Creative City prioritizes giving students an immersive and hands-on learning experience. We strive to be more like a family than a school while challenging early learners to become active participants in their education. At the helm of our school is Principal Traci Johnson Mathena. Like many educators, Principal Mathena is fiercely committed to ensuring students learn through exciting, real-world experiences. As an educator for almost 30 years, Ms. Mathena is passionate about bringing out the best in all students. She has been the principal of Creative City since 2015 and has helped the school thrive in the Baltimore community. In this interview-style blog, we'll share more about Principal Mathena and her thoughts on education!
What do you love most about your role?
Interacting with the students is the single greatest joy in this role. Many see this position as the person whose office you never want to visit. On any given day, however, I am sitting on the carpet during a class’s morning meeting. You will find me working with students on an assignment, being the person they selected to take a break with as an incentive or to soothe their soul when needed. All of these things strengthen our school’s sense of community and belonging and truly provide me with fulfillment and enjoyment as an instructional leader. The day I forget what it means to interact with the students is the day I need to retire.
What do you love most about your students?
My students are honest and caring souls. They tell it like it is, and if you are honest and fair with them, they tell you how they think it should be without being selfish. Students have written me letters about things we need to change or people we need to celebrate. In one case this past year, a student wrote to tell me she was planning a Custodian’s Day, and she led her class – facilitated by her teacher – in designing, creating, and presenting the posters and cards they made for the occasion. How could you NOT love people capable of that kind of care?
What influences how you lead your team and students at Creative City?
Finding the paths that lead to the best outcomes for all people is fundamental to leadership. For that reason, I make informed decisions and facilitate interactions by believing in the power of people, not programs. Understanding how children develop academically, social-emotionally, and behaviorally helps us create knowledgeable, creative, critical thinkers and problem solvers. Encouraging and expanding the professional talents of the staff supports a rigorous, challenging, and engaging instructional program and a positive, thriving school environment. Fostering a Village mentality among our parents and neighborhood/community members allows us to see ourselves as partners in this work. I lead based on that dynamic.
What made you pivot from being a journalist to an educator?
While on assignment for the Baltimore Sun Magazine, writing a piece on my alma mater Western High School, someone asked if I wanted to help and teach journalism and two English Classes. I agreed, and while planning lessons, listening to the students’ ideas, questions and curiosity about learning, I realized how powerful a classroom experience could be. I was determined to become part of that, and 28 years later, I’m still part of that experience.
How do Creative City’s mission and vision align with your personal values?
Creative City sits in the neighborhood where I grew up, and its mission, vision, and commitment to equity are all part of how I was raised. The community sharing responsibility for its children and using the environment where we live to create positive experiences and outcomes are part of who I am. I believe that “Care, Question, Collaborate, Create” are central to problem-solving, working with others, and being productive, contributing members of society. The school’s commitment to equity and social justice mirrors my own, which led to the establishment of Creative City as the first Baltimore Ceasefire 365 School. It is not a coincidence that this is where I landed. It is where I belong.
Who was your favorite teacher and why?
In Elementary School, Mrs. Brown told me my ability to view people and situations from all angles helped me stay open-minded. In middle school, it was Mr. Baldwin who told me that I was a writer rather than telling me that I could write. In High School, Mrs. Simms and Mr. Kessler challenged me to lead, something that took hold, stood fast and never faded. Each of those teachers had the same attribute: the ability to see me beyond being a student to help me develop as a person. It is what we endeavor to do at Creative City.
What are you most excited about for the next group of students to enroll?
I can’t wait to see how they explore the things we offer that I believe are different from any other school. I want to see the faces light up when they create adventures in the outdoor classroom and the faces they make (good or bad) when they taste a pepper or some greens THEY grew in the teaching garden. I am ready to hear their ideas of how they will solve a problem posed in a project and what they research and present when they get the chance to explore their own topic of interest. I want to see what student-interest clubs they participate in and how they contribute to them. I am excited for them to join the village and contribute to what makes it great. I am excited about THEM.
What else would you like us to know about YOU?
I am a lifelong learner for whom new information and experiences are essential. I want to model those things for all our stakeholders, regardless of age. At 49 years old, I started learning to sail. I am getting pretty good at it! I will always dare to question, and I will always explore the possibilities.
Creative City is a tuition-free public school now enrolling grades K-5. To learn more about Principal Mathena and our curriculum, contact us today to learn more! You can also enroll now for 2022-2023.
About Creative City Public Charter School
Creative City Public Charter School is a dynamic K-5 elementary school with caring educators. We engage our students in a placed-based learning environment using the city of Baltimore as a cultural and civic foundation. Our approach is creative yet challenging; and our tuition-free public school encourages out-of-the-box thinking alongside the pursuit of each student’s personal, highest academic potential. Enroll your child today!