“It is really
bittersweet, but I would say mostly I’m really proud,” said Ms.
Molina. “We grew Escuela SMART from the ground up. It was an
independent charter school when we started. Earlier in my
career, I wouldn’t have felt like I was in a place where I could
just walk away and know it’s going to be okay. But I think
because of how strongly we built the school and now how embedded
it is in TPS, I’m walking away confident knowing it’s going to
be in great hands with Ms. Allen and she’s actually going to
propel the school forward. I’m really confident about that.”
Natasha Allen, who
spent nearly a decade as principal and assistant principal at
Keyser Elementary, will take over leadership of the magnet
school, which is entering its third year as a Toledo Public
“I am excited to learn
the ropes of Escuela SMART and work with the community to
support our students and their families,” said Ms. Allen, who
just wrapped up summer school at Keyser. As a result, she has
not yet had the opportunity to dive deeply into the situation at
Escuela SMART, but hopes to meet parents, students, teachers and
staff in the coming weeks.
“You can talk to people
at her school and they’ll all say the same thing—that she’s an
amazing principal,” said Ms. Molina.
Ms. Allen, 42, has
served TPS for 20 years as both a teacher and an administrator.
She also has served as
the dean of students at Leverette Middle School. Ms. Allen has
two daughters, a University of Toledo student and an incoming
freshman at Whitmer HS.
“I absolutely love
Keyser. I love the students. I love the families. I build really
close connections with them. That’s what I like to do,” said Ms.
Allen, who served there four years as assistant principal and
five years as principal. “So I like to build a family within my
school. I do that with my staff. I do that with my students. I
know all of them by name. I never thought I’d leave.”
Ms. Allen, who grew up
in Lorain County, graduated with an education degree from
Bowling Green State University. TPS hired the teacher of Puerto
Rican descent right out of college at a time when district
officials strategically tried to add more diversity to its
teaching ranks. She has since added two master’s degrees, one
from the University of Toledo and one from the University of
Findlay. It’s her culture that’s bringing her to Escuela SMART.
“I feel it’s very
important for students of my culture to see a leader in the
building like themselves that can encourage them to do anything
they want to do, including being teachers or a school principal
as well,” said Ms. Allen. “I find that very important, the
“She has a reputation
that really stands out for itself,” said Ms. Molina. “If
anything, she just made it so that it was undeniable to look
past her. To know that there was somebody within the district
who I trusted the position with and felt confident walking away,
that’s what felt the best.”
The upcoming school
year is the first time Escuela SMART will have two sixth grade
classrooms, meaning the school has achieved its growth goals—to
have two classrooms in each grade, K-6 Current enrollment stands
at 275 students, with some individual slots open in pre-K and
kindergarten. Late summer enrollments will push that number to
300. 2014-15 was Molina’s first academic year at Escuela SMART.
This is the school’s third academic year with TPS.
“We’re really fortunate
to have families who really appreciate our school. We have
quality teachers and word gets around about that, so we’ve been
really fortunate that people seek us out to enroll,” said Ms.
Molina, noting the school has students from Bowling Green,
Maumee, and Springfield school districts.
“It is a huge success.
We started the charter school because we felt there wasn’t
enough services provided to our families,” added Ms. Molina. “So
to be at a place now where the school is embedded in the public
school system, it’s nice to know we took something there was a
need for and we able to grow it to a place where it’s now part
of the system.”
“I want to continue the
communication and support from the community. There’s a lot of
local organizations helping out with those families that need
that support,” said Ms. Allen. “I also want to connect with a
couple events coming to TPS in Sept. and Oct. that can be useful
for our families as well the community. I will benefit our
Escuela parents and families. I want to continue to have events
at the school that support our families and students.”
Lourdes Santiago, one
of the original school sponsors also is leaving. She’s moving
out of state. Ms. Santiago and Ms. Molina will both serve as
ex-officio advisory board members, so they will stay involved,
just in a different capacity.
While Ms. Molina
continuously deflects any individual credit for the success of
Escuela SMART Academy and gave it to the school’s founders,
board, teachers, and others, she did admit that it feels good
both personally and professionally to see the school succeed.
“When you set a goal
for yourself and you reach that goal, there’s no greater feeling
than that,” said Ms. Molina. “I feel really proud to be able to
help get the school to where it is.”