According to DoSomething, 1.2 million students in the U.S. drop out of high school each year. That equates to roughly one student every 26 seconds or 7,000 each day. Emily Masengale, the founding principal of Christel House DORS and assistant executive director of Christel House Indianapolis, is making it her life’s mission to give students 18 and older the opportunity to re-engage in school and work toward their diplomas instead of a GED.
“I’m really passionate about students who have really just fallen through the cracks,” she says. “I think there are so many super talented students that just don’t have the most positive school experiences. I have really made that my mission to undo that version of school where you have to fit in a box, and help students be successful where they’re at.”
Christel House DORS is a school that gives adults a second chance to get their high school diploma and help its scholars build a better life. As the founding principal of Christel House Academy, Masengale had the opportunity to design and write the full charter application for Christel House DORS South. Prior to joining the school, she served as an assistant principal at Rousseau McClellan School 91, was a Corps Member at Teach for America, and spent many summers at Columbia University as a summer principals academy internship coach.
We squeezed some time on Masengale’s calendar and got her take on all things education, community engagement, and what it’s like being a new mom of twins.
Maven superpower: I am really good at helping people think through things from multiple lenses or from multiple perspectives.
What inspired you to go into education?
I was inspired to go into education by some amazing kids that attended a summer camp I worked at my senior year in high school. In working with them I realized the inequities that exist in the education system. The system is still not providing all children the opportunities that it should be, and I am still committed to thinking outside of the box and helping all children have access to high quality education no matter their zip code or background.
What does education mean to you?
Education for me has opened the door for so many opportunities. Education can create opportunities that may not have been there. Education is something that no one can take from you. I think it opens the door for more choice in your life — it really helps to expand horizons.
What are some of the guiding principles for your career?
I think that every single student deserves a high-quality educational experience and that it should not be dictated by zip code. I see education as an equity gap that we have in the U.S. and it’s something that we really need to prioritize. I think, too, that just kind of the whole premise of, “We rise by lifting others.” So, cheering on people when they’re doing great things, whether that’s students or staff members, but also your friends and people in your professional and personal circles.
You mentioned that community engagement is important to you. How does that tie together with education and school systems?
I think that community and schools should go hand in hand. I know, they don’t always. And that was one of the foundations that I designed doors around — community partnerships. Having positions that are like social workers, but we call them resource specialists, to help connect students in the community with resources. There are just so many people out there doing such amazing things. Schools can’t do everything. We feel the pressure of wearing multiple hats sometimes, but you know, leveraging those partnerships, and leveraging community agencies that can help support our families so that we can make sure that they’re getting that holistic student support is huge.
What’s your biggest takeaway from your job as a principal?
The importance of anyone working in any role in the educational system believing in equity — and making decisions for students that are centered in equity and believing in each and every one of their students.
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What’s the biggest misconception about education?
One of the biggest misconceptions in education is that certain types of schools are all good or bad. There are debates on charters vs. traditional districts and the reality is there are charter schools doing amazing work serving kids in our city and there are schools in the traditional districts that are doing amazing work serving kids in our city. And there are schools of both types that are not doing a good job serving kids. What matters more than “type” of school is that they are providing a high-quality education to the students that they serve and that the adults in the students’ lives are choosing that particular school to meet their student’s needs.”
What three words describe an effective leader and principal?
They need to believe in equity. They are solutions-focused. They’re able to think outside the box.
What part of your job brings you the most joy?
Mine is definitely seeing our adult students graduate. Many of them saw themselves as a high school dropout and it was hard for them to envision themselves ever graduating, so our graduations are just fantastic. They are like my favorite day of the year.
What’s something people might not know about you?
I have identical twin girls. I was hospitalized for 10 weeks before I had them. So that was a unique and crazy experience of being stuck in the hospital for 10 weeks during COVID.
Who is a woman you admire?
I would have to say my mom because I don’t think I would have gotten through this season, during a pandemic, having newborn twins, without her help. She has been taking care of them so that I could be back at work. That has been an amazing support, that I don’t have to worry about them, you know, being preemies and fragile early on.
What’s your favorite thing to do outside of school?
Marvel at how quickly my 6-month-old twins are growing! They are so entertaining whether we are just hanging at home or brunching on Mass Ave. They are always just taking everything in and trying to talk to each other, my little preemies amaze me every day!
Samantha Kupiainen is a regular Indy Maven contributor.
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