. It's a challenge to make this a great place to teach and to learn, and to make everyone know that it's a great place to teach and to learn.
"And at this point it's a real sense of investment — I've been invested in the town and seeing the kids grow up, and then coming back when they're in the high school and saying, 'I knew I gave you such a hard time at the middle school, but I'm doing so much better now, and it's because of you.'
"The town has certainly changed dramatically since my great-grandmother came here, but it's still got a small town feel — it's about being comfortable with that and wanting to be around that."
What's the challenge of helping kids get adjusted to middle school?
"One of the challenges is just getting them comfortable with being in this big building, getting them to know that it's not a scary place. And then, getting them to grow up — and I know we use that term negatively sometimes when we're telling that to our kids, but I mean it in a positive way. We are nurturing, but we are nurturing in the sense that we want them to be more responsible for their own behaviors and their own education, and just getting them to be more independent and self-sufficient.
"That's the biggest challenge, along with teaching them the subjects — and also the social part, breaking them away from the kids that they've gone to school with for the last six years, getting them to meet new kids. It's really getting them to meet friends and get comfortable with other kids.
"That's the nice thing about the sixth-grade teachers: they have an elementary background, so that also helps with the nurturing part, but they also have a lot of experience with middle school, and it's a nice transition for the sixth-graders because the teachers know where they're coming from, and they know where they want the students to be at the end of the year.
"There's so much growth that happens within that sixth grade — there's that struggle between, we want them to know that it's not a big place, and it's not a scary place, but we also want you to be independent and we want you to grow."
How will your role be changing with your new position?
"I won't be teaching in a classroom, I'll be out and able to see what's happening in the whole school. I'm charging my walkie-talkie, getting it ready. The other thing would be school-wide discipline as opposed to classroom discipline.
"One of the roles is going to be working with the faculty on the SIT [School Improvement Team] committee, and just being a resource for the faculty as an educational leader and being the displinarian for he students and getting them to be comfortable and being a source for them to come to so they can be successful.
"I think I bring a little bit more to the table for [Principal] Dennis [Morrell], too, because I've been here — I can kind of offer things that have been worked in the past that I can bring back. Knowing where we are, and where we need to go gives me an advantage."
As an educator, what keeps you motivated?
"The students. Seeing them grow, the struggles that I go through with them and then they come back to me when they're sophomores — just seeing the successes and the growth. That's really what keeps me going.
"A lot of teachers say that they don't like that there are always changes, but I kind of embrace that. I just love to teach. This is certainly my calling — I know I won't be teaching as much, but I love assisting teachers to improve their craft, and I feel like I'm going to be able to do that a bit more in this role."
Is there any advice that you'd offer to teachers at Ferri?
"You have to remember that this is a unique group of students. Sixth, seventh, and eighth grades are tough years for students, and you have to understand the emotions and the hormones that are going on — but then you also need to be firm with them. As much as you might want them to be your friend, they will appreciate you and respect you more if you are firm and make it real for them. You understand them, and also set expectations with them.
"You have to respect them, and they have to respect you, and once you have gained that respect, then everything else is just a lot easier to fall into place."
What kind of mark would you like to leave on Ferri Middle School?
"I guess I want people to see that I've made a positive impact on the students, on the teachers, and on the community. That's what it's really all about, is jyst really developing students to go out into the community and have them make a positive impace on the community.
"There's also the sense of pride knowing that I did a good job — if I see a student being successful years down the road, then I know that I've done my job. For me, it's not necessarily about them coming and thanking me personally, but knowing they are successful, that's my thanks."