During the busy spring graduation season, UMOJA had the chance to speak with Dr. Becky Peterson, now in her second year as Principal of MMSD’s Marquette Elementary School and 21st year in Education, about how she found her professional calling and what it’s really like these days to serve in that important role.

UMOJA: Let’s talk about your career journey.  Why did you choose the field of Education?

BP: I really got into it through my love of history.  History is a field that enlightens me.  I studied it in college and got my teaching license to teach social studies so that I could share my passion with young people.  I taught Middle School Social Studies for 10 years before moving up to High School where I served as Multi-Cultural Services Coordinator and later Dean of Students for 9th grade students at East High School.  That experience really opened my eyes to the importance of really listening to students and teachers to understand their whole lived experiences and what will help them get them back in the classroom and on their academic journeys.  

Then I had an opportunity to take an administrator role in an elementary schools and spent 6 years as an Assistant Principal at Leopold Elementary, before becoming the Principal at Marquette Elementary School.  (She recently received her Doctorate in Education from   Edgewood College in May 2022.)

UMOJA: Do you remember the moment you decided or had an inkling that educational leadership was a good fit for you?

BP: It wasn’t a single moment, but more of a growing realization.  I was already teaching and thought “I could do this forever…”

UMOJA: Was there a person or experience that influenced your decision?

BP: Not a single person or instance, but I’ve modeled my teaching style after some great teachers and professors I’ve had over the years.

UMOJA: What did you think a career in education was going to be like and what is it really like?

BP: (Laughs) Day in and day out – it’s different, never the same.  And that’s what I love.  In education school, they you prepare for various scenarios and situations and you think “I’ve got it,” but then you show up for your student teaching class and it’s entirely different.   You never know what you’re going to get — especially working with young people.  They are the most honest people you will ever meet!

UMOJA: Why did you decide to become a principal?

BP: I realized I could make a broader impact on the students and professionals in that role.

UMOJA: What are the top three common misperceptions of what it’s like to be a principal?

BP: I’m sure there are many, but there is really only one true answer:  Principals don’t sit in their offices all day telling people what to do. “We do whatever needs to be done.”

UMOJA:  How would you describe your principal style (in 3 words)?

BP: My style can be summarized as: 1) Having high expectations for everyone; 2) We do everything in excellence; and 3) We learn and grow together.  Hands-down, I believe we have the best staff who stay laser-focused on excellence in education.   Their mindset is all about excellence for students and finding opportunities for students to belong.  I like to tell everyone:  “We’re the best school east *and west* of the Mississippi!”  

I guess I could also add:  “Out and About!” as I am rarely in my office and make it a point to get out and get to meet with and know the students and staff.   Every morning, I go by every classroom and greet everyone – the teachers and students.  And sometimes I just go and hang out in classrooms to see what’s happening.  One time a student asked me: “Dr. Peterson, What do you do all day?  Do you just sit in your office?”  The kid next to them jumped in “No – Don’t you see?  She sits in our classroom and looks at us! “

UMOJA: What is the funniest thing that’s happened to you since you’ve become a principal?

BP: Funny things are happening all the time!  It’s hard to choose just one.  Since I received my doctorate in 2022, the kids call me “Ms. Doctor Peterson.”  One child came to me wide-eyed and asked “Do you mean you have two jobs – you’re a principal and a doctor?”

UMOJA: What advice do you have for anyone thinking about entering the field?

BP: We need you!  We need people who believe in excellence for all children and who are passionate about teaching.

UMOJA: Do you remember your own High School graduation?  How did you feel?

BP: I was excited; I was afraid of what would happen next; and I was relieved because I had worked hard to get there.

UMOJA: What do you know now that you wish you knew then?

BP: That I needed to blaze my own path and not follow in the footsteps of others.

UMOJA: What advice would you tell recent High School graduates?

BP: Find something that makes you happy.