Tell Me Something, Yolanda Allen
In 2002, Yolanda Allen was hired as a math teacher at Poolesville High School. It seemed like an obvious choice, given her affinity for math and her math degree from Virginia Tech.
But it didn’t start out that way.
A Hampton, Va. native, Allen is the sixth of seven children. Her mom and dad did not finish high school. “My sisters and older brother had their challenges,” she says. “I wanted to experience life. Of the seven of us, no one had actually ever left the area. I was the one who broke free.”
She set her sights on Virginia Tech and planned to become a mechanical engineer. After some internships her junior year, she decided that engineering was not her bag. “I had all these credits toward math, but no direction,” she remembers. She graduated with a math degree and moved to Panama City, Fla. After fumbling through a couple of jobs—including a stint at Blockbuster—she found her way to a job teaching middle school math and science.
“I loved it,” she said. She returned to school to get her teaching credentials, and soon after, got a master’s degree in human resource management. “I wanted to recruit teachers.” She decided to move back home because her parents were ill. “Once you move out, moving back is not as easy,” she says. She started looking for jobs and ended up in Frederick.
“I had no clue what I was doing. I came for an interview at central office for Poolesville High School and got an open contract.” She drove to Poolesville to check it out. The first day of school, it took her an hour and 15 minutes to get to Poolesville. “In Florida, I was seven minutes from the school where I taught.” Colleagues taught her the back roads and soon, she was making it to work in 35 minutes. “That was my introduction to Montgomery County,” she says.
She got into the groove quickly. She kept her day job, but also started teaching night school at Northwood High School and summer school at Quince Orchard High School. After three years, she moved to central office as a math content specialist. “That really opened my eyes. I did a lot of equity work,” Allen says. “That position afforded me the opportunity to learn different ways to teach math and gave me more of a world view.”
Her next job was as an assistant principal at Little Bennett Elementary School, a job she loved.
“Little Bennett grew so fast,” she says. “We went to six portables by my second year; we had more than 800 students. If there was ever a training ground, that was the place.”
After two years at Little Bennett, she spent the next three years as assistant principal at William B. Gibbs, Jr. Elementary School, and later served as a principal intern at Gaithersburg Elementary. In 2013, she was hired as principal at Goshen Elementary.
“My path prepared me for Goshen,” Allen said. “It was a Focus school. It was more than 50 percent FARMS, and we had lots of ESOL students with increased mobility. It was a very diverse school.
“The thing that got me up every day was the look of hope in students’ eyes when they walked in,” Allen said. “Students had whatever it was going on at home, but when they walked in the building, they were at peace. We were their stability; they felt safe there. … We had such a committed staff. With the teacher shortage throughout the county and nationwide, teachers can go anywhere. But if you look at the tenure of the staff, there were teachers there when the brick and mortar were laid. The commitment to that community impressed me.”
Allen served at the helm for six years.
“Goshen was running well; we were growing as a school, staff and community. We’d gotten to a point that it would be good for fresh eyes, to have someone else take it to the next level of excellence. … It was time for me to sharpen that saw.” Nudged by her administrative secretary, Allen applied for the principalship at Snowden Farm. She landed the job.
“It’s exciting and challenging at the same time. One of the things that got sharpened was my patience,” she said with a laugh. “Sitting in construction meetings, I was like a deer in headlights. It surprised me how fast we went from dirt to an actual structure. It seems like it happened overnight.”
Snowden Farm opened on Sept. 3 with about 650 students in kindergarten through fourth grade, plus the Social Emotional Special Education Services program (formerly the ED program). Its general education students came from Wilson Wims Elementary School. She has more than 70 staff members.
“We had a staff meeting where all the teams came together, and I could tell the wheels were turning,” Allen says. “Everyone was looking around at all the different personalities. I spoke to that, saying, ‘That’s by design. We need different people around us to make us grow.’”
She says she has been greatly influenced by her mother.
“She had to drop out [of high school] to take care of younger siblings,” Allen says. “I’ve never seen a more hard-working and determined person. After we all finished high school, she went back and completed her GED. She was only three or four years from being eligible to retire; she didn’t have to do it. … She had a lot on her plate, and she still thought it was important to get her GED. And she did it within a year and a half.”
Allen is in graduate school at Hood College now, taking classes on Saturdays to earn a doctorate in organizational leadership.
Tell Me More
Family: Husband, 13-year-old son, and twin 9-year-old daughters
What’s one thing you couldn’t live without: Dark chocolate
What is one thing you wish for you students: That they leave having choices in their futures and that we give them the foundation they need to choose the path their life takes.
What are three traits that define you: Loyal, dedicated, passionate
If you could do any other job for one day, what would it be: Taking care of babies
If you could learn to do anything, what would it be: Play chess
First ever job: Cashier at Hardee’s
Favorite thing to do: Shop
Favorite color: Purple
Favorite sports teams: Virginia Tech and the Philadelphia Eagles
What do you do when you have 30 minutes of free time: I spend it in silence. I’m the one who drives with no music.
What is the best place you’ve traveled to and why: The Grand Canyon. It’s surreal. Just amazing.
What is the first thing you would buy if you hit the lottery: An apartment complex for abused women—to provide them their own space. The true road to independence is having your own space. That’s how you heal.
Biggest MCPS influence: Dr. Arronza LaBatt. She’s a friend and the twins’ godmother. She’s someone you can cry to when things get tough, and the type to say ‘Suck it up’ when you need that. She will keep it real.
If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be: Barack Obama