10 to Watch

Susan Chin

Elementary School Principal

Posted

Bio
• 51 years old
• Fox Point native
• Attended URI for undergrad and got Master’s in Education at PC
• Played clarinet for 21 years in the RI Army National Guard 88th Army Band

Where We First Noticed Her
At the White House, where she was selected to represent the nation’s elementary school principals at the 2013 National Teacher of the Year Ceremony with President Obama. She was chosen for the honor because the year before she was named both a National Distinguished Principal and Rhode Island Elementary School Principal of the Year for her work at Veazie Street Elementary. After 16 years in a classroom and several more as an administrator, Chin was appointed principal as part of a restructuring effort in 2007. She dramatically raised test scores (students performing at a proficient level increased from 35 to 61 percent between 2007-11), but insists that, “Test scores alone don’t come close to telling the story of a school.” She beams with pride when noting that the school underwent a culture change without major staff changes. “That’s a huge testament,” she says. “We worked with the people we had, and we had a common mission.”

What She's Up To Now
Six months ago Chin made the move from Veazie Street to 797 Westminster Street for a newly created role in central administration. As the department’s first-ever Director of School Support, Chin oversees 20 of its 22 elementary schools. It provides her the opportunity to keep one foot each in the schools and central administration. “It’s one of the only types of positions I would leave a school for,” she says. “I have the privilege of keeping direct contact with principals: supporting, mentoring and advising them, doing whatever I can to help them get better at their jobs.”

Chin also functions as a messenger between schools. She notes that even principals who are succeeding are rarely able to reflect on what’s working well – let alone share it with colleagues. “Principals don’t get time to see it,” she says. “We’re too busy running the schools.” But Chin does get to see it, and from a perspective where she can cross-pollinate best practices.

What She's Working on Next
Her priority for 2015 is school autonomy, something the incoming mayor has also publicly supported. “This is the idea of allowing those closest to the students some control over the schools,” Chin explains. “We have such talented school leaders and teacher teams in Providence. How can we best support them and help them make decisions that fit their schools best?” Such autonomy requires principals to learn to wield the kind of decision-making authority that currently rests with central administration. “My position is trying to help principals develop those leadership skill sets,” Chin says.

She reflects on her growth: “As a classroom teacher, I had the opportunity to help 26 students and families each year. As a principal, I had the opportunity to support and to grow with 650 students and families.” Now she’s in a position to make an impact on most of Providence’s elementary school students. With some success, perhaps she’ll one day have the chance to improve education for every student in the district.

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