December 13, 2014

Smarty Moms: Mary Moss Brown & Vikki-Rose Tunick of Charlotte Lab School

When CSP was first introduced to the ladies behind Charlotte Lab School, we were in complete awe. Together, these women are changing the landscape of education in our community. They are on a mission and are two of the most driven women we’ve ever met.

When Mary Moss Brown and Vikki-Rose Tunick were considering school options for their families, they noticed a huge void in the offerings in the Greater Charlotte Area. Instead of resigning to one of the many schools available to them, they decided to create their own school with their own vision:

To redesign the school experience to better prepare students for success in college and career and to serve, through community partnerships, as a model for innovative practices in teaching and leadership.

These ladies are spearheading change with Charlotte Lab School, opening uptown in fall 2015. The Charlotte Lab School will be the first NC public k-8 charter school located in Center City Charlotte. Utilizing the resources of the City as its expanded classroom, the Charlotte Lab School will provide a rigorous and engaging college preparatory foundation in a small, nurturing, partial-immersion language setting.

Smarties, it’s our privilege to introduce you to Mary Moss-Brown & Vikki-Rose Tunick!

Smarty Mom Stats:

Mary Moss Brown
Married to: Dave
Mom of: Grace 9, James 6
Years in Charlotte: 4
Hometown: Somers, NY
‘hood: Eastover
Alma Mater: Bates College (BS in Self-Designed Major of Children’s Studies), Harvard Graduate School of Education (Masters in Administration, Planning, and Social Policy), Columbia University Teachers College (Doctorate with a focus on Adolescent Education and Public School Leadership)

Mary Moss Brown Fam

Vikki-Rose Tunick
Husband: Marc
Children: Avery 3, Ryder 3 months
Years in Charlotte: 9
Hometown: Scarsdale, NY
Neighborhood: South Charlotte
Alma Mater: Skidmore College (BS in Elementary Education and Spanish), City College of New York (Masters in Literacy), Winthrop University (Masters in Educational Leadership)

Tunik Family

You can meet these two Smarty Moms at upcoming Charlotte Lab School Information Sessions:

– Wednesday, 12/17, 5:30pm: Independence Regional Library
– Please also visit the website to learn more and for additional dates that will be added in January.

You can also contact them directly if you and your group of friends/colleagues/neighbors would like to host a private information session.

How did you become educators?

M – I am a third generation NC educator so I think it is in my blood! I played “school” with my dolls and stuffed animals from the time I was five. During my first couple of years in college I did consider pursuing a career in medicine. I knew, however, in my sophomore year of college after I participated in the Urban Education Semester in NYC, that I wanted to start and lead a school someday.

V – I always knew that I wanted to work with children in some capacity. During high school and college, I spent 3 summers as a daycare center assistant. I believed for a long time that I wanted to open up my own day center until I started working with elementary aged students throughout my college career and found that I had a natural ability for teaching at that age level. Once I started student teaching 3rd and 4th grades, I knew that I had found my true calling.

What has been your experience in education?

M – I have been in education for almost 20 years, starting as an elementary student teacher in 1994 in New York City. I participated in Teach for America in 1996 and was placed as a middle school science teacher in the Bronx. I subsequently taught just about every subject, in grades 2-12, up and down the East coast, in both rural and urban areas, spending most of my career in middle schools. What I’ve learned from teaching in many different schools – both large and small, innovative and traditional, well-resourced and substandard, and with students from all backgrounds – has come down to three basic lessons about what makes schools work:

1. Kids need to care about what they’re learning. They need to believe that what they’re doing matters.

2. Kids need to feel that the educators at their school know them and care about them.

3. Schools need to be places that put the developmental, academic, and social/emotional needs of children ahead of those of the adults and ensure that policies, systems, and structures make sense for those needs.

V – I started my career teaching in New York City, first in a Catholic School in the South Bronx and then in a public school in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn. Through the Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound program, I gained a true appreciation for how students learn best – through experience that is relevant to their lives. When I relocated to Charlotte a few years later, I was looking for a similar school, one where students were learning by doing and were engaged in interdisciplinary projects/expeditions, all the while not realizing that they were learning. While I have worked in a variety of wonderful Title I Schools throughout Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) and Union County Public Schools (UCPS) as a classroom teacher, Site Coordinator for a dropout prevention program, Reading Interventionist and Curriculum Coordinator, I still could not find a school that had the autonomy to teach students in the manner that I felt was best for children.

How did the two of you meet?

