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The Muslim Link
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“Our Graduates Tell Us If We Are Doing Our Job” PDF Print E-mail
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Community News - Community News
Written by Hena Zuberi, Muslim Link Staff Reporter   
Saturday, 15 March 2014 07:59

 

An Interview with Al-Rahmah's New Principal Dr. Fawzia Fazily

 

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Outside the doors of the Al Rahmah School at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, as the day begins, Dr. Fawzia Fazily greets the uniformed kids with a cheery salaam as they walk in.  She is the school’s new principal who joined the team in September 2013.


“I love to see them come in; when they see a smile it’s an important message on how serious we are about them and their education,” says the mother of three adult children. She looks forward to making changes that place value on the core philosophy that Islam is beautiful. Students need to feel the presence of Allah so that they can be in any environment and they are fine, she says as she takes on the task of leading one of the area’s largest Islamic schools.


An immigrant from Afghanistan, she worried about her own children’s education and wanted to know what was going on in schools. She left her career at Xerox and went back to school to study the Montessori school system in the early 90s. The graduate level course at Loyola College of Maryland took her four summers to complete.


A Montessori trained teacher, she worked in the public school system as she completed her second masters in Education Leadership. In August 2012, she completed her doctorate in Executive Leadership from St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York, focusing on Refugee Children’s Education. Her last two immediate positions were as Acting Principal and School Wide Positive Behavior Support Specialist at the Rochester City School District.


With family in Virginia, she was thinking of moving to the DC area. Serendipity and an ad in Horizons magazine led her to Al Rahmah School.


A committed mother, she still spends at least half an hour a day with each of the three children face to face or on the phone, even though they are adults. Her husband is still in Rochester while she is living in Anne Arundel County; they plan on moving closer to ISB as soon as he sells their home.


Dr. Fazily believes children learn differently and wants a relevant education for all her students. “I don’t agree with the teacher standing in front of class, a one size fits all education,” she asserts.


“We are making an Arabic Islamic Quran department,” shares Dr. Fazily. The other changes being made are in the Arabic curriculum under the guidance of Shaykh Yaseen and Jose Avecado who also recently joined the Islamic Society of Baltimore. “We changed from conversational to Quranic Arabic, consistent with our vision of producing students who [have a] Islamically strong foundation [and] who understand the Quran,” she says.


The Seminary and Al Rahmah will be sharing Avecado and Dr. Fazily was involved in the hiring decision.


Dr.Fazily has grand plans for staff development, including a new teacher evaluation process. She aims on shortening one day of the week for students so that teachers can have time for regular halaqas and professional development, built into the school calendar. Another goal is to reach out to principals of the Islamic schools in the area for regular meetups.


Integration of Islamic studies across curriculum is another goal. She knows full implementation will not happen overnight.  The current curriculum follows the Howard County Public Schools, which is essentially public school in a private setting. She hopes to make the curriculum more exploratory and not bound to public schools. “We have more flexibility; we can gear our academics to the child and can design one that meets the need of every child,” she contends.


Dr. Fazily respects the laws and regulations in public schools as they are designed for a reason. Islamic schools sometimes are relaxed, she says. Rather than take a different developing process, she is tweaking the systems that she has learned to fit into the Islamic school setting.


Gathering data is a priority for Dr. Fazily as Al Rahmah School doesn’t have a lot of existing data to assess students that is needed to establish a system. Currently ISB uses TerraNova , a national assessment given to all children in English and Math which compares students to rest of the nation. “We want to gather data from here; we also looking to develop assessment across grade levels in schools,” says Dr. Fazily.


Not concerned by the new common core standards, she feels that it is geared towards in-depth understanding of concepts. She thinks that good planning, resources, proper and continuous training and support will eliminate the fear of common core in teachers, parents and students.


To further develop the curriculum, she is a proponent of looking at different colleges and collating what they are looking from a high schoolers and mapping it backwards, so Al Rahmah can provide a student with the quality education and extra curricular activities that good colleges and universities are looking for.


Strong partnership with the parents is a must for a great student, school and community, she says. Home is a continuation of what happens at school and vice versa.


At Al Rahmah many of the parents are at ISB all day, many of the staff are parents as are board members. “I like that setting, everyone is personally involved in school– great staff and parents,” she said. “We were trying to structure volunteer hours in a way and so when {parents] volunteer their time is used constructively,” she said as she conveys her pleasant surprise. As an educator she is used to seeing schools struggling to get parents involved.


As for the different stages of a child’s school career, she says, “early childhood education is important in educating the student about Islam.” She thinks that a strong foundation in Islamic education gives the tools necessary to deal with middle school. At this stage children need to feel like they belong to a group, peers become important. She feels that an Islamic institution needs to provide this to the students.


This is also the time that Islamic school children need to be prepared to venture into the larger American society, outside of Al Rahmah so they do not grow up in a bubble. “They are a part of the community, this is their home,” she adds. Programs with local organizations are planned, as are sports and extra curricular classes.

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Keeping her ninth graders all the way through 12 graders is on her to do list, so they can be socially and academically ready for universities. She keeps an open door policy and has15 year olds in her office, not because they are in trouble, but because they need someone to talk to.


“When children graduate from AlRahmah and maintain their strong Islamic identity academically, spiritually, socially and physically, when they exhibit that, then we know that we have done our job.”

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