Photo: Carl Watson is Pittsburgh Morrow PreK-8’s new principal. He is a graduate of the Pittsburgh Public Schools system. Photo by Sean P. Ray
By Sean P. Ray | Managing Editor
While teachers are the school personnel students most often interact with, principals also play a vital role in the education of students. Pittsburgh Public Schools in the Northside received three new principals this year, each representing a possible change in direction for their respective schools.
The Chronicle caught up with these new principals, asking them to introduce themselves to the wider community and also to talk about how their first few months in office have gone, as well as their vision for the future.
Carl Watson – Pittsburgh Morrow PreK-8
Carl Watson is no stranger to Pittsburgh Morrow PreK-8. He’s served as a teacher there and even as vice principal, though he’s spent the last four years at Perry Traditional Academy.
As such, when he got the opportunity to become Morrow’s full-time principal, it felt like something special.
“I feel like I’m back home,” Watson said.
A graduate of the Pittsburgh Public Schools system himself, Watson grew up as a “proud resident of Manchester,” as he put it. He attended Manchester Elementary School, moving on to Columbus Traditional Academy and then Langley High School.
He first became interested in education as a career when he learned about the Teaching is Caring program at then-Carlow College, now referred to as Carlow University. The program was seeking more Black men to get involved in teaching, and Watson’s parents both encouraged him to pursue it.
It turned out to be a life-changing decision. Watson has spent 21 years in education, including teaching at Woolslair Elementary School, King PreK-8 and his aforementioned times at Morrow and Perry.
While initially serving as a teacher, Watson decided to join school administration because he wanted to be able to focus on all kids at his school, and serve as a role model for each of them.
“I wanted to have more control on the decisions that were being made for the kids,” Watson said. “I wanted to make a suggestion and be heard. I wanted to have a better effect on the kids.”
His vision for the school is an ambitious one. He wants to turn Pittsburgh Morrow into a staple school of the Northside, one that all children living in the area want to attend, rather than having to wake up early and go to a school across town.
He even wants to see the school expand beyond the Northside in terms of its attendance.
“My goal is to eventually have it here where we are attracting kids from all over the city,” he said. “I would love to turn this school into a neighborhood magnet school.”
Just as his parents were the one to inspire him to get into education, so too do they have an impact on how he goes about his job. Watson mentioned that the way his father raised him is how he learned to treat kids.
“I treat the children here like I treat my children at home, and it’s been working so far,” he said.
Due to his past history at Morrow, Watson already knows many of his colleagues at the school and several of the families who send students there. In fact, due to having previously taught first grade at the school, some of his current seventh and eighth grade students were former pupils of his when he was a teacher.
For Watson, the best parts of education is the knowledge that what he’s doing will positively affect the future, and seeing the exact point when a child has fully learned what they’re being taught.
“I love that moment when a child realizes they learned something,” he said. “That smile, that ‘Yes, I did it!’”
Michael Barbone – Pittsburgh Allegheny K-5
Originally hailing from New Jersey, living just outside the boundaries of New York City, Michael Barbone came to Pittsburgh when he decided to attend Duquesne University to pursue his dream of becoming a music teacher.
Now he’s taken that dream one step further and stepped into the role of principal at Pittsburgh Allegheny K-5 located right next to the National Aviary in Central Northside.
Barbone said he became motivated to start working for Pittsburgh Public Schools in 2011 while at Duquesne. He student taught at Beechwood and Whittier elementary schools and, after graduation, became a substitute for Pittsburgh Public Schools right out of college.
He was soon able to land a full time position teaching at Miller African-Centered Academy, located in the Hill District. While he certainly enjoyed his time as a music teacher there, it also opened his eyes to the wider ways he could be involved in his students’ educations.
“Being a music teacher and a special teacher, you get to work with every single student in the building, and work with all the staff and all the families,” he said. “That motivated me to pursue administration.”
Under the guidance of Dr. Margaret Starkes, Miller’s principal, he became an acting principal and later assistant principal, gaining his first experience in working administration. Eventually, the opportunity arose to become a full principal in his own right, and he took it.
For Barbone, education is one of the most vital fields someone can commit themselves toward doing.
“It’s so important that I feel like it’s a service worth dedicating your life towards,” he said.
So far he’s been enjoying himself in the role of principal, even as his workload has become quite significant. He described his first few weeks in office as “certainly busy” and “non-stop.”
Barbone’s musical background actually plays a significant role in his new position.
“We have such a strong music program here (at Allegheny) with phenomenal teachers and support from the community and families, and I really want to make sure” it continues, he said.
One thing he’s especially keen on is making sure the musical performed at the school goes off this year without a hitch.
As for whether he has his eyes set higher, perhaps as a superintendent, Barbone has a definite answer to that question.
“No, absolutely not,” he said. “I can definitively say no to that. I’m really excited to set my roots here.”
Molly O’Malley-Argueta – Perry Traditional Academy
Unlike Watson and Barbone, Molly O’Malley-Argueta is not new to the job of being a principal, though she is new to the school she’s overseeing this year.
She previously served as the principal at Pittsburgh Allegheny K-5 for the past 12 years. Before that, she was an assistant principal at the former Peabody High School and Brashear High School, and got her start in education teaching at Oliver High School.
Returning to a high school setting after working in an elementary school for over a decade is something O’Malley-Argueta is trying to get used to in her new position. On top of that is the challenge of getting to know all of her new students across all grade levels, something she takes very seriously.
“I think walking into the school and not knowing the students’ names, that bugs me,” she said.
For O’Malley-Argueta, making sure her school has a conducive environment for learning is her number one task. She hopes to serve as both a support for both students and teachers, that goal being the thing that made her get interested in serving in administration.
“I think my philosophy is fairly simple,” she said. “When a school is safe and welcoming and structured and there’s high expectations, all students can learn at a high level.”
It’s not all seriousness for O’Malley-Argueta though. She said students like to joke with her about the fact she wears high-heels when walking into the school, but usually abandons them for something more comfortable once she’s actually working. She also forgoes coffee for Diet Coke as her drink of choice.
Still, O’Malley-Argueta has big plans for the school. She, working with teacher Aaron Taylor, is hoping to revive the Perry Academy band, something the school hasn’t had for many years.
O’Malley-Argueta said what she most enjoys about education is the chance to put her own creative touch on a school, and make it a place everyone wants to go to.
“I like the students,” she said. “I like just being around students, I like taking a school and making it our own.”