Interview by David Ellis
DE: How does it feel to be the principal of a school that you have been teaching at for over two decades?
CP: Words can not express how I feel about me being a principal. It is an honor and privilege to be a representative of a prestigious catholic school where the majority of my students look like me.
David Ellis: For teachers and principals and those thinking about taking on those roles in the future, what words can you say to inspire them to do what you have done?
Principal Chinique Pressley: If you have any dreams that you want to pursue, continue to work hard, and do not give up. On the journey that you are proceeding with, you may face obstacles and may not understand why. It is part of the progress and God’s preparing you for your next steps. I always share with my daughter and students “Do not let anyone tell you, you can not make it or do it!
DE: What challenges have you faced so far as being a principal for the first time?
CP: The first challenge that I faced was walking into the school building with 50% electricity. With only half of the building with lights, I had to make a quick and safe decision for the staff and students in the building. Parents were called immediately, and students were sent home for a remote learning day. The support from my staff and parents was amazing! Here at STM we “Press Forward and Fear Nothing”!
DE: For those who do not know about Saint Mark the Evangelist School, can you please tell us about this school and its history in the Harlem community for over 100 years?
CP: Saint Mark the Evangelist School was founded in 1912 for African American and Native-American students by the Sister of Blessed Sacraments. This was one of the first Catholic schools that were built for African-American students in Harlem. Saint Mark the Evangelist School and Church work together to help and service the Harlem community. For example, singing to the elderly in the nursery home, feeding families for Thanksgiving, and giving donations to the Harlem Hospital pediatric clinic. One of St. Mark’s Core Values is “service”. The COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult for the STM family to continue serving the Harlem community. Two years after a worldwide quarantine, the STM family is back servicing the community. As of November, we were able to provide Saint Mark Church with 600 items for their food pantry. Saint Mark Church provides the Harlem community with perishable items from their food pantry Saturday. STM is committed to serving others, our school, and beyond.
DE: Did you ever think you would be the principal of a school?
CP: One of STM’s root beliefs is “with God anything is possible.” I believed that I would be the principal of a school one day. I’m blessed to be the principal of St. Mark The Evangelist School. “All Dreams Come True If We Have The Courage To Pursue Them” – Walt Disney
DE: Three words that describe how you feel at the end of a school day.
CP: The three words that describe how I feel are Honored, Blessed, and Motivated.
“Yes, I can”, “Yes, I did”, and “ Yes, Will!”
DE: What motivates you?
CP: “God created us to be a diverse community of faith”, and serving a community of young people who look like me provides me with motivation. The STM population consists of FUTURE QUEENS and KINGS. Seeing them walk into the building is a reminder that my purpose is to serve, protect and guide the STM community.
DE: I have observed you in the mornings, greeting parents, students, and staff. Where do you get that burst of energy, and what is your morning routine to get ready for the day?
CP: I begin every morning by thanking God. On the drive to work, I listen to a playlist of gospel music. My burst energy begins with God. The arrival of students and their parents provides me with a boost of energy. Seeing the students walk up the ramp each and every day saying,” Good Morning” and giving me a “fist pump” or a “hug” as they walk into the building provides me with the necessary energy I need to start the day.
DE: What do you miss about being in the classroom?
CP: I miss teaching the students directly and being a part of their growth. As a middle school teacher, I watched as 6th graders mature into 8th graders ready for high school. As the principal, I am able to witness the students grow from a different perspective. I’m excited to see the journey and growth of our Pre-K3 students as they enter middle school, and then high school.
DE: What has been the response from parents, teachers, staff, students, and also former students after becoming principal of Saint Mark the Evangelist School?
CP: The response from parents, teachers, and the staff was “well deserved!” I have served the Harlem community in my role as a teacher for 25 years. I know the culture of the school, and the community and the community knows me. My current students were elated that I would be their new principal but disappointed I would not be their teacher. My former students wish that they were attending STM now and wish me the BEST of LUCK and BE THE BEST I CAN BE! This was an old sign I had hanging in my classroom. They said, Ms. Pressley, you got this!