Q&A with Maricopa High School Principal Deana McNamee

Deana McNamee took over as principal at Maricopa High School this year.. Photo by Victor Moreno

Born and raised in Northern Arizona, Deana McNamee was an administrator at Winslow Unified School District when she was named this year as principal of Maricopa High School. A graduate of Winslow High School, she earned a degree in art education at Northern Arizona University and taught art at Holbrook High School eight years before joining the staff at Winslow High. She has been an athletic coach, adviser and administrator.

What do you find to be the biggest difference between Winslow and Maricopa High School?

There really isn’t any huge difference. The kids are great. The staff is dedicated and amazing. I would say the biggest difference is the size itself and just working with the number of staff we have on campus and the number of students we serve. But the diversity is very similar. That’s what I enjoy, and that’s why I’m here, because it’s just a very diverse community. They’re very dedicated to their students. It’s very enjoyable in that regard.

What is MHS’s estimated enrollment?

We are increasing enrollment. We’re a little up and down. I believe the last count was around 2,600. Those were kids showing up.

All schools have had issues with glitches in tech and logging in. Have those been solvable for Maricopa High School?

We’ve been able to tackle it. I think our biggest challenge has been not knowing what struggles and frustrations the families are experiencing. So, we really encourage that line of communication and that partnership in trying to figure it out. When we’re aware, we can either troubleshoot here if it’s minor, which in most cases it is, or if it’s on a bigger scale, we definitely partner with the district’s technology team to resolve those issues.

Photo by Victor Moreno

One thing Distance Learning has relieved for MHS is the overcrowding. What do you think that will look like this year when students get back in class?

I feel like we’re still going to have a lot of bodies on campus. So, to prepare for that, it’s really about, again working with families so that we can keep everyone safe, students and staff included, making sure we’re communicating our safety protocols and procedures. It’s going to be a lot of bodies, so ensuring that we are all doing our best to keep each other safe is key, and just working together to ensure that happens. I think the district has been very proactive in their approach to a return to campus and what that looks like. It’s really been a team effort across the district. The district website is a wealth of resources for that communication, so we’re constantly directing families to the website because that’s where that information is being disseminated.

Beyond learning during COVID, what is your goal for Maricopa High School?

Having been here the short time I’ve been here, I’m still learning what it means to be a student or even an educator at Maricopa High School, but I see there’s a lot of great things happening here. I think the goal is to share those great things with the rest of the educational community and the community of Maricopa. There’s good things happening here. I just don’t think we’re collecting the data or providing the evidence to show the greatness that’s occurring and the learning that’s happening.

At your previous schools did you work with any internal schools like Ram Academy and the new Virtual Academy?

Yes, we did use Edgenuity at my previous district, so I’m very well-versed in Edgenuity. We did have an alternative program similar to Ram Academy for students who just didn’t find success in the regular school setting.

How would you describe what student success looks like?

I think student success right now is a high school diploma and some kind of post-secondary plan, whatever that is for that kid. I think that is successful. That could be preparing them or helping them plan for a college or university. It could be trade school. It could be community college. It could be military, or it could be the workforce. We would define success as, yes, our kids are graduating with a plan. It’s not just, ‘Woo-hoo, I’m done. Now what?’ Helping them find purpose once they’re beyond our campus I think is a successful indicator.

What in your background is your greatest advantage as principal?

I would say that being a minority myself [she is Navajo] and working with the diverse population here, I can definitely relate to the diversity here. I also feel a strength of mine is the ability to listen; I have a lot of experience. I worked in the alternative school. I have a variety of experiences. I think having that broad education and experience and bringing that to this school gives me the advantage of understanding the various mechanisms at work here. There’s a lot of things happening at the same time and having an understanding of each of those moving parts to some degree does help, especially with a large campus such as this.

What is your advice to parents to relieve the stress of the way the school year has started?

Let’s communicate. Every year a strong partnership between the district and families is essential to student success. This crazy year is no different. It may be even more important that we continue to partner together to ensure our students find success with managing technology, with ensuring that their assignments are turned in, with connecting to teachers, to asking questions. To providing that social emotional support. Our students, our adults are struggling at this time, and we have those resources here.

What do you see as MHS’s greatest challenge to get to be the B school – and even A school – they want to be?

I don’t know if it’s a challenge but it’s a great area of focus to identify the big-picture goal and get us all moving in the same direction.

What is the greatest thing you’ve learned from your students in the course of your career?

That our students value to be understood, to be heard. So, I reference not only partnering with families to ensure student success, but it is important to partner with students to ensure their own success. They’re in it. They have a voice. So, to listen and honor their journey and support them through it and with them is what I’ve learned the most about kids.

This story appears in the September issue of InMaricopa magazine.