Dedicated, passionate and experienced—those are the words many parents and staff to describe Richard Montgomery’s new principal, Mr. Damon Monteleone. The students and staff have taken a liking to Mr. Monteleone, from his cool demeanor and his gestures of gratitude and appreciation to his staff. He is a team player and believes that the school can be improved with every individuals help. “Mr. Monteleone believes in a shared leadership model,” says Ms. Kimberly Heidler, assistant principal of Richard Montgomery.
How have your first few months been as principal of the 4th best school in Maryland been?
Exhilarating, challenging and awakening. I learn something new every day. I feel like I am a freshman in college walking around campus and discovering something new all the time. I am thrilled and honored to be here. I continue to be amazed by the quality of instruction and by the character of the kids, the kindness of the kids, the way they treat each other. I see a lot of toleration, appreciation and respect, and I think those are wonderful fundamental characteristics that go deeper than just the cognitive skills that these intelligent, successful kids bring to the table. I love the high school experience and I’m thrilled to finally be able to lead an outstanding school like Richard Montgomery.
What did you do before coming to Richard Montgomery?
My first year as an educator, I was a special education teacher at Paint Branch high school. I taught for five years as a social studies teacher at Bethesda Chevy Chase high school and taught various social studies subjects. I taught in Vienna, Austria at a high school. Twice a week I would have a conversational lesson and cultural lesson with every single English class. I left the country again and went to the Dominican Republic; I worked at an American International School in Santo Domingo where I taught social studies. Then, I went to Northwood high school and was the social studies department chair and A.P. coordinator. I was then, an administrator and assistant principal for four years at Paint Branch high school before coming here. In essence, I’ve been all over the county and all over the world, doing many different things. Being a teacher for 14 years has helped me with this position and my background with diverse communities.
Richard Montgomery is ranked high, but how do you feel you can improve RM and make us number one? What are your top priorities for the school?
How the staff works is number one. Are we sharing the best practices with each other? Are we talking about what assessments allow us to know what the kids can do and what they know? Are we using performance data to reevaluate how we teach? Are we leveraging out outstanding instruction that is going on in the building so that all students can access it? Second of all, what is the focus of our work? Our focus this year is student being more actively engaged. We also want to have more application based assessments and get away from the read, record and regurgitate material method. In terms of improvement, if you take out our IB population, we would look like a lot of other high schools in this county. In terms of performance, if we focus on a lot of our kids that are in the middle between a 2.0 and 3.0 and we can craft some practices and some policies for them to get them over the hump and be over a 3.0. We can improve this school in many ways.
One of the new things about the administration are the Twitter accounts, what’s that all about? Why do you feel that direct communication with students is important?
You know, I never tweeted at all before becoming principal? For me, it’s a way of showcasing what’s going on in the building. Why do parents have to wait for a quarterly newsletter? If I’m a parent and I want see what’s going on at my kid’s school, I could just go on twitter. We need to communicate with kids the way they communicate with each other and we need to teach kids the way kids teach themselves—through the internet. I did not issue a directive that teachers need to use twitter, but I see people doing it—more and more teachers are doing it. They’re showcasing their student’s work and they’re putting homework problems out there. There are so many ways you can use twitter. We are just beginning to tap into what we can do with social media to meet kids and to have an engaging learning environment.
How have you been able to maintain the balance between friend/principal? Is it easy to make students feel comfortable approaching you with school related issues, but at the same time respecting my authority?
I think the hardest thing is trying to get to know the entire student body at your school as a principal. As a teacher I would have 140-150 students and I knew them all personally—it’s really hard to do as principal. I have 2,200 kids, their families, the Rockville community plus 200 adults in building—that’s my biggest challenge. I understand that the kids thought I was this evil enforcer when I came out here because of my dress code policy and tardiness policy, but if you get to know me, I’m a pretty laid-back person. I always encourage people to come up and say hello and I do this one thing on twitter and go up to students and ask if I can take their picture and that’s a way for me to get to know one kid a day and for everyone to get to know everyone. It’s a way to connect people in this building. I would say it continues to be a challenge. I don’t walk around thinking I need to portray or pretend or demonstrate an air of authority. To me, it’s not about being an authority figure.
Is there a quote that resonates with you that has helped you be the best principal/person you can be?
That’s funny because I always ask people to give a quote [for student of the day on Twitter] now I can’t think of one. (Chuckles) It’s kind of trite and it’s a bit overused but, I guess it’s overused for a reason, but it really is Carpe Diem; seize the day. Get better at something every day, improve yourself every day, and be kind every day, because you never know how many days you have left.
What is your vision for the school at the end of the 2014-2015 school year?
I would like to continue to come together as a community and for us to continue to have spirit. I want people to learn and I want people to have fun and I want people to remember their experience at Richard Montgomery beyond the classroom. I mean I know I walked into a building where the classrooms are outstanding, the success is very high but I want people to have fun and I want people to learn from each other. I really want kids to look forward to going to class and be engaged. I don’t know if I can encapsulate it concisely, but just have fun.
Article and photo by the MoCo Student Staff Writer Sara Monterroso of Richard Montgomery High School
Featured photo provided by courtesy of Richard Montgomery Webmaster