Ellis calls first year ‘interesting’
As the school year comes to a close, students will hand in papers, take tests and perhaps throw graduation caps in the air.
For Superintendent Mary Ellis, it is a time to reflect on her first school year as superintendent and prepare for the next.
In a word, she described her first year as “interesting.”
“It was a lot of what I expected, it was things I never could have imagined,” Ellis said. “What was reaffirmed on a daily basis is that we’ve got to do the right things by children.”
She added that parents love their children “fiercely” and want the best for them.
Her biggest challenge of the year was a challenge that every superintendent faced: the budget.
“I really thought the budget was getting better,” Ellis said. She said she was not anticipating cuts from the federal sequestration. “I was unaware of those kinds of cuts to our most at-risk children.”
Ellis said she knew most of the ropes after 33 years in education. However, no matter the job title, some things never change.
“The common thing is that it’s all about building relationships,” she said. “What’s not changed is the need to continue to build relationships ... we’re in a people business.”
Ellis felt her reception during her first year was “very warm.”
“I feel like people have been kind to me, people have been good to me, they’ve given me a chance,” she said. “I hope this year I have proven to them that I am pro-child and pro-teacher.”
She said she hopes people know that she does the right thing for the right reason. She added that there may have been missteps, but she believes people have been fair to her.
Ellis said she is proudest of her teachers and staff.
“I have never in 34 years seen such negativity from leadership in Raleigh towards our teachers,” Ellis said. “While they are not happy with the turn of events, I have not heard anybody say they will short-change children.”
“Teachers and principals and support staff, teacher assistants...they continue to give children everything they have,” she said.
She added that they do “yeoman’s work.”
Ellis is also proud of the inroads they have made with children who have gotten off track. This year they have a 100 percent graduation rate among students in their pregnant parenting program.
“Children, and I don’t care what your zip code is, children can get off track,” she said.
She added that they have a good record of getting them on track and being problem solvers. While they are not 100 percent with those students, she said they are trying to do better.
Ellis is already looking to the future.
“We’re already looking strategically in the next five years with regard to where we want to be,” Ellis said. “We need to continue to shore up what we’re doing.”
She said they do not want to start any new initiatives for teachers as they transition to common core and other requirements. They plan to continue to open academies and hope to move them to the middle school level. Ellis spoke in California and met with Governor Pat McCrory a few times, but that is not what she treasures the most from this past year.
“The best part, the things that stand out in my mind the most ... is when I go in classrooms and I can interact with young people,” Ellis said. “Those are absolutely the best days.”
She said she leaves the classroom with a big grin and the reason she got into this business was children.
“That gives me a satisfaction that writing memos and doing the duties of superintendent do not...it’s all about children,” Ellis said.
She has gone into classrooms and helped with reading, spoken to kids, observed advanced placement tests and heard some problem-solving scenarios, she said.
“That is the heart of any school system ... the children and the teachers and being invited out to do that, that is the best,” she said.
As Ellis watches seniors from across the county walk across the stage and receive their diploma, she is grateful for the opportunity to serve as their superintendent.
“I’d like to say thank you to hte people of UCPS, that’s the employees, that’s the children and that’s the parents and the board for affording me the opportunity to walk this path,” Ellis said. “It has been the most interesting path I’ve ever traveled and I look forward to future years of it.”
Ellis remembered as a teacher when she woke up on the first day of school feeling a mixture of nerves and excitement for the year ahead.
“I’ve not lost that,” she said. “I want to be able to continue to do things.”