The Principal’s Office: Meet Christine Hargrave. Muirlands Middle School chief strives to meet the needs of all [VIDEO]
• VIDEO: Watch part of the interview with Christine Hargrave, principal at Muirlands Middle School in La Jolla, by clicking on the image above, or go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Ie80doRJ0o
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the ninth of a 13-part series bringing you interviews with principals of the 13 schools in La Jolla every other week.
By Catherine Ivey Lee
Not everyone wants to work with students who are in their tweens, but Muirlands Middle School principal Christine Hargrave does.
“I really like this age,” she said with a laugh. “I think their quirkiness and honesty is refreshing. They still care about what you think, and they very much want people to see them as participating and valued members of a community.”
If Hargrave sounds like an advocate for middle-schoolers (known more for their social distractibility than their academic focus), she is. After all, the educator has spent most of her 30-plus year career working with kids in grades 6-8. The La Habra native said she chose to teach after realizing as an undergraduate at San Diego State University how much she liked school.
“I wanted to continue learning and share that with someone,” she said.
For 20 years, Hargrave taught math and history to mostly sixth-grade students throughout the San Diego Unified School District, including Muirlands.
“When they were doing independently what we had been practicing, and coming up with their own ‘A-ha!’ moments, that was my favorite part,” she recalled. “You have to finesse your planning in order to do that, but when it all comes together, it’s powerful.”
Over time, she was inspired to become an administrator to help other teachers evaluate their classroom strategies. Hargrave served as a vice principal at Marshall Middle School in Scripps Ranch and was principal at Horace Mann Middle School in City Heights before being asked to lead Muirlands in 2003.
Now, Hargrave oversees the education of 1,062 students. It’s a big job made even more challenging by Muirlands’ diverse student body. More than half (52 percent) are GATE or Seminar students in programs for high-achievers. About 60 percent come from La Jolla, while the rest are enrolled through district programs, including 26 percent from both the Voluntary Enrollment Exchange Program (formerly the Voluntary Ethnic Enrollment Program), which transports students to the school from specific geographical regions, and the PISC program, which allows students whose own schools have failed No Child Left Behind academic targets to enroll at other schools.
Approximately 30 percent of the students are socio-economically disadvantaged, Hargrave said.
“What motivates me is keeping everybody’s needs in mind,” she explained. She arrives at school by 7 a.m. and spends much of her day supervising students and helping faculty plan curriculum. Like other California public schools, Muirlands is preparing to adopt the Common Core Standards, which will place greater emphasis on students’ abilities to think critically, analyze, argue and support claims.
Hargrave credits her faculty with engaging students and creating an atmosphere where all believe they can achieve. She is quick to point out that just because students come from outside of La Jolla does not mean they are not performing at grade level. Yet she acknowledges that some of those students need more help and support.
“They clearly do not have the resources that other kids have here, so in order for us to close that gap, we have to have resources available — whether that’s notebooks or extra time for working on projects, or having computer labs available to them or tutors. Those supports really help kids achieve,” she said. “Some of our kids, who ride the bus, go home and they’re living in one room that’s the size of my office with eight people.”
Hargrave says another educational challenge is relevancy, so students understand the value of learning beyond the classroom. “So you got an A?” she will ask. “But what did you learn? How is this knowledge going to inform your ideas about what’s going on in the world today?”
Hargrave also worries about the pressures she sees on many students, including those overscheduled with sports, and a growing number who enroll in high school-equivalent courses in an effort to maximize the number of Advanced Placement courses they can take in high school.
“I worry that kids will be burned out by the time they graduate from high school, and whether or not they’re really going to have any joy in learning,” she said.
MUIRLANDS MIDDLE SCHOOL
• Classification: Public school, no tuition
• Year established: Around 1950
• Number of students: 1,062
• Grades: 6-8
• School colors: Blue and white
• School mascot: Dolphins
• Address: 1056 Nautilus St., La Jolla, Calif.
• Phone: (858) 459-4211
• Website: muirlandsms.org
• Up Next: In the March 14, 2013 issue, meet Dana Shelburne, principal of La Jolla High School.
- The Principal’s Office: Meet Christopher Schuck. La Jolla Country Day’s head of school aims to help students find ‘their best selves’
- The Principal’s Office: Meet Donna Tripi. La Jolla Elementary principal strives for continual improvement
- The Principal’s Office: Meet Evelyn Terry. For teacher, transition to Head of The Children’s School in La Jolla is rewarding
- The Principal’s Office: Meet Patricia Lowell. Principal of Stella Maris Academy keeps children in mind
- The Principal’s Office: Meet Christian Jarlov. Seasoned bilingual educator proud of La Jolla’s French-American School
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