When Prince William County schools start the new year Aug. 31, Chris Yung Elementary School in Bristow will open to students for the first time, with an emphasis on STEAM: science, technology, engineering, art and math.
The school is named in honor of Chris Yung, a Marine Corps veteran and Prince William police officer who was killed in a motorcycle accident in Bristow in 2012 while responding to a call.
Kathy Notyce, who was principal of Mullen Elementary School in Manassas for seven years, will be the principal at Yung. An educator for nearly 30 years, Notyce has also been an elementary school teacher and counselor, and an assistant principal of McAuliffe Elementary School. She has degrees and professional certifications from Old Dominion, Rider and George Mason universities.
Notyce met with The Washington Post recently to discuss the opening of the school. The following are edited excerpts from that conversation.
Q Tell me about the emphasis your
school is placing on STEAM.
A STEAM is a way of integrating the curriculum so that students are able to see how the content is connected, instead of doing things in isolation.
The research will tell you that’s what’s lacking in the schools, as far as 21st century jobs. Kids are graduating that just don’t have those kinds of communicating, collaborating, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
I hired a STEAM coach, and we have a STEAM lab. We’re careful not to say a STEAM teacher, because with STEAM it’s about the kids doing the work. She’s the facilitator. The coach will be looking at the Virginia and Prince William standards for math and other content areas and coming up with projects that kids can do to solidify their understanding of the standards — but not so much with a pencil and paper.
When you go into the STEAM lab, you won’t see chairs. You will see large tables. Kids will be working in groups. They will be creating projects, where kids are building, designing, constructing.
So STEAM applies to the whole school, throughout the day?
Yes. I don’t want them to just go to STEAM lab, and that’s it. I want teachers to be integrating STEAM into their school day.
Have you been doing outreach to the parents and students who are coming from other schools?
Absolutely. Prior to the closing of the [last] school year, I spent time meeting with the students who were going to come to Chris Yung. My school counselor and I went to visit those schools. I met with all the kids, brought pictures of the school and our logo, and just talked with them a little bit about the focus for this school on STEAM, and how excited we were that they were going to be coming.
I wanted them to be able to put a face with a name. I wanted them to know something about the school, some of the programs that we are going to have when they come. And then we wanted to give them some input, so we asked them questions about
after-school programs, what kinds of things they’re interested in, so all the decisions are not just coming from the adults.
What do you look for in hiring staff members?
Highly qualified teachers are very important. But even more important to me, you have to have a passion for children. And you have to be motivated to want to do the job. It’s not just a job. It goes beyond that. And so when I sat down to meet with candidates, I shared my vision for what Chris Yung would be about: building a culture with a staff that works collaboratively together, who have a passion for supporting the needs of every child.
What is the most important job of a principal opening a new school?
To build a culture where we are a family, and we’re here to support each other. With the staff, with everybody coming from different places, it’s trying to build that collaborative feeling where we’re on a team to support the needs of children.
For the children, it’s welcoming them into their new home, their new school, and making them understand that we’re here to support them.
And for the parents, it’s making sure that they feel welcome when they walk in the door of our school. It’s right in the middle of a community, so we expect them to be involved, and we want them to be involved. I believe we need all the help we can get.
Barnes is a freelance writer.