Q&A with Charter Leader Tracey Duhaime
Tracey Duhaime is the principal of Greensboro Academy, a public charter school in Greensboro, North Carolina, that is part of the National Heritage Academies network. A 2023 National Blue Ribbon honoree, Greensboro Academy serves over 750 students in grades K-8, emphasizing a rigorous college preparatory curriculum and a strong moral focus. The charter school has outperformed the local school district for over 15 years.
A former district public school teacher, Tracey first arrived at Greensboro Academy as a parent herself, later becoming a teacher and then school administrator. The Coalition’s communications director, Kristen Blair, spoke with Tracey about what first drew her to a charter school; her school’s national recognition for excellence; the importance of communication and trust between schools and parents; and more.
We include the full interview below.
You’ve been involved with Greensboro Academy as a parent, teacher, middle school dean, and now principal. What led you to a public charter school?
Tracey Duhaime: When my daughter was accepted into kindergarten at Greensboro Academy, we were not sure what to expect with our limited knowledge of charter schools, but we had heard amazing things and felt blessed to be given this opportunity. This is my 16th year at GA and when my daughter was in 2nd grade, I began working here as the 6th grade math teacher. I had been extremely impressed with the level of academic rigor and the teaching of moral focus virtues, the teachers and staff were outstanding, and it felt like a family community. It was something I knew I wanted to be a part of not only as a parent but an educator. When a position opened up, this was where I wanted to be to positively impact students and their school experience.
National Heritage Academies Founder J.C. Huizenga and Greensboro Academy Principal Tracey Duhaime in October, prior to an assembly celebrating 2023 National Blue Ribbon School recognition.
How have your experiences as a charter leader impacted your view about what works in education?
Tracey: I have had a very positive experience as a leader with National Heritage Academies. There are many reasons to stay but one of the main drivers for continuing to work at Greensboro Academy is the tremendous amount of support provided by National Heritage Academies. They invest in their employees by providing growth opportunities and ongoing trainings, so we’re always learning and developing as educators. There’s always someone you can call when you need help and that has allowed me to focus on the things that are more important, which are the people–the staff, the families and the kids.
The people in the building are what make this school great. Greensboro Academy has been diligent at hiring not only highly qualified teachers but teachers who care about kids and are invested in the school and the journey of our students as they move through grades K-8. Many of the teachers have watched their own children grow and learn by attending GA; it’s a personal and professional investment. We work to retain teachers and they just get better and better each year! The smaller atmosphere provided by a K-8 school enables us to impact our students in a profound way.
Earlier this year, Greensboro Academy was named a 2023 National Blue Ribbon School in the Exemplary High Performing School category, one of just eight schools statewide to earn Blue Ribbon recognition. What was that honor like for you and your school community—and to what do you attribute the school’s success with students?
Tracey: I don’t know that words can express how excited and proud we are to receive this award! Our staff work incredibly hard and are very dedicated and it was reaffirming and flattering to be recognized on a larger scale. Our school has seen success for many years, and I am so happy for my staff, students, and families! It is amazing to be a part of something so great! Everyone in the school contributes not only each day in the building but also to complete and submit our application. What we were sharing in our application with the U.S. Department of Education was genuine and personal because it came from everybody in the building and not just the leaders.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the tremendous impact our parent organization and school board have on our school. They volunteer their time to fund and plan family events, engage in teacher and student appreciation, contribute to the classroom and the campus to make our school the best choice for families. These folks are team Greensboro Academy and it shows in everything they do!
It has been a little overwhelming and a whirlwind of a month! It has been so touching to have so many organizations and businesses in the area reach out to congratulate us. We were blessed to have had the founder and leaders of National Heritage Academies come from Michigan to celebrate with us during an assembly on October 6th–yet another example of the support provided by NHA. We welcomed Senator Berger later in the month of October and were able to showcase our school and share what GA is all about with him. My staff, administrative team, students, and families have earned this well-deserved recognition, and I am so proud to be their leader. It takes every single person in the building working together to make these great things happen. The people are the secret sauce to our success!
You’re headed to Washington, D.C. later this month to celebrate Greensboro Academy’s Blue Ribbon recognition. Any thoughts before you prepare to go?
Tracey: I have been reflecting on my journey with Greensboro Academy over the past 16 years and the impact it has had on my family and my career. It is very humbling to be a part of something this big, and as I’ve shared with many of our families (current and prospective), I really believe that my kids are the amazing young adults that they are because of Greensboro Academy. My kids are 22 and 18 now, and the impact of the moral focus virtues, the connections that they made with the other kids, the connections with their teachers is something [for which] my husband and I will forever be grateful. I have had the privilege of both personally and professionally seeing the impact of this school and it just warms your heart. It is a great reminder that what we do each day is making a difference and helps to reaffirm why we chose to be educators.
Parent partnership is a big part of Greensboro Academy’s ethos and, more broadly, for National Heritage Academies. Why is parent engagement so important, and how do you work intentionally to engage your parents?
Tracey: I believe it takes a village. We need to work together, support one another, and trust each other. We are all on the same team and that team is rooting and working for the success of the students. We openly communicate with our parents before they attend that we’re going to work hard, play hard, and hold everyone to high expectations. There will sometimes be challenges or bumps in the road, but the mindset needs to be collectively supporting kids both at school and at home.
The majority of our parents truly value being a part of GA and view this as an opportunity. They know that we only have [students] for seven hours a day. Working together at home and at school is the key to raising not only well-educated children but kind people who will go on to make their own positive impact on our world. We encourage parent volunteers, and we host activities and events for both students and parents to attend. A few examples are festivals, band concerts, assemblies, moral focus luncheons, field trips, in class activities, and parent learning events. Providing those opportunities for the parents to come in and not only participate but get to know one another is important to building our school family.
What’s the best thing parents can do to help their child’s charter school?
Tracey: Parents are the first role model and trusted adult in a child’s life and we all need to remember to lead by example. We are all on the same side and we all want what’s best for students. Respectful and productive communication is key to building the relationship with the school and with the teachers. That’s really what the teachers are looking for – they are looking for a partnership and to be treated as professionals that truly care about their children.