By Nawwal Moustafa, She/Her, Principal of Open School East
I first became principal of Open School East this July after three years in other roles. I came to the organization in an enrollment role, but after six weeks I was tapped to become the director of our middle school at Open School East. Then last year I was the associate principal of Open School East.
I knew I wanted to be a part of the Open School community for a lot of reasons. I had previously worked in a small school and I really loved how that felt. To me, a small school means that there is so much more passion flowing through the work as we have the opportunity to shape our environment, and make decisions that have real impact. But it wasn’t just that Open School East was a small school. It was clear to me that Open School East was a place that was striving to truly understand kids through patience and seeing the best in them. I’ve always worked in communities of color and was eager to be in a school where staff had affinity with kids. It seemed like a place I would like to spend my time.
To me, the opportunity to walk with kids on their path is a very special experience. As principal, I’m always given opportunities to see people’s strengths and see all of the good things about them. Whether I’ve known them for years or am walking them through their first day, I’m thinking about what it might look like for them to thrive. I am always inspired by how so many of our students flourish when they have a second chance or a new start. Our kids are wonderful people who deserve opportunities and I always make sure to tell them that. When I have to go to the table for them, I carry all of that with me. It means so much to me to have the opportunity to create an environment where people feel like they belong.
Through this work, I’ve gained a better understanding of what working toward equity looks like. I’ve learned to do the continuous work to improve and be more equitable. It’s a constant examination of every decision you’re making and being open to feedback or a different perspective. I always try to make sure that before we take an action, we stop, look, and ask “does this lift someone up?” and “how can we make it so it does?” To do things equitably, it’s inherently more work. You can look back and know that you are trying to do things in an equitable way because there are no shortcuts.
For our team of staff members, my goal is that we are all walking together. My goal is for folks to see me as a leader because I’m reliable and I hopefully make them feel secure, but that’s it. I know people have better ideas and different experiences for me, so I want others to have opportunities to lead. I’ve learned that the most important thing when engaging with people of any age is trying to make them feel seen.
Because of Open School, I see the true value of what it feels like to be understood. Every day I become better equipped to support our students and staff as our community navigates a ton of emotionally charged and challenging situations, and the aftermath of a lot of trauma. Our kids come to us with a lot of obstacles, school trauma, trauma with adults, trauma around trust. I know that being as consistent as possible with young people and celebrating their strengths is the basis of good relationships. You can never boost someone up too much. It’s essential to have patience and understand that we are all evolving. Who our kids are now goes hand in hand with who they will become.