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How One Flint School Leader Uses Humble Beginnings to Propel Her Leadership

Kelsey Pardue  |  April 23, 2021

This is our fourteenth installment in the What is a DSQ?” blog series.

Born and raised in Flint, Mich., Deonna Washington has a strong passion for her community and city. Washington is entering her first year as director of school quality (DSQ) at National Heritage Academies (NHA) with extensive knowledge, a fervent love of education, grit, and motivation to influence.

“Growing up in Flint my academic experiences were limited,” said Washington. “I didn't have the same level of exposure to rigorous academic opportunities as my peers who attended districts outside of my urban community. Knowing that I am changing educational experiences for our current generation of students is what motivates me every day. Working with educators that support our urban students allows me to ensure that scholars are provided the academic opportunities that will prepare them for higher learning.”

Because she experienced those social gaps firsthand, Washington is best equipped to help students and advocate for them.



“I understand the social implications that impact our student’s education,” said Washington. “For example, I grew up in a household with a single mother. My extended family members provided the support that an additional parent could have provided when it came to my social and academic needs. Because of this, I push my students to understand that while they may experience social or academic gaps, they don’t have to hinder their future successes. I take time to build relationships with students and families to support them in the way my family did for me.”



Washington shares that she understands what it means to be exposed to poverty, violence, death, hunger, or a lack of resources or shelter while growing up in Flint.  “I can stand in front of kids and say: ‘I come from the north side of Flint just like you. I promise you if you focus on your studies, then these are the benefits that you can reap.’ Kids believe me because they’ve seen someone who looks like them achieve success.”

For Washington, the NHA difference is a strong belief that every child can achieve.

“I can feel it in my bones here within NHA, and that’s what has kept me here,” she said. “What separates NHA from the rest is that we don't just talk the talk, we walk the walk. We live out our core values and continue to strive to be the best. We are always on the cutting edge of growth and development to make sure that our kids are thriving regardless of what community we serve.”



Washington graduated from Michigan State University (MSU) with a degree in English and a love for literacy. She identifies herself as a leader with a passion for curriculum and instruction.  Washington started her educational career as a high school teacher and the founder of an alternative education program before transitioning to NHA. For the past six years, she’s served as principal at Linden Charter Academy. During her tenure there, Linden was recognized as an Emerging State School of Character by Character.org and a five star school of excellence in 2018-19 and 2019-20.

When asked “What makes Deonna, Deonna?” she paused and reflected on an experience she had while attending MSU. “I was shocked at the level of rigorous high school experiences that some of my peers discussed. For me, I had the task of teaching myself something that my peers had previously learned before entering college,” she said. “Knowing that I had to work twice as hard due to my lack of exposure increased my dedication and drive for education.”

Washington’s experiences fuel her desire to ensure that her students do not experience what she experienced. “I'm a strong believer and an advocate for ‘when you know better, you do better.’ My kids’ journey doesn't have to look like my journey.” 

As a leader, Washington aims to create opportunities for collaboration in any circumstance. “There’s a need for everyone to have a voice and a stake in what's being done. This goes for students, staff, parents, and even community members,” she said. “When you listen to the voices, you have the opportunity to create a collaborative awareness, and people feel like they have played a part in what’s happening within the school community.”

Washington’s experiences fuel her desire to ensure that her students do not experience what she experienced. “I'm a strong believer and an advocate for ‘when you know better, you do better.’ My kids’ journey doesn't have to look like my journey.” 

As a leader, Washington aims to create opportunities for collaboration in any circumstance. “There’s a need for everyone to have a voice and a stake in what's being done. This goes for students, staff, parents, and even community members,” she said. “When you listen to the voices, you have the opportunity to create a collaborative awareness, and people feel like they have played a part in what’s happening within the school community.”

As she immerses herself into her role as DSQ, Washington acknowledges the changes that come with this role. By nature, Washington is a “roll your sleeves up and get in the trenches kind of girl,” and she doesn’t plan to change that even in the DSQ role. Instead, it’s, “What do the trenches look like from a DSQ lens?”

By working alongside individuals, she shows that she is there to support them and provide whatever resources she can. “As a DSQ, I am removed from the day-to-day routines of one specific building, but that doesn't mean that I can't integrate my knowledge to support and be a part of what's happening in my schools,” she said.

As she immerses herself into her role as DSQ, Washington acknowledges the changes that come with this role. By nature, Washington is a “roll your sleeves up and get in the trenches kind of girl,” and she doesn’t plan to change that even in the DSQ role. Instead, it’s, “What do the trenches look like from a DSQ lens?”

Washington’s portfolio of schools includes Atlanta Heights Charter SchoolEast Arbor Charter AcademyFortis AcademyMetro Charter AcademyTaylor Exemplar Academy, and Quest Charter Academy

By working alongside individuals, she shows that she is there to support them and provide whatever resources she can. “As a DSQ, I am removed from the day-to-day routines of one specific building, but that doesn't mean that I can't integrate my knowledge to support and be a part of what's happening in my schools,” she said.