Spend even a few moments with Heights Academy school leader Miriam Darby, and her passion for empowering students and commitment to excellence and equity is readily apparent. She lights up describing the joy of seeing students master a rounding lesson, effusively praises the dedication of her teachers and staff, and embraces the challenge of leading Heights’ school community.
She began her career in education as a teacher in New England for five years before moving to Heights Academy as a founding teacher in 2011. “It was a memorable year because I learned so much about not only myself, but also about education and equity in our country,” she said. “It was a unique and beautiful beginning because you saw the community put trust into us as a new school and share what they wanted for their children.”
She would transition out of the classroom a few years later as vice principal, a shift much different from the day-to-day of teaching. She now had the responsibility of driving results through others. “It was a hard transition at first because I was used to focusing on the 26 kids in front of me. I feel fortunate because I got to be a vice principal at KIPP DC for a long time. I was able to work at many schools within KIPP DC and learn from so many other fantastic school leaders in our elementary and middle schools. I got the opportunity to try on different leadership skills in different settings, and because of those experiences it allowed me to feel ready when this opportunity presented itself.”
A key framework of Heights’ school community is the belief that every child belongs. This is underlined by an intentionality on relationship-building and empowering student voice in learning inside the classroom. “We ask a lot of our students, and my favorite thing to see is them jumping in to model a word problem or discuss a piece of literature with confidence. They spend a lot of their time with us, and we purposefully engage, challenge, and encourage them because we know there is no limit to what they can achieve with us if we believe in them. Every day our students show up so excited to learn. I know it’s because we first connect with them as human beings and thoughtfully build this community that invites them into learning in a fun and positive way.”
For her, one of the early joys of being in the position of school leader is facilitating the right mindset in teachers to maximize their impact on student learning. “The teachers at Heights are incredibly special and driven. Success is absolutely attainable for all students if we’re all doing the work and remain committed day in and day out. That means we are delivering well prepped lessons, knowing exactly what mastery looks like, and then helping students unpack misconceptions. It all comes back to the promises we make to our families. Heights would not be the strong school that it is today without the teachers we have, because their mindset directly impacts how well our students do.”
In many respects, this school year is a return to home for Ms. Darby. She now greets families each morning that remembered her as a first or second grade teacher years ago. “Heights will always be a special place for me. I started here in 2011 and I’m honored to have this opportunity.”