I recently visited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School, a public school in the East Side’s Mount Hope neighborhood attended by 558 students in kindergarten through fifth grades, and spent an hour with Kristen Mercurio Lussier, King’s newly appointed principal. Ms. Lussier joined the King community last year as the school’s assistant principal, a position that the Providence Public Schools created in response to family and community demand to support the school’s expansion following the 2011 closing of several Providence elementary schools. During the summer of 2013, after King’s then principal, Derrick Ciesla, departed to take a leadership position at another school, Ms. Lussier was hired as King’s leader.
After participating in the Providence Public Schools’ Aspiring Principals Program, her appointment to the vice principal position at King last year was the start of her administrative career. It feels like she’s been with us all along (for perspective, I am entering my tenth year as a King parent, with a succession of three sons who have been or are currently being educated there). Ms. Lussier has spent her 23-year career as an educator in the Providence Public Schools and is, as she described, a “Providence kid,” and proud graduate of the Providence Public Schools.
Reflecting on why she thinks that King feels like home, Ms. Lussier noted the evident commitment to creating good conditions for teaching and learning that teachers and staff members at the school demonstrate. “There is no way administrators can do this by themselves,” Ms. Lussier observed, adding that she believed that King’s faculty was well-positioned to support all students to grow as much as possible. Formerly the coordinator of the program for gifted students that had been located at Mary E. Fogarty Elementary School, Ms. Lussier brings a strong understanding of how to support students across a wide spectrum of preparedness, ability and family support by engaging the full range of skills and talents of King’s educators Principal Kristen Mercurio Lussier and staff members. Reflecting on the value of the collaborative data analysis happening during teachers’ common planning time, she noted, “We are constantly monitoring the progress of all kids. We’re looking for growth, not just proficiently. We push and support each of them as much as we can.”
We discussed the remarkable geographic diversity of King’s students, who come not only from all over the city but from all over the globe, both as recent immigrants to Providence and as temporary visitors with family members who are studying or teaching at Providence’s universities. This aspect of student life at King was fresh in my mind because our family had recently enjoyed a week reconnecting with our eldest son’s best friend at King, a young man from Germany who had been in Providence for a time with his parents and who had returned for a visit with our family and other friends from King. King’s international traditions have continued; the school has recently welcomed new students from China and Israel, who will sit beneath the flags of their nations hanging in the cafeteria as they build enduring cross-cultural friendships.
The students in Ms. Lussier’s charge are, of course, more than data and demographics in her view. When she talks about “educating the whole child,” she means it – one has the sense that she is truly invested in our children’s social, emotional and academic well-being, and is building on King’s strengths to ensure their success.
Ms. Lussier also hopes to build on King’s already strong connections with its neighborhood. She has recently joined the Mt. Hope Learning Center’s board of directors; Mt. Hope Learning Center provides a popular afterschool program at King and has been a strong community partner (the East Side YMCA also offers an afterschool program at the school).
For families with students who will be entering kindergarten: registration for the Providence Public Schools begins on January 13. Details about registration are online. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School will be offering a tour for prospective families on January 10; tour begins at 9:30am.