Bridging the gaps: New Burley principal has big plans

As a Black woman, Kasaundra Blount feels honored to be the new principal at Burley Middle School, a former all-Black high school. PC: John Robinson As a Black woman, Kasaundra Blount feels honored to be the new principal at Burley Middle School, a former all-Black high school. PC: John Robinson

Kasaundra Blount felt stagnant. She had worked at Armstrong High School in her hometown of Richmond—first as a social studies teacher, then an assistant principal—for several years, and was ready for a new challenge.

So she accepted an assistant principal position at Albemarle High School. “There was a lot of conversation going on around makerspaces and project-based learning, and that really piqued my interest,” she says, as well as “up-and-coming work in cultural responsiveness.” Soon she became the school’s equity and diversity administrator. And now, five years later, she’s landed her biggest gig yet: Burley Middle School’s principal.

Despite the uncertainty of the upcoming school year, Blount has big aspirations for Burley, with a strong focus on culturally responsive teaching, which puts students’ cultural backgrounds and experiences at the center of every aspect of learning. Burley, with around 50 percent non-white students, is among the most diverse schools in the county.

“I want to make sure we are keeping our data in front of us at all times,” says Blount, who is a member of the division’s anti-racism steering committee. “We can easily get assessment data from students based on [their] performance, but there’s so many other data points that I want us to begin collecting and using, in order to inform where our gaps are in achievement and relationships—that’s going to provide that level of connectivity to allow cultural responsiveness to bridge those gaps.”

Blount also wants to give students more opportunities to delve into their interests and passions by creating after-school (or Saturday) exploratory academies in partnership with community organizations.

“I want [the academies] set up by interest, so students can jump in and start exploring what’s down the road,” she says. “While some of them may already know that they want to be pediatricians or teachers, they may not know that their love for social studies could lead them to archaeology. …By the time they get to high school, they’ll already have a path that they’re interested in.”

Blount, a graduate of Hampton University, entered the education field 21 years ago and has worked as a teacher and administrator in multiple schools around Virginia and North Carolina.

“All three schools where I served as an assistant principal were very different,” says Blount, who also holds a master’s degree in teaching secondary education from Hampton, a certification in administration and supervision from Virginia Commonwealth University, and is currently pursuing a doctorate in educational management at Hampton. “That in itself really, really [helped] cultivate my leadership [skills], and prepare me for this position now.”

As a Black woman, Blount says she feels honored to be principal at Burley, which was an all-Black high school for city and county students from 1951 to 1967.

“The legacy and the history behind Burley Middle School has enthralled me for so long,” she says. “Because of the efforts of those students who attended Burley High School, and other schools that were set up like that similarly throughout the South… I have [the opportunity] to be able to sit at the helm of Burley right now. That is tremendously humbling.”

“It’s such a revered legacy that I want to make sure it continues to be deeply cemented throughout this community,” she says, pointing to Burley varsity club and alumni as important community networks. “I am supportive of everything they want to do to ensure that the legacy of Burley is one that will live on—way beyond my years.”

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