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New Northwestern principal has a long history with public schools

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Posted on: September 14, 2023

BY SOPHIE GORMAN ORIANI

Northwestern High School has a new principal, NKenge Barker, who emphasizes cultural awareness and the education of the whole person as a few of her major priorities.

Barker, who holds degrees from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and from Morgan State University, has a long history with public schools. She started her career in North Carolina, at age 22, teaching Spanish, before she moved to Maryland in 2002. She then taught for Baltimore City and Baltimore County before coming to Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) as an assistant principal at High Point High School.

In 2019, Barker also participated in a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad program in Colombia. There, she participated in a five-week intensive program called “Colombia in the Twenty-First Century: History, Culture, Peace-building and Reconciliation/Implication for Teaching Spanish, Colombia and Latin America Across Disciplines,” which allowed participants to gain greater cultural awareness and conduct research to help them as educators.

On July 20, Barker hosted a meet and greet for the community.

The event was attended by over 100 people; students and staff of Northwestern needed to pull out more chairs to accommodate the larger-than-anticipated crowd. Along with parents, teachers, students and staff, Maryland State Delegate Deni Taveras (District 47B), county school board member Pamela Boozer-Strother (District 3), Mount Rainier Mayor Celina Benitez, former state senator and Northwestern soccer coach Victor Ramirez (District 47), and former county school board member Amber Waller were all in attendance.

“My mission is to serve you, to make meaningful connections, and address the needs of the whole person,” Barker said, adding that she intended to focus on the culture and the climate of Northwestern. Culture, she noted, is what we do, while climate is how we feel. She said she was going to implement progressive discipline strategies, as well as enforce student ID requirements, the uniform policy — and the correct use of the school athletic fields. Mention of the fields, which have been the location of many discipline incidents, drew a chuckle from the audience.

Barker noted that her focus on school climate and culture could be grouped under the umbrellas of a safe and orderly environment, quality educational programming, social-emotional learning and community engagement.

Nicole Isley-McClure, the instructional director for Area 3, who oversees Northwestern, was also present and stressed the importance of parental involvement. Isley-McClure invited parents to volunteer in support of school safety efforts and called upon them to hold their children accountable.

Barker said her goals included hosting more activities such as dances to bolster school spirit, improving multilingual communication with parents, and providing foreign- or second-language classes to all students. “I believe every student should be bilingual,” Barker said.

Barker also noted the development of school-based mental health teams and said Northwestern has eight professional counselors on staff.

A newer project, according to Isley-McClure, is a weapons detection system, which every high school and some middle schools will have installed by the end of the year — an announcement that drew loud applause. She noted that the systems were piloted in summer schools and that Northwestern was at the top of the list, although she didn’t have a specific timeline to share.

“This is a new day,” Boozer-Strother said, to another round of applause from the audience. “This is not going to be a fight any more; it’s going to be a collaboration.”

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