Two FAMU alumni working to improve Pineview Elementary

Principal and assistant principal Carmen Connor and Oronde Mckhan in the schools washer and dryer center. Photo by Devante J. Carroll

The job of a school principal entails working year-round to manage school operations and day-to-day school activities. A principal oversees staff and teachers while coordinating curriculums and providing students with a safe and productive learning environment. Principal Carmen Connor and assistant principal Oronde Mckhan of Pineview Elementary seem to do a lot more than that.

Both graduated from Florida A&M University. Connor received a bachelor’s in elementary education in 1997, and a master’s in educational leadership in 2007. Mckhan graduated in 2005 and was a member of the Marching 100.

Pineview, a Title I school located on the south side of Tallahassee, deals with more than what most schools could imagine. For starters, it’s in an urban area that doesn’t look good. Many of the households are not making much money, which affects the students who attend the school.

“Our students come to school with adult problems,” Connor said.

Connor decided to create a parent center dedicated to the parents whose children attend the school. The parent center includes a food pantry where every Friday students can take food home to last them through the weekend.

“We have 390 students and 120 of them come to the food pantry every Friday to make sure they get their backpacks full of snacks and other foods,” Connor said. “And let me tell you, they don’t forget because they know that they don’t have much food at home.”

Pineview receives its pantry food from Second Harvest. It also has a community food pantry outside the school, where people in the community can walk up and get what they want out of the pantry.

Connor says the room she turned into a parent center was not in use before she got to Pineview. It was a room that was locked and blocked off and nobody used the room until she became principal two years ago. She realized how much space the room had and its potential, so she decided to do something with it.

After noticing that children were not coming to school because, among other reasons, they didn’t have clean clothes, she added a washer and dryer center where parents can come and do their child’s laundry. If the parents have a toddler, they can bring the toddler with them as there are educational games and coloring books to occupy them while the parent handles the laundry.

In September, Pineview was awarded nearly $30,000 from three different grants from the Leon County Schools Foundation. It was the most money awarded to one school, as the foundation that year awarded 16 grants to 11 schools for the 2019-2020 school year totaling $120,118. The funding will help students do basic coding, build robots, play piano, golf, read at higher levels and attend performances hosted by FSU.

“The washer and dryers were donated once the word got out about what I wanted to do,” Connor said. “We took them down the road to an appliance store and they repainted and refurbished them to make them look new.”
Two couches were also donated to give the parent center a comfortable and homey feel.

The parent center also has laptops that were donated by TCC. The laptops have Rosetta Stone programmed on them so parents who don’t speak English can learn. Connor says many of the parents don’t speak English, but their child can. So, she has to go through translation from the child to the parent, which is why the Rosetta Stone program came into place. It will also help get those parents involved with their child so they can learn together.

Some of the grant money was also used to turn an old break room for employees into an on-campus barbershop. It was an idea that assistant principal Mckhan came up with.

“Some of the parents are just not fortunate enough to get their child a haircut every two weeks,” Mckhan said. “Some kids would come to school who hadn’t had a haircut in months and I wanted to change that.” Mckhan linked up with barbers from the barbering program at Lively Technical College to come to Pineview every two weeks for the entire school day to give students haircuts. For the barbers, it counts as volunteer hours that they need for their curriculum, so it’s a win-win situation for all parties involved.

Single parent Tyrishia Thomas benefits from the barbershop her sons go to every two weeks. “With me being a single parent the barbershop really helps,” Thomas said. “And it’s not just me, the barbershop helps many other parents in my situation. My sons didn’t receive a haircut for a year until they put the barbershop at school.”

As both principals continue to strive to make their school a better environment for students and parents, the sky’s the limit. Connor has many other ideas in her book of projects, but says they need to focus on one thing at a time.