Roxbury Prep’s Mardi relishes being a leader

“Families look to me as the person they can bring their children to and to keep them safe and learning every day,” says Frankline Mardi. “That’s a big responsibility, and it’s all me now.”
Photo courtesy Roxbury Prep

Frankline Mardi honed her teaching skills in Dorchester at Roxbury Prep’s Magnolia Street campus, but her love of teaching goes back to when she was a student and helped tutor her mother.

Mardi, 28, a Dorchester resident, was appointed as the principal of the Roxbury Prep/Uncommon Schools Dorchester Campus this fall after she spent a year in a training program and four years in the classroom as a history teacher. She said the appointment has brought her joy as she can continue doing exactly what she dreamt of doing: Teaching city kids who share the same kind of upbringing that she had.

“I thought it was very inspiring to teach here and everything I’ve always wanted to do,” she said in a recent interview. “I felt very honored to be able to fulfill that role and to teach students that look like me.”

Mardi said it was important to her to keep living in Dorchester, where many of her students live. Having that community-centered in-school and out-of-school experience only enhances her ability to lead the students and the staff, she said.

“I live in Dorchester because I want to know what’s happening in the neighborhood,” she said. “Sometimes I see my students in the neighborhood or after school. I go to the same places or shop in the same stores they do. I make an effort to go to places like community events that they will be at, so they can see me and see that I’m also a part of the place they live.”

Mardi has been a part of Dorchester since moving here from Florida as a child. She attended the now-closed St. Matthew’s School on Stanton Street through sixth grade, then graduated from the John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science. She noted that she didn’t attend the O’Bryant for math and science, but rather for the traditional high school pathway, where she found great opportunities in the classroom and in school activities.

It was during those primary and high school years that Mardi said her spark for teaching was born – ignited by the satisfaction she got from helping her mother. “She spent most of my childhood trying to get her GED,” she said. “I was able to see her fight to get that GED and then continue her education…I was always there to help my mom with her homework or school. I gave her a little tutoring sometimes and that brought me a lot of joy and helped me to see myself as a teacher.”

Mardi noted that with her being part of an immigrant family in Dorchester, there were a lot of expectations about getting an education and prioritizing that over all other things. It was a key reason she quickly moved on to Mt. Holyoke College after high school and pursued a degree in history and a minor in education. With the degree in hand, she began looking for teaching jobs. “That’s when I found Uncommon Schools,,” she said.

Roxbury Prep/Uncommon Schools is a network of public charter school campuses throughout the city serving about 1,335 students in grades 5-12. Mardi now oversees 280 students in grades 5-8 at the Dorchester campus on Magnolia Street. Other campus locations include the Lucy Stone campus in Dorchester (grades 5-8), the Mission Hill campus (grades 5-8), the Roxbury Prep High School lower campus (grades 9-10) in Hyde Park, and the Roxbury Prep High School upper campus (grades 11-12) in Nubian Square.

Six years ago, she began her first job at Magnolia Street, teaching sixth grade history. While she intended to teach high school at first, she came to enjoy helping middle school students learn.

“Middle school gets a bad rap because they don’t always look like kids, but they feel like kids sometimes,” she said. “They are going through so many changes…When you ‘get’ middle school, you know you’ve earned it because it takes a lot to get that buy-in and get them excited. You know you have it when they are all in.”

After assuming leadership roles in the History department and other areas of the Dorchester campus, Mardi was tapped for a fellowship training program for principals. Working under another principal, she left the classroom last year to learn how to run a school. It was a challenge, she said, figuring out how to build relationships with students while not in a classroom environment. The same was true of building relationships with staff.

In late August, she got word that she would be the next principal of the Dorchester campus. “This year it’s definitely even more strange because my principal isn’t here anymore,” she said. “It’s not a fellowship anymore. It is my school now. It is a real privilege to have 40 staff come to you for leadership and guidance constantly. Families look to me as the person they can bring their children to and to keep them safe and learning every day. That’s a big responsibility, and it’s all me now.”

So far, Mardi is embracing that role and looking to create some of her own initiatives, including bringing joy back into the building after a few years of Covid-time stress. Some of them include community meetings of the whole school four days a week, as well as a return of frequent field trips. Already, the classes have visited the Blue Hills Reservation for a hike, with many more trips planned – as opposed to last year when they were only allowed one field trip all year.

“I want to create more joy in the school…and I’m starting by being the face of that joy every day,” she said.

Subscribe to the Dorchester Reporter