BY SUSIE CURRIE — Anyone heading down Jefferson Street towards Route 1 can see that big changes are in store for Hyattsville Elementary School. By the time school starts next month, a new retaining wall and fence should be in place, along with an upgraded entrance on 43rd Avenue.
And inside, a new principal will greet students on the first day of school. Julia Burton, one of 35 new county principals named in June, started at Hyattsville Elementary on July 3 – shortly after her plane landed.
“My supervisor picked me up at the airport and we came straight here,” said the Iowa native in an interview on her second day on the job. There is plenty of settling in to do – at press time, she was still house-hunting, with plans to move to the area with her two dogs later this month.
Burton is starting her 30th year working in the education field. For the first half of her career, she taught Advanced Placement English to high-school juniors and seniors. Then she taught students in the Talented and Gifted Program, eventually moving into an administrative role as director of the TAG department for the Des Moines Public Schools. She has spent the last 12 years as an administrator in two Iowa school districts.
Until last month, she was the principal at Robert Lucas Elementary School in her hometown of Iowa City. Lucas is a Title I school, as Hyattsville was until the upcoming school year. For a school to qualify for this federal funding program, which budgets for specific support positions, at least 40 percent of its students must qualify for and enroll in the Free And Reduced Meal (FARM) Program. Lucas had 46.8 percent last year.
Hyattsville, on the other hand, reported 73.4 percent. But because of varying requirements at the municipal level – Prince George’s County’s benchmark is 75 percent – it lost its Title I status and with it, $200,000.
“When you’ve been in education as long as I have, you’ve been through drastic budget cuts more than once,” said Burton. “Our challenge will be to continue at the same level while losing some of the support services.”
She plans to schedule an open house at the school this summer to meet students and parents.
Asked about her goals for the school, she said, “My focus will be on increasing student achievement. Test scores are only one measure of proficiency.”
Though new to Hyattsville, she’s familiar with other parts of the Washington area.
“I’ve come to the area numerous times for conferences and vacations,” she said. During a trip here last summer, she began to think that it might not be a bad place to live.
As for living in Hyattsville, “I haven’t ruled it out, but I haven’t ruled it in,” she said. “I’m looking everywhere.”
Two things she likes about the city are its being part of the Gateway Arts District – “my mother is a professional artist” – and its proximity to the University of Maryland. Having grown up in a college town, she appreciates the potential for partnerships.
In fact, she saw one develop last year at Lucas, which is the same town as the University of Iowa. College fraternity and sorority members chose it as one of four schools to kick off its Adopt-A-School Program.
Her three children are still in the Midwest. Sarah, 26, lives in Colorado; Emily, 25, in Wisconsin; and Jake, 20, is a rising junior at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.