New charter school principal embraces classical teaching -- Gazette.Net







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Jacqueline Piro, the former chairwoman of Governor Thomas Johnson High School’s history department, has been appointed as principal of the Frederick Classical Charter School — the first charter school in Frederick County to teach a classical curriculum, which is scheduled to open for students in the fall of 2013.

Piro, 40, a longtime educator and a current resident of Middletown, was appointed in November by the Frederick County Board of Education to be the headmaster of the new school, which is scheduled to open to students in the fall of 2013. She has impressed educators with her extensive and varied experience, which includes working at both charter schools and schools that teach a classical curriculum.

Before coming to Frederick County Public Schools, Piro taught at an inner city charter school in Detroit, worked as a counselor at a community center in Johnstown, Pa., and taught at a private classical elementary school in Germantown, Md.

Piro, who has a master’s degree in community counseling and psychotherapy, also has owned and managed her own restaurant and held various positions in retail management.

Six years ago, after working and living in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Virginia, Piro moved to the Middletown area to be closer to her parents.

As she prepares to start building up her new school community, Piro answered some questions from The Gazette through email about her goals for the school:

Q: What attracted you to the Frederick Classical Charter School?

A: I taught and was a leader for seven years in a private Classical Approach elementary school in Northern Virginia. Here I was challenged and mentored to hone my teaching and leadership skills. I had to develop an age-appropriate, yet challenging classroom structure and learning environment based on high academic and behavioral expectations. No detail was to be left uncovered, unexplained or “un-expected.”

Teaching using the Socratic Method is a science and art. I was expected to use direct instruction techniques such as this and uphold the virtuous standards of the school. I had constant contact with parents helping them build their child’s skills and foster a rapport that built a supportive community for us all. So, I saw the Classical Approach work. I saw and became a part of student success as I had never seen.

The Classical Approach to curriculum design (scope & sequence), instruction, behavior and academic expectations works to provide students with the ability to take acquired foundational knowledge, understand what it means (reason), debate it, and persuade others to that end and express themselves. A typical third-grade student could write a two-page essay with depth, detail, and very few grammar or spelling mistakes. Plus, they could verbally discuss and defend the essence of what they wrote.

Q: Starting up a whole new school sounds like an enormous job. What will be your priorities as you begin to ease into your new position?

A: Each aspect of opening a new school has its own group of priorities. That said, overall, hiring the best teachers eager to educate using the Classical Approach is at the top of my list. Next, creating a team teaching model and schedule to help ensure student and teacher success is essential. We have an unmatched set of professional development trainings in place for our teachers. After enrolling our students, creating connections with our parents is of great priority.

Q: What do you think will be your biggest challenges as the school's new principal? How do you plan to overcome them?

A: “Challenges” is a loaded negative word. I mostly do not look at things as challenging or easy, but more as opportunities. We have the opportunity to create an amazing educational atmosphere. One where the curriculum is research-based, teachers are trained and provided usable teaching techniques that have been proven to work with all learning levels, where the school leadership is transparent and partnered with the parents, and where fair, yet direct and firm leadership exists. The (Frederick County Public Schools, the Board of Education) and our school’s Board of Directors have hired me to promote and protect the Classical Approach in all aspects. It is my life’s personal and professional pleasure to have the opportunity to do so.