|Marasha Wharton is the new principal at St. Edward School in Nashville. Photo by Andy Telli
The timing was perfect for Dr. Marsha Wharton. An educator and administrator in Detroit schools for many years, Wharton was looking for an opportunity to move to Nashville to join her husband, Paul, who had been working here for seven years. That chance came with St. Edward School seeking to fill its principal position.
“We’d been doing different variations of the back and forth,” said Wharton. “I was able to come out now to join him and simplify our lives a little bit.”
Most recently, Wharton was the director of school achievement for Michigan’s Avondale School District. Before that she was an elementary school principal for 15 years, and a teacher in multiple grade levels.
“I started out many years ago teaching in a Catholic school, the same Catholic school that I had attended,” recalled Wharton. “That particular school is now closed, as are many of the schools in Detroit.”
Wharton was still unpacking boxes from her weekend move to Nashville when registration got underway, the week of July 27, for the upcoming St. Edward School year. Wharton met the parents as they filed in. “It’s fun seeing the kids come through, and meeting all the new families,” said Wharton. “I’m ready to get started!”
It was only a short wait. The following week, staff returned and attended a retreat in anticipation of the students showing up on Aug. 12. Thankfully, Wharton had an ally on this end who helped make the transition much easier. Jennie Guinn, St. Edward’s assistant principal and acting interim principal, communicated regularly with Wharton by phone and e-mail, in anticipation of the transfer of school leadership.
“I was down here in the middle of June for a week, and during that time I got to meet everyone, see the office and see the school,” Wharton said. “I got my feet on the ground, so that way when I came back I could just hit the ground running.”
Now the more difficult tasks begin. Wharton will be working hard to move the school forward on several fronts, including expanding the student body; boosting student achievement; conducting outreach to the local community and beyond; and creating an environment of collaboration between the parish and the school.
“Every organization has its own challenges,” explained Wharton. “There are different expectations that the St. Edward community has for their school. They’ve gone through a lot of changes in the past couple of years, and so I think right now they’re looking for stability, and how to lead this school into the future.”
As a smart and experienced manager, Wharton recognizes that this can’t all be accomplished by a new principal, no matter how skilled he or she is. She believes it will take talking to the parents and the staff to ascertain their vision for the school, and to make sure all parties are in sync in their desires and prospects for the St. Edward community.
Still, bringing a certain set of leadership skills and strategic tools honed from a lifetime in education can’t hurt. “I’ve had a lot of experience working with a very diverse student population – economically, racially and ethnically diverse – and that’s the kind of population we have here,” Wharton said. “Another is working with different levels of education, and varying levels of proficiency. We have kids at the top we need to offer enrichment for, as well as those kids who need extra support. As educators, we need to focus on students at all levels.”
Wharton has already planned out her inaugural year, with ambitious goals for each trimester. In the first, she’ll focus on building communication, starting within the staff, and then branching out to the parents and the local community.
“And then,” said Wharton, “reaching out to that extended community, to our alumni and to businesses in the area to see – in terms of preparing these children for the future – what kinds of expectations they have for the kids coming out.”
Second on her agenda is making sure the school is on solid ground, academically, and offering the best possible education for its students. And, just as importantly, that the teachers are on board with those scholastic objectives.
In the final trimester, Wharton hopes to augment the current offerings by exploring a creative component that might take the school to the next level. “Something kind of different; an innovative practice that we can work on together,” said Wharton. “I don’t know what that is yet, because it’s going to come from the students, the parents and the staff.”
As soon as she can catch her breath, Wharton intends to make St. Edward Church her parish home too, which should make the switch from Michigan complete. “I’m excited and thrilled to be here,” Wharton said. “We made a lot of changes – my husband and I – to come down here. It feels like it’s a really good fit.”