Want to fall into the gravitational pull of an accomplished story teller? Ask Giselle Hendrie, Peralta’s new Principal, why she loves teaching.
Talking over the strangely empty desk formerly known as Ms. Costello’s, she leaned back comfortably in the chair that was set too low for her to tell me, “At an early age, I wanted to be a teacher. The moment of seeing a person come to know something that a second ago they did not know is magic.”
In primary school, Hendrie was the kid who asked way to many questions, but was also by nature a shy person. When prompted to name a moment that stood out for her in those early years of schooling, she shared an anecdote of participating in a fashion show at school.
“Part of my gig was that I would walk down the runway, and throw my jacket over my shoulder. Only, I accidentally threw it over my head. People started to laugh. I felt so embarrassed. When I got the jacket off, peoples’ laughter turned to applause, because I had recovered. At the end of that five seconds of my life, which could have just been about a big mistake, I felt the power of community. Those people were laughing with me, not at me.”
Hendrie’s voice betrays the tiniest accent, a remnant from her formative years in Trinidad. “I moved to the U.S. when I was 23 to go to college in New York. Then, I enrolled in a doctoral program at NYU in sociology.” While enrolled in that program, she enjoyed the research component. She enjoyed discussing theory with “the theory-heads.” But what really gripped her was the work she did as a teaching assistant. “That was the part that was really good — the hands-on piece. I wanted to be involved with the lives of real people.”
Looking for more of that good stuff, Hendrie dropped out and moved to California, joining the staff of Oakland School for the Arts for twelve years. “I learned the value of the arts in education: creativity, discipline, and teamwork. And I did that as part of an administrative and teaching team that grew the school from 300 kids to 800.”
The siren song of Peralta’s arts curriculum drew her here, along with the chance to flex her freshly-credentialed administrative muscles. Although she served as a principal at OSA, she wasn’t required to actually have an administrative credential since it’s a charter school. Once fully credentialed, she went looking for a new challenge, and “a place where I could contribute, where I could make a difference. That’s why I’m an administrator.”
Hendrie looks forward to getting to know our kids, but knows the process will take time. “We [administrators] make choices about how present and connected we are to kids. It’s impossible to be connected in the way that you want. The reality is that a lot of what we do requires taking a 30,000 ft aerial view of the school site. Being able to participate in the community is a luxury that I want, but won’t always fully get.”
But we can try to help her get it, anyways. Here’s how we can best support her as she gets accustomed to the waters of elementary school-aged kids for the first time: "This transition has a steep learning curve. I want to learn all about this community. Be patient with me, and give me time to learn. Be open enough to share with me, so I can listen and learn. Introduce yourself to me many times."