Meet Principal Dawn Clemens
Principal Dawn Clemens comes to the Capitol Hill Cluster School with 20-plus years experience in education. She has served six years as a principal, seven years as an assistant principal, six years as a high school teacher, and two years on the board of trustees at the American School in Singapore. Ms. Clemens has worked in high-poverty schools, affluent high-achieving communities, urban charter schools, and international schools with students from diverse countries. Her goal at each has been to raise academic standards and to involve parents and the community so that each student has the support needed to thrive.
Ms. Clemens, in a letter to the school community, described her goals for the Cluster School: “I want to ensure that the students we send to high school arrive with an engrained love of learning and that they carry this desire into their teenage and adult years.” Her stated mission: “to create a lower school experience with teachers, administrators, and parents working together to instill morals, personal values, and a love of learning within a safe, academically rigorous community.”
Ms. Clemens is also eager to cultivate the successful arts integration program at each campus and to reinvigorate the Cluster’s role as a museum magnet school, creating partnerships that will allow students to take full advantage of educational opportunities (in the sciences, arts, history, government, and more) at local museums.
D.C. School Chancellor Kaya Henderson, in announcing Ms. Clemens’s position at the Cluster School, wrote: “Ms. Clemens’s diverse experiences are marked by a strong emphasis on rigorous academic instruction as well as a focus on parent involvement, community engagement, and arts integration.”
The daughter of an Air Force pilot and a teacher, Ms. Clemens grew up in Alaska, Colorado, and Florida. She graduated from California’s Pomona College and went on to receive advanced degrees in education and education administration from Claremont Graduate School and California State University at Fullerton.
Ms. Clemens’s academic career began as a high school teacher. Ms. Clemens recalls: “I became a teacher because I love children and because I want to spend my days giving back. I also want to relive some of the best times of my life: school!”
After six years teaching, Ms. Clemens moved to school administration so that she could bring about change on a larger scale. She worked first as activities director for a 2,500-pupil high-tech high school in Santa Ana, California. Here, she designed afterschool activities that kept students engaged on campus, created business partnerships to support the school, and developed a fundraising committee. She next served as assistant principal in an Orange County, California, high school that was undergoing redistricting. Ms. Clemens helped new and old students come together as a united school community, oversaw discipline, and managed an aging physical plant.
An enthusiastic traveler, Ms. Clemens has visited 72 countries and lived in Spain and Singapore, as well as the United States. In Singapore, she became principal of the Overseas Family School, an international school that created a true family community for students from 56 countries. Here Ms. Clemens focused on academics, creating a British A-level program and an International Baccalaureate program. While abroad, Ms. Clemens was appointed to the board of trustees of the Singapore American School, one of the world’s top international schools. Says Ms. Clemens, “This experience gave me an appreciation for the larger business aspects of running a financially solvent, healthy school.”
After living overseas eight years and taking time off to raise her two daughters (now in college), Ms. Clemens re-entered the U.S. work force in 2008. She worked first as a principal at St. Michael the Archangel (kindergarten through eigth grade) in Silver Spring. Most recently, Ms. Clemens served as elementary school principal and middle school assistant principal at the District’s Community Academy Public Charter School, Amos III Campus, where she developed tutoring programs to help students reach grade-level goals. Under her leadership, Amos III reading scores rose by 30% and math by 16%.
This summer, Ms. Clemens enthusiastically joined the Cluster community. “I am impressed by the incredible dedication of the staff and the parents,” noted Clemens, two month into her new job. “I loved my years in Singapore as the American community there was extremely close knit. We became a family because being in another culture necessitated relying on and supporting each other. I feel that I am ‘back home’ at the Cluster as I am once again in a family of learners who care passionately about education and their children.”
Ms. Clemens, at a recent meeting with Cluster School parents, offered the following advice: “First, make sure your scholars are at school on time each day, and please do not pick them up early. We cannot teach your children if they aren’t here!” Further, “Motivate your children to learn. Light their fire! Make learning fun.” And, finally, “Read to your children!” urged Clemens, who has a passion for children’s literature (and a personal collection of more than 5,000 children’s books). “Reading will help them focus. It will improve their vocabulary. It will improve their comprehension. And you and your child will remember those times when you were cuddled up reading together for the rest of your lives.”
“Young children are intrinsically motivated, enthusiastic, and full of energy to explore their environment,” says Ms. Clemens, who hopes to cultivate and sustain that youthful energy at the Capitol Hill Cluster School. “I want each child under my tutelage to yearn to come to school on a daily basis.”
Office Hours: As principal of the Cluster School, Ms. Clemens spends Mondays at Peabody, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at Stuart-Hobson, and Thursdays and Fridays at Watkins. Please welcome her!