By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
ATLANTIC CITY – Atlantic City Principal Dr. La’Quetta Small wants to give you something to talk about – something good to talk about.
Small is one-half of Atlantic City’s power couple with her husband, Marty Small Sr., serving as mayor and coming off of a Democratic Party Democratic primary victory last month. But La’Quetta Small has made a name and developed a reputation all her own as one of the county’s most influential and recognized educators.
“In life, everyone has reputation,” Small told Front Runner New Jersey last week. “It’s important that your work speaks for you. People may not know you intimately, but they will know you based on what people say and how you treat people, and everyone talks. Give them something good to talk about.”
Small has had her work cut out for her over the past year. She became principal of the largest high school in Atlantic County in Atlantic City High School in May 2019, leading a diverse population of more than 1,700 students.
Then, she was thrust into the role of first lady for the city when her husband Marty Small Sr. was elevated to mayor when Frank Gilliam resign on federal fraud charges.
Then the hard part – the coronavirus pandemic hit, closing Atlantic City High School physically and moving instruction online in an unprecedented times for education not just around the country but around the world.
Taking On Challenges
Small, though, took every challenge head-on and she created her on path in Viking Land and within her own family.
“Leading a school during a pandemic was the most challenging task in my 21-year experience as an educator,” Small said. “There were so many unknowns and uncertainties during that time and even now as we’re planning to reopen. During remote learning, our staff worked tirelessly to maintain the connection with students and colleagues during a frightful time in our school history.
“As principal and first lady, it’s definitely a balancing act with busy schedules and being a mother of two children. When I wake up each day, I don’t think of titles, I think of the opportunities that I have to serve the community in my respective roles while at the same time prioritizing my home life. It works because I don’t attend every function and Marty understands when I say I need to be home with the kids,” she said.
Small doesn’t have to look far for inspiration. She said the motivation she gets from her mother, Sharon Frazier, her husband and others who taught her while growing up in Newark has been a constant source of elevation.
“[My mother] was a single parent who instilled in her six children the importance of attending school each day and having a regimented schedule,” Small said. “She was strict, but as a parent now, my children think the same of me. Although I didn’t like her tactics as a child, I appreciate how my mother raised us.
“There were also many teachers in Newark who inspired me, Ms. Juanita Hobbs and Ms. Jacqueline Hinkson. My high school principal who later become my principal as a teacher, Mr. Carl Gregory, was a great inspiration. As I deal with issues in Atlantic City, it’s great to have a husband who knows politics and has used his skills to accomplish a great deal in such a short period of time. Marty Small Sr. is my greatest inspiration,” she added.
The Smalls met while at Stockton University. She was a freshman with big education dreams and Marty Small Sr. was a star on the school’s basketball team.
“We’ve been together for 26 years,” La’Quetta Small said. “He is extremely dedicated to the city of Atlantic City and works diligently for the people of his community and beyond. As a high school principal, I’m grateful to be able to make an impact in the lives of children and staff and he is humbled to be able to serve as mayor of Atlantic City.
“We’ve watched each other grow and develop personally and professionally over the years. We are both public servants who value our community and believe that through hard work, professionalism and tenacity, goals can be attained,” La’Quetta Small said.
Charting Her Own Path
Small has been in education for 21 years, 14 of those at the administrative level in Atlantic City. She served as principal of Pennsylvania Avenue School before being named to lead Atlantic City High School.
After graduating from Newark’s Central High School as valedictorian, Small earned her bachelor’s degree in education from Stockton, where she minored in social science. She went on to earn her master’s degree in educational administration from Kean University and doctorate in educational leadership from Rowan University.
“Being the first person in my immediate family to attend college, I was apprehensive about leaving New Jersey,” Small said. “I have to attribute the Pre-College Upward Bound Program at NJIT (New Jersey Institute of Technology) for providing me with a glimpse of college life. Having the opportunity to live on a college campus for six weeks was invaluable and helped with my college transition.”
Small said she realizes that her position puts her in front of not only her students, but their parents and other leaders around the city who are closely watching her every move. For the students, its role modeling, for some adults, its leading. Small, who has a daughter Jada, 12, and son Marty Jr., 10, said she has learned to take everything in stride and as a blessing.
‘Who Do You Want to Be?’
“Being an educator makes me a role model,” Small said. “I understand that students, staff and community stakeholders expect educators, especially administrators, to lead by example and maintain exemplary characteristics, as we should. I realize that people observe my actions and it is important that I am an upstanding citizen with strong morals as a leader of a school.
“As a kid, everyone is asked, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ The question is rarely asked, ‘Who do you want to be when you grow up?’ Of course individuals should strive to be the best version of themselves, but having an example of a person who lives with integrity, determination and dignity are just as important for growth and development for children and adults. For that reason, I take my role very seriously.”
La’Quetta Small touched on several other topics with Front Runner New Jersey.
Living in Newark
La’Quetta Small: I had a unique experience while attending high school. Directly behind my high school was the Paul Robeson Center of Rutgers University; in front of my high school was the campus of NJIT, and down the street from my school was the University of Medicine and Dentistry and Essex County College. I took advantage of all programs for high school students at each of those institutions.
FRNJ: What led you to a career in education? What inspired you then to get into the administrative end of education?
La’Quetta Small: So many dynamic educators at Cleveland Elementary School and Central High School left an indelible impression on my life. I was always inspired by my teachers and at an early age, I wanted to emulate what I saw. After ultimately becoming a teacher in Newark, I realized then that I wanted to make an impact in the school system on a larger scale; thus I began my pursuit of educational leadership. I observed exemplary leadership in Newark and Atlantic City and took mental notes regarding what I would do if I were in a position of leadership and administration. Today marks 21 years in education and 14 years as an administrator in Atlantic City.
FRNJ: I see you are a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. How active are you? What other organizations are you apart of?
La’Quetta Small: I love Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. I am currently a member of the Atlantic City Alumnae Chapter. However, my work schedule and family life inhibit me from being more active within the organization. I am also a member of the Links, Incorporated, Atlantic City (NJ) Chapter; The National Sorority of Phi Delta Kappa, Inc., Iota Chapter, The Order of Eastern Star-Prince Hall Affiliation, Atlantic Chapter No. 3. Currently serving as the Vice-Chair of the Atlantic City Housing Authority and Atlantic Community Fund Board Member. As Shirley Chisholm stated, service is the price you pay for time on earth.
FRNJ: Where do you see yourself in five years?
La’Quetta Small: I have a philosophy that after 6-7 years in a position, it is time to move on. Most scenarios in a position have been experienced during that timeframe, and after that, everything becomes redundant. I was a teacher for seven years, vice-principal for six years and principal for seven years. In five years, I would like to elevate in the Atlantic City School District.
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