V – Mary had recently moved to Charlotte and was coaching a group of principals both through New Leaders and CMS. At the time, CMS was moving towards the Balanced Literacy Workshop Model that Columbia University Teachers College utilizes; the principals that she was working with were new to this model so she brought them to UCPS to see the model in action. When they visited my school, my colleagues and I gave them a tour and spent the day describing how we implement the model, plan our units of study, etc. Little did I know at that time how lucky it was for me to have spent that day with Mary! I kept in touch with her over the next two years and continued to work with some of her principals through professional development. I reached back out to her when I was applying for Assistant Principal positions and asked her for advice on potential schools. She responded, “I have just the school for you!”

How did the idea for Charlotte Lab School begin?

M – As an educator, a nurturing and joyous learning environment, engaging and meaningful curriculum, and an emphasis on global awareness are the qualities I’ve wanted in the schools in which I’ve worked, created, and led. As a parent, these are also the qualities I wanted for my own children, and that I felt were missing from many of the options – public, private, and charter – that were available to my family when we first started looking for schools for my daughter three years ago. After much soul searching, I decided to apply my experience and expertise of teaching, starting and leading successful small schools in New York City, and coaching current and aspiring school leaders, to the Charlotte charter school world. I wanted to create a small, innovative, new public k-8 school option for Charlotte families.

V – Mary has truly been the visionary for this school. Throughout my 15 years as an educator, I have had a picture in my head of a school like Charlotte Lab School; however, that picture never fully came together until Mary described her vision to me. My passion for curriculum, my love of languages (particularly Spanish which I am fluent in) and my deep belief in the experiential learning approach, is what drew me to partner with her. Through her personal and professional connections, she created our founding Board of Directors and together we co-wrote the charter application for the Chartlotte Lab School in 2013.

How is it juggling your two biggest roles – being moms and being school leaders?

M – It has its challenges. We are fortunate to have the support of family, friends, colleagues, board members and frankly, other working moms to make sure that we keep a good balance between our home and work lives. My family, particularly my daughter Grace, has had a lot of input on the school, so what keeps me going is knowing that she and James will be attending the school when it opens. In fact, Grace will be in Charlotte Lab School’s first graduating class! We pride ourselves on the fact that the school is parent/educator-led so it is designed to provide the kind of experiences, opportunities and approaches to teaching and learning that educators and parents alike desire for their own children.

V – I am fortunate that a good friend of mine watches both her son and mine a few days a week; it gives me peace of mind knowing that my son is in good hands throughout this first planning year. Plus I have a vested, personal interest in the school; my daughter Avery is 3½ and Kindergarten is rapidly approaching. While I absolutely love the preschool that she currently attends, I am so excited to be able to create for her and for my son Ryder, the type of school that I have always dreamed of both working at and having my own children attend. It’s funny because people have been telling me how surprised they are that I returned to work so quickly after Ryder was born (he was born Labor Day weekend 2014). As crazy as it sounds, I have been able to get a lot of work done while I’m up for 3am feedings – checking/writing emails, reviewing enrollment and teacher applications, etc. I joke that Charlotte Lab School is like my 3rd child!

So what is next for you both and for Charlotte Lab School?

M – We are currently traveling throughout Charlotte providing information sessions in public libraries, YMCAs, preschools, private homes… any place that will have us! We are accepting student interest forms, which can be found on our website. Our enrollment period begins in mid-January, and we want to get the word out to ensure that parents are informed about this exciting new school. We will open our doors in August 2015 with 280 students in grades kindergarten through fourth. Then, we will grow one grade level each year until we are serving grades kindergarten through eighth, offering a great small environment for the middle school years. I will serve as the Head of School and Vikki will serve as the Assistant Head of School.

As recipients of the Next Generation Learning Challenge grant as a “Breakthrough School Model,” we will also be traveling this winter to the Bay Area, CA and other sites throughout the country to learn best practices from other cutting edge schools. We are looking forward to bringing back great ideas for Charlotte Lab School!

V – So far the school has been well-received by the community, and we are thrilled to have so much interest in having a public school in Uptown Charlotte. We are in the final stages of securing our facility and hope to announce our official location within the next month. I have also been meeting with prospective teachers and staff members; so far I have been impressed by the talented professionals that believe in our school mission and vision. We will continue our search for our founding staff members and will host an information session for teachers in early January.

All in all, we are excited to be part of something that we believe will have an impact on Charlotte and that will grow future leaders within our community and beyond!

lab school green_gray

For more information on Charlotte Lab School:

Mailing Address: PO Box 30034, Charlotte, NC 28230
General Information: Email OR Call 980-277-4522
Student Enrollment Questions & Information: 704-625-6598
Faculty Hiring: 980-819-0652
Informacion en Espanol: 980-231-0958

To learn all about Charlotte Lab School, read our recent feature in the Smarty Education Corner.

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