This year, it might be the principal with first-day-of-school jitters.
The Meyer Academy named Leslie Dangerfield as its new leader, and she’s been hard at work preparing for the arrival of 240 students at the Jewish day school. The former St. Lucie County school administrator shares what she learned growing up in West Long Branch, N.J., and how that’s shaped her career.
Question: What appealed to you about pursuing a career in education?
Answer: That’s easy. My mother was a teacher, so from the earliest age, I remember playing school with neighborhood friends, because she would bring home teacher’s editions of her books, so it all started there. I would go to her classrooms every year and help set them up. She taught children who were children of poverty. We lived in New Jersey, and there was a large population of immigrants from Puerto Rico, so she would bring children to our home, and then we would go visit their homes.
Q: Can you tell me about how your career mirrored your mother’s?
A: I could see her passion and compassion for making a difference. My most recent school was 100 percent free-and-reduced-lunch in Fort Pierce, St. Lucie County, at a large K-8 school. I have always been at schools like that, because I felt like that’s where I could make the biggest difference.
When I went to college in Miami, she followed me — we’re close — and she taught at Lehrman Community Day School in Miami Beach, another Jewish day school. We followed the same path in the sense of wanting to help those in the greatest need and ending up at a Jewish day school, and here I am.
Q: What do you remember about either her students coming to your home or going to their homes?
A: I specifically remember one young girl coming to our house and coming swimming with us. She was extremely shy, but she was just like any other kid. My mother was trying to show her — she was a very bright girl — there’s another way. When you look at where she came from, education was the only way out.
I remember going to the girl’s home, and many, many family members, the extended family lived there. In fact, one of the funny stories my mom tells is that when we got there, one of the older men…spoke to my mother, ‘Profesora, Profesora, (Teacher, Teacher).’ He grabbed my mother’s hand and walked her to the backyard. He wanted to show her something. It was his prized chicken. He was so proud of this chicken. It meant a lot to him, so I got to see that not everybody lived like I do…
Although this is a big switch in the opposite direction, what I love about this school is that’s part of the culture here. The children do service projects to help others whether it’s a food drive or visiting a nursing home or raising money for people or going to the homeless shelter, they are involved in projects, so I can continue to do what my heart is telling me to do, to serve others.
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