Sitting in her living room, Joan Accardi gazes into the distance. Across from her are numerous books on shelves, standing firm on their spines â€” none thick enough to tell her story.
Accardi, 65, a Dallas native, is principal of Monterey Elementary School, 910 W. Gayle St. For 25 years, she has studied education, loved kids and lived her passion.
â€œI have two passions,â€ Accardi said. â€œAnd thatâ€™s teachers and children. The most rewarding thing is to see their growth and success. I love working with teachers … the teachers are there for the children.â€
Growing up in a racially-divided Dallas, Accardi started off her life like many of the children she has encountered during her career â€” troubled. With two working parents in the home, she ran into many bumps in the road. However, during her youth she made contact with a â€œsaint,â€ whom she credits for her path to salvation.
â€œI truly believe that the reason that I became a Christian was because my mother and dad both worked and they hired a maid to take care of me,â€ Accardi said. â€œShe was black. She wasnâ€™t quite five-foot. She was a saint. She prayed. I really believe with all of my heart that she prayed me into the kingdom and because I had that influence at an early age, she became my mom and I saw no color.â€
Accardi went on to talk about her experiences with Jim Crow laws as a young girl riding the bus with her maid, and her oblivion of racial tension in her town.
Her Dallas experiences prepared her for what she faced on her first assignment in Roswell at Edgewood Elementary School. The school was in one of the cityâ€™s most economically challenged areas, the East Side.
â€œEdgewood sits in the middle of gangland,â€ Accardi said. â€œThere are a lot of lower socioeconomic families. Some of those families have been there for years, but they continue to exist. I would like to see something better for them than what they have.â€
Accardi said that she strived for better after â€œcoming up the rough side of the mountain,â€ during the formative years of her life. At 15, she was married and equipped with a GED after attending an all-girl Catholic school.
â€œOnce I hit my teenage years, I was a troubled kid,â€ Accardi said. â€œI ran away from home, I was on the street. I know what it is to be street smart. I suffered a lot. My parents offered to send me to private school â€”â€ˆthatâ€™s where I learned my discipline. However, I never finished high school.â€
Accardi said that her time in private school prepared her for her journey into education, which began when she was 40. She earned bachelorâ€™s and masterâ€™s degrees at Eastern New Mexico University. She is currently working on a doctorate in educational leadership.
While in Roswell, Accardi has been a champion for educators. Through her work at schools, like the now-closed Edgewood, and at Monterey, she has improved the quality of education for children throughout the district.
In the early 2000s, Accardiâ€™s made a memorable speech at a school district meeting started â€œa riot.â€ It was so moving that authorities were called in to manage crowds that had gone hostile and who were upset with the school districtâ€™s leadership and budget deficit decisions.
â€œI was a voice for those who had no voice,â€ Accardi said. â€œI think some of my boldness comes from my background and my strong passion for education and to see justice for all. I wish that more people would stand up for what they know is right.â€
Accardi tried reforming Edgewood as much as she could after discovering dated materials from the 1960s that were used to teach the communityâ€™s youth. Soon after, she applied for funding and grants and fought hard for the school to stay open.
Accardi has also been a missionary in Mexico, and teacher in South Korea and to Navajo Nation. According to Accardi, these experiences have helped shape her worldview.
â€œMy view was very small of the world,â€ Accardi said. â€œIâ€™ve had so many opportunities through working in education to broaden that prospective. Asia was an eye-opener. When you come home to the United States you realize how blessed you are. We have the freedom here to express our doubts.â€