Flint, MI–When she was little, Natoya Coleman would line up her siblings like she was leading through the hallways at school. She’d even prepare individual lesson plans for them. Now, she can’t wait to “begin her career” as the new Assistant Principal at Southwestern Academy.

Coleman was born in Saginaw and graduated from Detroit Public Schools. She has spent the last 10 years teaching k-12 and higher education courses in Maryland, Washington DC and Virginia.

She holds a master’s degree in secondary education from the University of Michigan as well as a second master’s degree in educational leadership from Bowie State University in Maryland. At present, she is pursuing her Ph.D. from Rowan University and writing her dissertation. She said her scholarship and familiarity with the area are what drew her to Flint Community Schools.

“It’s home. When I’m engaging in scholarship, I really want my scholarship to be connected to what I’m very passionate about. So, I believe in public schools and I want my leadership practice to be in a public school setting. Particularly somewhere very close to home,” Coleman said.

Beyond scholarship, she said she wants to focus her efforts on creating a space where children feel safe and empowered to come to school. She said she will achieve this through an educational approach known as “engaged pedagogy,” something Coleman has implemented throughout her career.

The educational theory was proposed by bell hooks, a black scholar, author and feminist. It’s a teaching style that champions the knowledge a child already possesses, said Coleman. “Educators who embody engaged pedagogy create spaces of mutual learning between the teacher the student in the learning environment. So, I’m coming into the school looking to learn from my students.”

But her biggest objective is offering her full support for Principal Christopher Ochodnicky’s current initiatives. “[He’s] doing a great job leading the school and providing vision for our school…As the assistant principal, my number one goal is to support his vision.”

Though Coleman acknowledges COVID-19 will present new challenges while she settles into her new position, she said she’s confident in her coworkers and the administration’s ability to adapt to future unknowns.

“Teachers are incredibly resilient. We will do whatever we need to do in order to keep our students and our staff members safe. It’s exciting for me to be joining the leadership at this time because I have the opportunity to participate in the process of keeping our schools safe for our students.”

She and other administrative leaders are drafting a professional development schedule for teachers in August when classes will be limited to online learning. Coleman said she’s doing everything she can to provide support for her staff during this time.

In her spare time, she sings gospel music, participates in church events, and spends time with family. “I’ve lived away from them for the past 12 years, so I am happy to be back in close proximity with my immediate family members.”

When asked what advice she gives her students most often she said: “With high schoolers, I try to help them realize that the decisions they’re making now are going to create the trajectory of their future…Instead of focusing on the issues and challenges that are holding them back right now, I encourage them to envision their future and let that vision guide the decisions that they make today.”

Once she completes her Ph.D. this spring, she said she has no plans to leave Southwestern Academy. “I am committed to K-12 education and serving the students and community in schools.”

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Carmen Nesbitt

Carmen Nesbitt is a journalist with diverse experience in news reporting and feature writing. She wrote for Hour Detroit and SEEN Magazine before joining the Flint Beat news team as an education and public...