Five schools get new principals this year
Year is off to a smooth start as administrators take on different roles
A recent shuffle of St. Mary’s public school administrators resulted in five schools — Leonardtown High, Esperanza Middle, Fairlead Academy I, White Marsh Elementary and Dynard Elementary — with new principals in the county this school year.
Leonardtown High School Principal Jill Mills said her role at the high school is “a homecoming of a sort.”
Mills said the students and staff are “proud to be a part of the Raider Nation.”
She said in July after being appointed to the position that Leonardtown has a “long-standing tradition of preparing students” for life after high school graduation, should they decide to go onto college, into the military or the workforce. Mike Watson, the school’s former principal, took an administrative role with St. Mary’s public schools in June.
Mills said her move from Esperanza Middle School to Leonardtown High has allowed her to reconnect with families and rebuild relationships. Although there are many familiar faces, Mills said one difference is students have “gotten larger, or taller … Some of them were as tall as me when they” left Esperanza, she said.
She said her first assignment as principal was to familiarize herself with the staff and the different subjects taught at Leonardtown. She said another difference from leading at Esperanza is the amount of teachers and other staff members is twice the amount at the high school.
She said she’s also been focused on “getting the building ready … and getting ready for students and staff.” School started for most St. Mary’s public schools Sept. 5.
School staff have made a point to guide freshmen “to help them be more comfortable [and] navigate this large school.” The estimated student enrollment is more than 1,900 as of Monday, she said.
Mills said school staff have met to discuss the possibility of starting a peer mentoring program similar to the one at Esperanza, and will continue to have an ongoing discussion about restorative practices.
Continuing working with Chopticon Principal Kim Summers and Great Mills Principal Jake Heibel is something Mills said she is looking forward to in her new role at Leonardtown. “I have the utmost respect” for the other two high school principals, she said.
Esperanza Middle School Principal Jennifer Consalvo said her first week went better than expected, as she had filled the position on Aug. 31 and school started less than a week later. She said the staff and her administrative team helped her on the first week.
“The parents and students were very welcoming,” she said.
By taking the principalship at the middle school, Consalvo said she felt like she had “big shoes to fill” following Mills, who led Esperanza for more than a dozen years.
“She’s been here and has that relationship here,” she said. “It’s going to be a great school year building upon what is done so well here and continuing to grow.”
Consalvo said the school will continue its peer mentoring and Pirate Justice program, where students are selected to mentor peers that may be struggling academically or socially at school.
She said she wants to “keep the culture and climate growing in a positive direction.”
She said she is also looking forward to working with principals at Margaret Brent, Leonard- town and Spring Ridge middle schools. As a former assistant principal at Spring Ridge, Consalvo said she worked closely with Principal Wendy Zimmerman. She said the collaboration with other principals will help them all “be on the same page, share resources and move kids together as a team.”
BeeJay Dothard was named the principal at Fairlead Academy I starting this year. He has worked in public schools for 15 years as a special education teacher at Spring Ridge and an assistant principal at Leonardtown High. He said he was an acting academic dean at Fairlead when Rebecca Cline had to take an extended absence due to shoulder surgery in February.
He said his varied experiences at the middle and high schools will help him guide students and staff, as he was exposed to “different styles of great teachers” at both buildings. He said his first week went as well as he hoped it would, and the students “were energetic and ready to roll.” He said his staff were thankful for the additional two weeks of summer, which “allowed them time to relax.”
Dothard said one initiative started at Fairlead this year is PRIDE, a behavioral guide for students. Students must “persevere in the face of difficulty,” be responsible for their actions, have integrity, use deductive reasoning and be earnest in their academic efforts, he said, referring to the program’s acronym name.
The academic dean said he felt like the 150 students at the school could use the guide to “be productive citizens, as well productive students” no matter if they went on to college, a trade school or into the workforce.
He said students at Fairlead are “not bad students … these kids are able to pass their PARCC assessments but fail their classes.” He said the smaller learning environment and teacher to student ratio helps students who may not succeed in a larger high school setting.
White Marsh Elementary Principal Julia Steele said in a telephone interview Tuesday she’s a “product of St. Mary’s County” and went to Dynard Elementary, Leonardtown Middle and Chopticon High. Cheryl Long, the school’s former principal, was named the public schools’ director of student services in May.
Steele said she’s glad to be “supporting the community” and being supported by other elementary school principals, as well as Superintendent Scott Smith and Deputy Superintendent Maureen Montgomery.
She said she was a teacher at Park Hall Elementary for 17 years and an assistant principal at Hollywood Elementary for seven years before filling the principalship at White Marsh. She said her first week went well because students quickly adjusted into a back-to-school routine and “they knew what to do” on their first week back.
She said White Marsh parents offered a warm welcome at a meet-and-greet event last month, the same day as the solar eclipse, but the event was interrupted by a thunderstorm warning that occurred after the eclipse had passed. She said everyone was flexible and accommodating to her.
Steele said “it’s an honor to be here. We have high academic standards,” and she said she hoped to continue to offer students the rigor needed to succeed. White Marsh Elementary was named a Blue Ribbon School in 2016, she said.
“My hope is that students are comfortable enough here to be risk-takers in their learning [and] be the best they can be,” Steele said.
Dynard Elementary Principal J.R. Beavers said his first week of school went smoothly, as many students recognized him from his time as a fifthgrade teacher from 2014 to 2016. He said he’s also been a teacher in Calvert County and in Charlotte, N.C. His most recent position with St. Mary’s public schools was as an assistant principal at Lexington Park Elementary.
He said changes he’s made since being named as Dynard’s principal have been logistical, such as adjusting the master schedule and some of the restorative practices started at the school last year. He said the “teachers and students have been open to what I had to offer” and the changes seem to be working at Dynard.
Beavers said he is looking forward to energizing school staff and working on student discipline, both of which would “have the most impact on student achievement.” He said one of his goals was to “make sure teachers are delivering engaging lessons to students.”
He said almost 40 percent of students at the school qualify for free- or reduced-priced meals based on family incomes.
“There are services available to families in need,” he said.
Beavers said he and school staff have met and decided to continue the “Books on the Bus” initiative started last year to ensure students had reading material to keep their attention occupied while traveling to and from school.
He said he had hoped to return to Dynard Elementary in an administrative role after moving back to St. Mary’s County, and said he’s “excited to be home. It’s an awesome place to be.”
Fairlead Academy I Academic Dean BeeJay Dothard shares a laugh last week with teachers during a after-hours Spanish club meeting.
Leonardtown High School Principal Jill Mills visits ninth-grader Ava Brown Monday during a Spanish II class.