Faculty & Staff Profiles
Sheri-lyn Carrow teaches Durham Academy’s youngest students. Her pre-kindergarten class is about as orderly as a room full of 4-year-olds can be, yet there’s no list of rules, no do’s and don’ts. That’s not the way Carrow operates.
“If you’re your best person every day, if you do your best as a student and work your hardest, then that’s all you can ask of yourself. That’s the rule in my class.”
It’s a credo Carrow has followed throughout her life: when she was captain of her high school color guard, then drum major for the marching band; when she worked as a waitress in high school and college and made enough in tips to buy a car; when the challenges of her first teaching job led her to leave the classroom to manage an ice cream shop; when she was named head of a struggling school in Texas and saving the school was her master’s degree project; and when she was director of DA’s Lower School and decided to step back from that job to teach pre-kindergarten.
Carrow’s mother was a much-loved kindergarten teacher in Fairfield, Connecticut, and Carrow had known since kindergarten that she wanted to be a teacher, too. Fresh out of Lesley College with a degree in education, she accepted her first teaching job at a public school in Houston, Texas.
“My first year of teaching was so overwhelming. I had 40 kindergartners in a trailer, many of whom did not speak English. Even though I always knew what I wanted to do, I thought maybe I had made a mistake. Corporal punishment was still happening. I thought this is not for me at the moment.”
She spotted an advertisement to run two Carvel Ice Cream stores in Houston and train new storeowners. Carrow had worked in her aunt’s Carvel store as a teenager, and she jumped at the opportunity. She made a wedding cake out of ice cream and learned bookkeeping to manage finances for the franchise owner, who also operated a fleet of boats in Louisiana.
But she missed teaching terribly, and after being out of the classroom for a year and a half, she came upon St. Mark’s Episcopal School, a small pre-k through grade eight school near Houston’s famed M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Carrow gave up the ice cream job to teach pre-k in the morning, and continued to do bookkeeping in the afternoon.
“The little school was failing; it had poor leadership. They had me do admissions, then took me on as business manager. Then I became head of school there, and I did that while I got my master’s [in education administration at University of Houston-Clear Lake]. I have no recollection of that part of my life, and I think that’s because I never slept. My project for my master’s degree was my job: How am I going to save this school?” St. Mark’s enrollment had dropped to the 80s, and when Carrow left seven years later enrollment was at 350.
“We were about to do a big building project when I left. It was a great experience for me. It was small. It was great to come in with new ideas. Everything I ever did in Houston led me to other things.”
She had grown up in New England and knew she wouldn’t live in Texas forever. So when she had done what she set out to accomplish at St. Mark’s, she looked for a job that would take her back to the northeast.
It was summertime, late to be looking for a teaching job. But Carrow found herself in the right place at the right time when a teacher pulled out of her contract at The Peck School in New Jersey, a school that was very different from St. Mark’s. “The school was steeped in tradition. Peck celebrated its centennial while I was there.”
Carrow taught third grade at Peck for five years and worked with the school’s summer program. “I learned so much from the lower school director I worked with. She really made time to connect with people, really got to know the kids personally. She made an effort to build relationships with kids, parents and teachers. At that school, they just had fun together. We worked hard, but we had fun together. … That was a great school to learn from.”
But she decided it was time to put down roots and looked south because she’s not a fan of winters in the northeast. Don North, then DA’s headmaster, met her at Newark Airport for an interview, she made a campus visit and arrived at Durham Academy in 1995 as Lower School director.
“This was a great opportunity. It seemed like a school I would enjoy, and the area had so much to offer. This is my 21st year at Durham Academy. I’ve been teaching pre-k for 12 years and was Lower School director for nine years.”
A lot happened during Carrow’s nine years as Lower School director. The Lower School and Preschool were located on the current Middle School campus for the first seven years she was here. She helped plan the new school building on Ridge Road, a move that added faculty and students when an additional class was created at each grade level. And she met Hill Carrow [second grade teacher Karen Lovelace and her husband introduced them], got married and had daughter Casey in March 2002, five months before the new Lower School opened adjacent to the Upper School.
Two years into motherhood, Carrow decided being Lower School director was more than she could do. “I couldn’t be the mom I wanted to be and put in the hours as an administrator. There was a job opening in pre-k. I’ve taught pre-k, kindergarten, second and third [grades], but pre-k was my favorite, so I took it as a sign. I would have missed Casey’s early years. With only one child, you want to be there. It’s good to bring in fresh leadership and they keep things going forward.”
She loves teaching pre-k students. “They are little sponges. They are so eager to learn, so excited to learn. Everything is new and fresh, but there’s this magic component. They believe everything you say and do. Learning to them is like magic. You see the joy on their faces. … Every day is fun to them. They want to know, what are we doing today? What are we going to do tomorrow? What’s the next unit? They love it!”
For Carrow, the greatest challenge is “fitting all I want to do with my class into each day, week, month and year. There truly is so much that I want to share with my students, and I am always thinking of new ideas.”
Her hope is that her 18 pre-k students will “build really great relationships with their peers. I want them to feel like they have 17 other friends. We talk about being a team. I hope they learn how to be a really great friend and know that they can’t ever have too many friends. … And I want them to know that learning is so fun, finding answers to questions they have. There are lots of ways to learn and lots of ways to share what you learn, and that is really fun and powerful and exciting. And to always give their best every day at school.”
Carrow grew up in a family with a strong work ethic. Her mother’s parents emigrated from Italy and started a family business that operated from 1939 until Carrow helped sell the business in 2009. She grew up in a three-story house with her grandparents living on one floor; Carrow, three siblings and her parents living on another floor; and an office for the family business on the bottom floor. There were big Italian dinners with uncles around the table, which may explain why building relationships and having fun are so important to Carrow.
Fun means family, friends and a love of music [she played piano, clarinet and oboe in high school] that ranges from Andrea Bocelli singing in Italian to country tunes.
But when it comes to music, The Boss is her go-to guy. “I have a fanatic obsession with Bruce Springsteen. I’m going on about 22 or 23 concerts now. I saw him in LA over spring break, and I’m going to see him in Greensboro in April.”
The Greensboro concert falls on her birthday weekend. Hill Carrow has lots of business connections to the Greensboro Coliseum, where Springsteen will perform, so Carrow has a glimmer of hope that her husband’s personal contacts might work some magic.
“I said to my husband, I want to meet the man. I hope one day I do, just to thank him for all these years of great experiences. A Bruce Springsteen concert is cathartic, it’s a religious experience, it reaches your soul, it’s amazing. I chase him all over the country and go at least twice a tour. I may add a third. That [E Street] band is not going to keep going, and he’s in his 60s.
“I started going to see him in the late '70s and I have almost all my concert tickets. He writes lyrics that are so meaningful. I’m a big fan. … We even had a Bruce song at our wedding. We danced to ‘If I Should Fall Behind.’ ”
Springsteen performed for three hours and 45 minutes straight when Carrow was at his recent concert in Los Angeles, and she is certain he gave his best and worked his hardest.