“I aim to please,” said Acting Vice-Principal M. Ficarra, smiling broadly, as she sat in her of- fi ce during this interview.
“It’s a privilege to be here at San Quentin and to be a part of this wonderful faculty and Administration,” she said.
Ficarra was hired as a Bridging Teacher in 2004. She spent six months going to the various housing units delivering Life Skills packages.
She then entered the classroom and by 2008 was given the Teacher of the Year Award.
“Our job as educators are to ensure that students learn. It is not only incumbent upon us to teach the specifi ed curriculum, but also to teach additional skills necessary to be successful in society,” she believes.
“We are an integral part of the rehabilitation process. By teaching effective communication skills and healthy coping skills, educators help improve the chances of them being part of societies’ solutions as opposed to being a problem,” said Ficarra.
With a background that includes working in group homes, Court and Community schools such as Juvenile Hall, she is acutely aware that the system failed to nurture and educate many of its most valuable citizens, its children.
Her goal now is to create a safe environment so men who want to learn can learn, and men who do not want to learn will be shown the power of knowledge.
She strongly believes, “this is one thing that cannot be stolen from them or lost when they share it with others”.
One of her goals as interim Vice-Principal is to improve the culture of teaching and interfacing with students at San Quentin.
“Students in our education department are worth teaching, and it would be a disservice not to give them a good education. I want to eliminate obstacles’ with getting a good education”, Ficarra said.
Spending time counseling over the years has given her a unique perspective into relationships with others. She believes “Love conquers all, but don’t confuse kindness with weakness.”
Ficarra received her B.A. in Liberal Arts Studies from San Francisco State University. Several years later, she earned a multiple subject teacher’s credential from Notre Dame de Namur University. This led to a Master Degree in Education Administration and an Education Administration Credential from San Francisco State University.
“I’m still learning. I remember what Jean Bracy, who was my first principal at San Quentin, said to me once. We are doing the hardest job in the state; teaching people who no other teacher was able to teach, and we are able to get them their GED”.
When pressed about publishing a treatise on her teaching and administration experiences, she hints that there is a possible doctorate in her future.
After years of evaluating the course curriculum throughout the prison system, the Office of Education and Correction (OEC)’s Administration Education Leadership Council decided it was time for a change.
The new curriculum is designed to honor teacher’s unique styles of educating their students. Courses will be based on giving them more professionalism in class.
This new philosophy of teaching will allow educators more discretion on how to deliver class material to each individual student. It also will allow teachers to use their own delivery style.
The new program should be available before the fall semester ends. In the interim, staff must be trained on the curriculum before the year ends.
Ficarra and Acting-Principal Bebee have an excellent relationship. “We compliment each other and can be unstoppable with this dedicated staff who is committed to achieving our goals of getting inmates back to their communities with more skills than what they had before coming to prison,” she said.
To accomplish Ficarra’s long and short-term goals for achieving these objectives depends on whether her interim Vice-Principal position becomes permanent. When asked if she has applied for the position, she smiled and said, “Yes, I did apply.”