Natalie Catin-St Louis
She is originally from NY but was born in Haiti. With English, not being her first language, she has firsthand experience with what it feels like to be an English Language Learner. Her immigrant story is one of the reasons why she's so dedicated to education. Attending public schools all her life, she appreciates and understands the need for good public community schools. A public education is what gave her the opportunity to have a career she's so passionate about. She was the founding principal for Cleveland Elementary School at Mastery Charter. Cleveland is a Renaissance Charter school that is a neighborhood school in North Philadelphia. Under her leadership, the data shows Cleveland students made remarkable gains in both reading and math as well as Science every year.
Natalie began her teaching career in the South Bronx as a lower elementary teacher in 2002. While teaching in New York, she obtained graduate degrees from both Columbia University, Teachers College and Bank Street College. Natalie later served as a Reading Specialist, coaching Kindergarten to sixth grade teachers before moving to Pennsylvania to work for the School District of Philadelphia. While at the School District of Philadelphia, she was an Instructional Reform Facilitator (IRF) in charge of interpreting data, coaching struggling teachers, delivering professional development and conducting informal observations. Natalie is excited to be rejoining the school district as a school leader. She's even more honored to be leading a public community school is South Philly. Natalie is dedicated to urban education and plans to always serve children and their families to ensure all students attending Nebinger Elementary has access to a sound education that focuses on the whole-child.
What is a defining moment in your career and life? I am about to be 40 years old!! That itself is defining. Seriously though, I am a mother, a wife, a daughter and a sister--- each of those roles hold their own defining moments that have shaped me into who I am today—
What challenges have you faced as a woman of color in your field and how did you overcome them? I’m sure I’m not alone as a woman of color when I say many times I walk into a room of all white folk and the look on many faces read—how did she get here? She’s not supposed to be here… uh oh another angry black woman we will have to tame… it’s in those moments I push myself to rise to the challenge—I have strong conviction and beliefs of how children learn and the potential every child brings with them to school every day. It may sound like a cliché, but I truly believe that all children have the capacity to learn. That education can and will change lives. I don’t just talk it; I live and breathe it every day—and the proof is in the pudding as the saying goes: my data, the school environment I’ve created, the team I’ve put together, the amount of support from the community is a testament to that and when I walk into those rooms where people are questioning my intentions or qualifications, I go back to what I have been able to do; it’s through conversations, building relationships and actions I take, I show that I belong. It’s evident, I have earned it. I cringe when I think that feeling of not belonging or not being good enough is one that my daughter may encounter even as the world is modernizing, the way we look at race has not changed or modernized—still in this day, we are first judged by the color of their skin. Again, this is why education is so important—it’s the one thing that no one can take away from you—once you are educated, it’s the best weapon to defeat the race issues we are encountering in our institutions.
What woman inspires you and why? There are so many starting with my mother who immigrated to this country for a better way of life. She had the courage, the intelligence and the drive to make it in this country. It’s because of her, I am where I am today. I can also list people like Dr. Helen Richardson, Dr. Sonya Harrison- both mentors, or I can name women such as Beyoncé, Michelle Obama – powerful women that are comfortable in their own skin; woman that have embraced what it means to be a black woman in this lifetime. But if I had to name one in particular, the winner would have to be my little Nia Mandela, my daughter. Although she is so young, she inspires me to be my best self. She pushes me to find balance, to prioritize, to spend energy on what matters most and above all she fills me with love. I thought after giving birth I would have to put my professional life on hold in order to care for her but it’s been the reverse—when I’m with her, she makes me want more out of life. Because of her, I want to work harder, to strive for more so I can be the best role model for her—I need her to know that limits are what we set for ourselves--- the opportunities in this country are limitless as long as we work hard and believe in our own possibilities.
What is your advice to the younger generation of women coming after you? Honestly, life is life— it will knock you down and it will make you question yourself at times but to keep pushing forward and working towards your dream—no one can get in your way except for yourself! I would tell them to tap into their Black Girl Magic and simply believe in themselves. I must also say, surround yourself with people who LOVE you and see you for your worth. I have a super supportive husband that believes in me and in the goals I set for myself. He is a true partner in every sense.
What does being a part of the African Diaspora mean to you? I’m at a crossroad in my career—trying to think of my next move. So I was discussing different possibilities with a mentor. She gave me such awesome advice and after I thanked her for her time and advice she said—“Natalie, I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. I’ve been blessed to be a blessing!” I was like whoa… that is my ultimate goal—is to do my best to pave a path for others. To share what I have learned. I also feel a deep responsibility to continue the equity fight in how children of color are educated in this country. I also feel a sense of pride, identity and belonging within the African Diaspora. I know I am not alone in this fight to ensure a proper education for all children especially immigrants. We understand and appreciate the power of education.