C’ta DeLaurier is Murray Elementary’s new principal this year, taking the helm from Alison Dwier-Selden, who served in that role for the last two years. DeLaurier comes most recently from the post of vice principal at Buford Middle School in Charlottesville, though she has taught most every grade level from K-12 over her twenty-year career. “I think that, irrespective of where I am professionally, I will always be a teacher first,” said DeLaurier. She credits Murray’s teachers for seeing the school through the pandemic turbulence of last year.
“We have teachers who have been here for many, many years,” she said. “And so, I think that their expertise, really in this case collectively, was able to transcend even the pandemic, which is powerful.”
Murray is one of the smallest elementary schools in the county, at 261 students this year. Unlike its peers, Murray was the only school division-wide to actually surpass its projected enrollment for this year—all other schools were under projections. While most schools in the county saw standardized test scores such as SOL’s drop precipitously after last year, Murray’s reading, math, and science scores remained in the 80s and 90s of percent proficiency for the student body.
“Our SOL scores [last year] were good, even with the Covid virtual format,” said DeLaurier. “I think that, for me, learning doesn’t just happen in school. It also happens in day-to-day living, and I think our families have done a fantastic job. Our teachers ensured that there has been a minimal impact in the way of our formalized assessments.”
DeLaurier’s family has a strong basketball legacy, as she played as a student at Rutgers University and her sister played for U.Va. DeLaurier and her husband have four sons, the eldest of whom was a stand-out player at Duke University while another has committed to play for the U.S. Naval Academy next year. Her youngest child attends Murray Elementary now, but one of her children attended Murray 13 years ago, and it was back then that she discovered the uniqueness of the school. “I love Murray for many different reasons, but as a parent, I certainly recognize the specialness of the school,” she said.
Working as a diversity resource teacher at Henley Middle School before her vice principal stint, DeLaurier was immersed in Culturally Responsive Teaching training and practice, and she says those concepts inform how she teaches and interacts with students. “As a practitioner within education, I think it’s really about honoring each student and their narrative, and using that as a platform or an ingress, to really get to rigor,” she said. “So, what’s the backstory? How do you learn? What’s your cultural wealth in terms of how you operate? And then how can I facilitate that here in school so that it’s familiar to students, to provide them easier access to the academic rigor.”
She likens the idea of one’s own culture to an essential form of “being,” something that can be discerned in order to enhance instruction. “The recognition of who I am and the recognition of who my students are helps to really serve as a jumping off point for instruction,” she said. “Sometimes we teach the way we are. We teach the way that we exist. And the way that we are and the way that we exist is sometimes different from who we are teaching.”
DeLaurier said she approaches her relationships with staff and parents in a similar way. “One thing that I thrive on is feedback,” she said. “However, I also know that sometimes authentic feedback is hard to mine, especially when the relationship is new. So how do I recognize my own cultural way of being and how do I recognize those of our students, teachers, and families, and how do I help facilitate partnerships?”
Looking ahead for Murray, DeLaurier said the school division has an expectation that all of its teachers will be either micro-credentialed or fully certified in Culturally Responsive Teaching by 2026, so that’s something she will be working on. “We are going to continue to have high expectations here for our reading and math,” she said, “and we’ll continue with Responsive Classroom, which is our social-emotional kind of understanding.”
She also plans to focus on strengthening Murray’s professional learning community (PLC) as well. “It’s where we come together with teachers by grade level, and we think about, essentially cartography, right?” she said with a smile. “As in, where are we? Where are we going? Who’s learning? Who’s done well and who hasn’t, and what do we need to shift? So, it’s really about analyzing, deconstructing, and then generating a continual or recursive sort of plan/do/study/act.”
With all of her experience, DeLaurier said her move to Murray is the right path for her. “I recognize that it’s very humbling to be here, and I’m grateful for the way that the community has been amazingly receptive and supportive,” she said. “We have a really strong PTO that’s very proactive in the way of our student needs. I’m happy.”
Email Lisa Martin at [email protected]