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AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH CARLY MAVORAH





Carly Mavorah has spent decades in the field of education, engaging with our children, working with administrators, and trying new things for their benefit. Now,  the Assistant Principal of General Studies in the Lower Division of Magen David Elementary School, she’s had an ever-evolving career with one common denominator – it has always, always made her happy. As the school year begins and we look with hope towards our educational institutions for all they will offer our children, it was a pleasure to talk with someone who is so passionate about teaching and leading. Carly’s life story is interesting not because she’s ascended to such a position of influence, but because of the trajectory that led her there – a path she followed with an open mind and an even bigger heart.

            Carly grew up in upstate New York and spent summers in Deal, New Jersey, at the home of her aunt and uncle, Carol and Mikey Tawil. She began working as a Camp David counselor when she was 13 years old. She remained a counselor right up until 1998, when she got married and was asked to be a Division Head. Carly happened to love the people she worked with – Dawn Dweck, Marilyn Tawil, and Lisa Didia, among others. She accepted the job and headed the Lower Division of Camp David for many years. Co-workers came to trust her rational and flexible nature and admire the enthusiasm behind everything she did. Carly was a go-to person in every situation and the camp flourished because of it.

As the years passed, Carly shifted her attention to the Upper Division, leading the 6th through 9th grades. The summer before last, her final one at Camp David, she headed the Art Department, proving that she was indeed a woman of all trades. “My time at camp helped influence some of the decisions I made in my life,” Carly says. “I learned a lot about working together with children and with parents. I gained so much from that experience.”

Carly credits a very vivid first grade experience with her wanting to become a teacher. ”First grade is that transition to another world - elementary school,” Carly says, investing the words with grandeur. “In first grade, children naturally come in with the affinity to learn, with a certain wonderment and curiosity. It’s there. If, a few years down the line, it’s not there, then something went wrong. And it’s on us as educators and as a community to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Perhaps that’s what keeps Carly going – the push and pull of both striking the flame and keeping it from fading. She is forever searching for the most innovative teaching method and wondering how the collaboration of minds might make something new and exciting happen. Because all of it – every positive outcome and every breakthrough – occurs to enrich the lives of those she works together with -the teachers and the students. “Igniting that spark in either a teacher or a student that things are possible even when they’re challenging is so important,” she says.

            Carly began her career at Magen David as an assistant teacher, while finishing her Masters. During that same year, she took over a maternity leave for a first grade teacher. At the time, her grandmother Miriam Abady, A’’H, a longtime devotee of the school, was a teacher there too. There was something special about taking on this new venture alongside her grandmother, something that felt like home. The longer she worked there, the more comfort Carly found in what she was doing and the more she felt sure of her strengths and capabilities.

            For a long time, Carly was a classroom teacher, teaching mainly first grade but also second and fourth when needed.  She also conducted story time in the library, which was a precursor to the Mommy and Me program. Through it all, Carly relished the opportunity to mold children, to foster in them a love of books and a thirst for knowledge. ”What I appreciated most were the parents who used to come back and say, ‘You’re the reason why my children love to read,”’ she says.  

Carly’s passion for reading and writing led to her giving input as changes were made to the school-wide reading curriculum. “I jumped into the project and wanted to be involved,” she says. Carly subscribes to a myriad of educational journals and is forever reading up on the latest research in the field. It came as no surprise, then, when she brought the Journeys program to Magen David Elementary School. Journeys is a comprehensive reading program that connects all components of literacy - from phonics and word study, to comprehension, fluency, and writing. It’s a research-based approach that happens to be the most widely-used program in the country. Carly is a firm believer in research – in discovering the way children’s brains are wired to accept instruction and what changes might be made to reach the most amount of learners. “Every student is in a different place and there is no one program or strategy that works for everybody,” Carly says.

It was the search for what would work that led to Carly’s becoming the school’s literacy coach. She worked with teachers in grades one through four to figure out how they could best support their struggling readers. “Teachers must be willing to be flexible,” Carly says. In recent years, this has involved a move away from traditional instruction, where children sit straight-backed in desks during whole-class learning. Instead, Carly advocates for small group work and urges the teachers to be mindful of when a student’s attention is shifting. Incorporating movement can do much to reenergize a classroom and boost a student whose confidence has faltered. Most important of all is to never give up on a child. “Even for the students who are struggling, the spark doesn’t have to disappear,” Carly declares. They, too, are eager to please and eager to learn – teachers simply have to adjust to meet their needs.

Carly is a passionate proponent of professional development and has worked extensively to implement new findings via the faculty. She’s also served as a mentor to associate teachers. What she’s told these new teachers, as well as several parents, is this: Education needs to change. As Carly insists, “It can’t stay the same because the schooling system is based on a world that no longer exists!” By this, she means an industrial environment and a middle class lifestyle. Even so, parents seek to hold on to what they once knew. “There’s some nostalgia related to education,” Carly says. “People feel they know about it because they participated in it. Because they went to school – especially if it worked for them – they have a hard time doing things differently. But what if what worked for them doesn’t work for somebody else?” Carly gives an excellent analogy to drive her point home. When we go to the doctor’s office, we want the latest treatment and take comfort in cutting edge medical advances. If a doctor was not up to date – if he was five years behind the times, say – we’d walk out of his office. Why is it then, that when it comes to school, we don’t want this sort of change? Why do not embrace the fact that teachers are simply trying to make the most of new developments for our students?

As a newly appointed Assistant Principal, Carly has this driving question for herself: “How do I make sure that I’m still serving as an instructional leader?” She is going to treat her position as the verb that it is – she is going to lead. Leading, to her, is not an isolationist enterprise. “It’s all about collaborating with people,” she says. “I don’t necessarily want to decide by myself. I want to hear what other people think and empower other people to take things on.” Her faith in those she works with improves both their morale and performance. Carly knows this. Her openness to a plethora of ideas has to do not just with her curiosity about alternate methods but also with a desire to make others care as deeply as she does about the outcome. “The way that people become invested is by having the opportunity to make choices and make decisions,” she remarks. “If they feel heard, they will listen to the voices of their students. If they feel empowered to try something, they will let their students take chances.”

Though the month of September was hectic for Carly, filled with administrative meetings and new responsibilities, she has made sure to stay visible “I make sure I’m there greeting kids in the lobby every morning,” Carly says. “If I have a conversation with someone, if I smile at kids as they’re walking in – that makes a difference.” Carly has also not been afraid to get her hands dirty, or, frankly, do any job that needs doing. She’s determined to remain “on the floor” as a frequent visitor in students’ classrooms. There, she will offer support, read aloud the books she loves and strengthen the school from the ground up.

Though Carly does so much, she knows she cannot do it all. “For women, there’s this belief that you have to be able to do all the things and do them really well,” Carly proclaims. “You can’t be everything for everyone. You have to be willing to ask for help. Accept the help and see that it doesn’t mean that you’re not good enough or not able to do it yourself.”

We thank Carly for these words born from experience and for the talent, energy and vision she brings to her job every day. Our students are certainty better for it.