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From student to principal

By: Thomas Franz | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published August 5, 2015

 Marina Licari

Marina Licari

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — When Marina Licari began her educational journey as a kindergarten student 32 years ago, she could hardly speak English.

The daughter of Italian immigrants, Licari grew up speaking her parents’ native language. Years of bilingual classes and hard work in language arts paid off for Licari, whose journey through Chippewa Valley Schools is about to come full circle.

After attending Ottawa Elementary School, Algonquin Middle School and Chippewa Valley High School, she earned a pair of master’s degrees, and then taught in the district for 13 years.

After being approved by the district Board of Education July 20, she is now set to become the principal of Ojibwa Elementary starting this January.

“Here I was a kid that probably had everything working against me, but I didn’t know that. I had such a positive experience, and I was really able to flourish. I always say that I attribute all of my success to that,” Licari said of her time as a student in Chippewa Valley Schools.

Licari had to rely on the help of her teachers because, unlike most elementary students, she couldn’t get help from her parents, who didn’t know English at the time. Licari said that her oldest brother struggled with learning the new language, but she was able to get a little help from her middle brother to read books at home or do classwork at the kitchen table.

Despite that, Licari credited the work ethic of her parents as one of the most critical components to her rise in education.

Both of Licari’s parents worked full-time jobs — something that was uncommon in Italian families — to support her and her two older brothers. Licari said she has few memories of her father while she was young because he worked 12-hour shifts at Ford, seven days a week.

“They came here with nothing, and they worked so hard for us. I can just remember how much my mom valued education because she wasn’t able to pursue her own education,” Licari said.

Licari said during the interview process for the principal position at Ojibwa that Superintendent Ron Roberts asked her how she maintains a positive attitude. Her response, simply, was through the example her parents set for her.

“They were able to build a family and achieve the American dream to come here, get a good job, provide for themselves and their children — that’s where that comes from,” Licari said. “It comes from the great example I had at home.”

As Licari moved through elementary school and middle school, she was selected to the district’s Project Able program, which allowed her to take eighth-grade courses as a seventh grader.

She continued to excel in her studies, and went on to attend Wayne State University to earn degrees in secondary education, English and social studies. Following that, she earned master’s degrees from Saginaw Valley State University and Marygrove College.

Soon after her college career ended, Licari returned to the district as a teacher at Algonquin. She would spend 13 years teaching there, at Wyandot Middle School and at Iroquois Middle School.

In 2013, she became the assistant principal at Seneca Middle School.

“I’ve been able to see, as an adult, the value of education. What it’s done for my life and how it’s made life easier in comparison to my parents, who had to work as much as possible to support their family,” Licari said. “That’s the drive for me, to continue to support the educational process, to be part of that growing and learning, then making sure teachers are supported, and all of our students and families are supported.”

After spending so much time as a teacher, Licari admitted she misses seeing the daily accomplishments of students, but she knows the long-term effects of her administrative work is just as important.

“I miss teaching, but I say that proudly,” Licari said. “Sometimes I’ll be in a classroom and say that I miss those days, but I know I’m part of the big picture. In teaching, you get to see a success every minute or two. In administration, you may not see it daily, but you see it over time, and that really keeps me going.”

As the principal of Chippewa Valley’s original elementary school, which opened in 1961, Licari said her goal is to honor the history of Ojibwa.

“I’m so excited to be a part of the elementary world,” Licari said. “They have such a strong history, such a great school, I want to be a part of that and honor their history, work with the staff, students and parents to continue to make Ojibwa excel and make it the best of the best.”