By KIM HWANG, PSYD
ST. PAUL (Sept. 9, 2011) — While waiting outside Assistant Superintendent Freeman’s office, my eyes feast on magnificent samples of student work. Evidence of spirited teaching and student learning is colorfully strewn about the 5th floor waiting area. Math notebooks are filled with data and drawings, beautiful self made portraits of students light up the walls and science notebooks display the content of levers and pulleys.
“Ms. Freeman parked her car and she’s on her way up to see you,” stated her welcoming assistant Ms. Doreen Bohl. With a warm embrace, Assistant Superintendent Freeman states, “Come on back to my office, I was out visiting another school. I love getting out into the schools! The energy of the students, reminds me of why I took this job in the first place.”
Assistant Superintendent Freeman, once a teacher, assistant principal and principal, is currently one of four assistant superintendents in the St. Paul Public School District. With an obvious passion for education, she oversees eleven elementary schools and approximately 10,000+ students. Freeman earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business from the University of Minnesota and an Education Degree from the University of St. Thomas/Center for Urban Education (CUE VII). She brings to St. Paul Schools an educational framework, which is essential in her current position.
Freeman humbly shares, “When I was in the business of selling static cling decals for windows, I was unhappy. Every day I dreaded going to work.” She realized quickly, through conversations with her husband, Melvin Freeman, that instead of being miserable, she was ready to make a difference in the lives of children. “I remember thinking at forty years old, if I had a re-do, I would go into education instead,” Freeman states.
Soon thereafter, Freeman starts a journey on a path towards a career in education. Convinced, that she has at least twenty more years to work, she formulates a plan and carries it through toward obtaining her superintendent license. Freeman’s half glass full mentality growing, she assumes a role that she’s eager to fulfill. After teaching, she realizes that making changes at a systems level will allow her to influence the largest number of students and educational leaders possible. Called to serve under Superintendent Silva in 2010, she enthusiastically shares, “I have never been happier or more full of passion than I am today.”
Both of Freeman’s parents, Martha and Percy Zachary instill in Freeman an immovable belief that she will attend college. Her father, Percy Zachary, encourages Freeman to pursue a career in business. Even so, her mother, Martha Zachary who served as both a teacher and school psychologist for more than thirty years in St. Paul continues to influence her decisions.
Similar to those who paved the road before her, Freeman feels confident that she was created to do the same. With her husband, Melvin Freeman, a current St. Paul Teacher and Ben Zachary a former assistant principal at Battle Creek Elementary School, it seems inevitable that Freeman’s destiny will eventually lead to Education in the St. Paul Public Schools.
It is no surprise that Assistant Superintendent Freeman wants for all children, the encouragement that she received from her family. She shares, “I want all of our kids to know that education goes from kindergarten to college, Period. There is no stopping after high school.”
Freeman recalls, “I was not a very good student. I did not have a teacher that said that I could do better. There was not one teacher that I had that made a difference in my life. Yet, I knew from my parents that I was going to go to college.” When asked if her mom was proud of her, Freeman laughs and states, “I think she is. You can always tell when your mom is proud of you because they brag about you when you are not around.”
She credits her mother, Martha Zachary and Superintendent Silva for inspiring to be where she is now. Freeman states, “One of my strengths is working with people. The other strength that I have is getting people on the bus.” She further states, “I am really open. So, if people have things they want to say, I’m open. . .they can say it. I’m very supportive. I get things done. I’m an activator. I lead by example. I am up early on my e-mails and I have a 24 hour response rate.”
Currently, Assistant Superintendent Freeman’s main focus is to work with principals and teachers towards closing the achievement gap for students of color. She believes that it is the district’s responsibility to give teachers and principals the tools to be successful. She also states, “It is the classroom teacher and building leadership that is going to make the difference.”
Freeman believes that one way to close the achievement gap is to increase cultural proficiency training about racism. Freeman states, “You can’t hold people accountable unless they have been taught and have gone through the cultural proficiency trainings. Once you have done this, you can hold people accountable to cultural proficiency.”
Freeman shares that she believes that teachers and principals work hard and want to do well every day, but closing the achievement gap will require an increase in cultural awareness about issues surrounding race and ethnicity. “I’m excited about the path we are taking,” Freeman says, “I have to believe…cultural proficiency training…is about race, it is not about poverty, it is about race.” Freeman states, “We talk about White privilege and understanding Whiteness in these trainings. It is deeper than I’ve ever seen any other diversity or cultural proficiency training we have had. The great thing is that it is not just the Black woman that is always talking about race in our district. I have White colleagues who have gone through this cultural proficiency long journey too. Everyone is on board.”
Not unlike her professional life, she reports deep gratitude about her personal life as well. Freeman joyously states, “I am married to an amazing man who believes that laughter is the key to life. We have a great time with our two sons, Melvin and Marcus.” In addition, she talks to her mom every day, works out at least five times a week and loves to cook soul food inspired by her late mother-in-law. With a big grin and a head nod, she recalls corn bread pudding as her favorite dish. Freeman reports, “My mother in law was the best cook on the face of this earth.”
Equally committed to her personal and professional life, Freeman states, “I have passion about teachers being able to get what they need so they can be the best they can be. I love to see what is happening in classrooms. I want kids to see me in the position that I am in, as a principal to the principals, who is an African American Woman.”
Alice Walker’s book, Hard Times Require Furious Dancing, honors African American women who answer their calling to lead. Freeman shares that assuming new responsibilities to close the achievement gap is her calling. Through transformational and mindful, cultural competency training, Freeman believes that a breakthrough is on the horizon. She sees her job as multidimensional.
She exuberantly shares, “My passion is to make sure that kids get the best that they can get from our schools. My job is to make sure that teachers and principals are the best they can be!”
On the first Friday, the first week of school, after 6:00 pm, when most people have left for home, Assistant Superintendent Freeman genuinely states, “My door is always open.” She is a uniquely fascinating blend of enthusiasm, education and powerful commitment.
There is no doubt in my mind that she will continue to add a new dimension of spirit and leadership, which includes cultural proficiency for all to the St. Paul Public Schools. Her enthusiasm is contagious.
Dr. Hwang’s Healthcare dialogue
The purpose of this column is to invite you, the readers, to ask questions related to psychological/emotional healthcare issues that you are seeking an opinion to. This column is not intended to diagnose or offer absolute answers. Instead, it is a very informal platform to begin a dialogue with you the reader, about psychological/emotional healthcare issues that you would like to discuss. Your identity will be protected. Thank you, Kim Hwang, PsyD
Kim Hwang, PsyD, has taught as an adjunct Professor in: undergraduate psychology, graduate clinical psychology program and graduate education program for 8+ years. She also holds two Master’s Degrees in Education and Clinical Psychology. Please e-mail your questions to Dr. Hwang at [email protected]. Responses to questions will be posted weekly.