MONROE – John Marshall has been impressed with the staff of Union Academy since joining the charter school as headmaster in July. He said they have navigated the reopening of school amid a global pandemic extremely well.
“One of the things I’m the most proud of is how many of our teachers are here in the classroom,” Marshall said as the school was recently transitioning from virtual classes to a hybrid model of remote and in-person learning. “You hear at various schools that teachers are choosing not to come back for whatever reason. More than 90% of all of our teachers are here, they have returned and are teaching kids.
“That is very gratifying. That shows me that our teachers are really committed to students. They view their work as a calling to serve children, and it’s not just a job.”
Union Academy plans to welcome K-4 students back to the classroom full-time Oct. 12, if parents feel comfortable, after Gov. Roy Cooper gave elementary schools the green light. Otherwise, they’ll learn remotely.
About 23% or 24% of families chose to stay remote when the school shifted to its hybrid model. Marshall said that’s due to a couple of factors – concerns over health and how well the remote learning has been up to that point.
The school, which has an enrollment shy of 2,000 students, had been running at about 35% to 40% capacity in the classrooms just after Labor Day. Social distance is maintained in classrooms and students go to the bathroom during class to avoid students from congregating in between classes.
Union Academy has two full-time nurses, which many schools in the region would find to be a luxury. It also has benefited from parent volunteers pitching in with everything from serving as hallway monitors to ensuring an efficient carpool lane.
Union Academy hired Marshall in January to become the charter school’s fifth headmaster in its 20-year history.
He has 30 years of experience within education, including more than 12 years working as headmaster at three schools and as a senior administrator at other institutions.
“His diverse educational background and collaborative leadership style go hand in hand with the UA mission of educating the whole child through challenge, character and community,” school board chairman Jack James said in January.
Marshall’s father once served as president of Florida State University. After his father retired, he did a lot of work with school reform and charter schools. Marshall said it’s gratifying to honor his father’s work at this stage in his career.
”The mission to be a school that develops character in its young people and also holds the academic bar high – those aren’t mutually exclusive,” Marshall said. “That was really what drew me here.”
Marshall also has fond memories of the Tar Heel State, having played for North Carolina’s ACC Championship baseball team in 1982 and earned an MBA from Duke University.
Schools across the Charlotte region began converting to remote learning in March as COVID-19 was beginning to spread. Working remotely made it easier for Marshall to tie up loose end at his prior job while preparing for his new job at Union Academy – all while overseeing remote learning of his children.
His preparation for Union Academy was especially unique given the interactions he needed to have with the county health department. School leadership spent a lot of time ironing out the details to gain the confidence of staff.
“Since the spring, they have devoted tremendous amounts of time working with our IT department to be able to use the technology,” Marshall said of teachers preparing for remote instruction. “We sent out a parent survey and the results were just outstanding in hearing from parents how happy they were with how our teachers were delivering remote instruction.”
Marshall said the pandemic has provided staff with new ways of thinking about teaching and learning that will likely extend beyond the pandemic. Students and staff may work remotely if the weather prevents the building from opening, for example.
Marshall said he is also particularly impressed with Union Academy’s character education program.
The school uses the acronym CARROT PI(E) to sum up its values, which stands for Compassion, Adaptability, Respect, Responsibility, Optimism, Trustworthiness, Perseverance and Initiatives (Everyday).
“Our faculty takes those core values to heart in their teaching,” he said. “I think we have a well-rounded program academically, athletically and artistically. I’m pleased with the extent to which we seek to develop the whole child.”