One of the greatest challenges facing low performing schools in Charleston County School District is consistent leadership.
For many of those schools, the principal’s office has a revolving door. CCSD officials hope they’ve closed the revolving door in leadership at Mary Ford Elementary School in North Charleston.
Last month LaDene Conroy was named principal. She has served as the school’s interim principal since October.
I went to my old elementary school alma mater recently to meet the new principal. She was wearing an athletic warm up suit and sneakers.
Her long curly hair framed rosy cheeks and a ready broad smile.
She was ready to go to work.
As I waited for her one student sat beside me quietly.
He was sitting out his class’ morning walk because of his asthma. Conroy told him they’d walk together after our interview.
Taking time to interact individually with the school’s approximately 347 students is what she and her staff of 24 teachers must do if they are to be successful in their mission of preparing students for the challenges they’ll face in the future. That success is Conroy’s goal. As a 31-year veteran educator in Charleston County School District, Conroy has evolved into somewhat of a troubleshooter.
Conroy joined CCSD in 1987 as an elementary teacher at Mt. Pleasant Academy where she taught first and fourth grades for three years. In 1992, Conroy moved to Whitesides Elementary where she taught fifth grade and served as grade level chairperson, science liaison, Teacher of the Year one year, and was nominated for the Distinguished Reading Teacher for Charleston County Reading Association.
Two years later, Conroy took the position of Elementary and Middle School Reading Specialist and Title I Consultant for Specially Funded Programs. She worked with a variety of schools including the former Fraser Elementary, Stono Park, Sanders-Clyde, C.C. Blaney, St. James-Santee, and Haut Gap Middle. Shortly after, Conroy became principal at Mt. Zion Elementary followed by W.B. Goodwin and Malcolm C. Hursey Elementary.
During her time at Goodwin, the school was named the Exemplary Reading School for the state of South Carolina by the International Reading Association. While at Hursey, she implemented the first Montessori Program as a partial magnet for CCSD in a Title I school. Before her most recent post at Mary Ford, Conroy served as the Interim Principal of Murray-LaSaine Elementary for one year.
Her credentials speak well of Conroy, but sitting beside her talking about children and education, one gets the sense that all the academia encases the drive of a liberal thinker whose 1960s Ohio State University roots gave direction to the Pittsburgh, Pa. native. Her affluent upbringing eventually landed her on the shores of the Isle Of Palms. Her three daughters who grew up there all are educators as well.
“You have to follow your heart and do the right thing,” Conroy advises. “You can’t be selfish because it’s not about you. It’s for the children,” she said before rising from her chair to go to her open door in an effort to calm a passing class of rowdy fifth graders. “That door is always open,” she said apologetically.
The last six years at Mary Ford have been marked with change in leadership. That hasn’t been good, says Conroy who is nearing the end of an illustrious career. As a problem-solving troubleshooter she’s move around a lot during her 17 years as an administrator.
“I’m glad they’re letting me stay here. I’ll be here as long as they let me,” she said.
Conroy’s got a plan. Positive behavior intervention for students and professional development and training for staff are her priorities. It’s important because somebody has to keep the promise of elevating achievement for children, she said.