Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

An opportunity ‘too good’ to miss

Lee Derby prepares to continue tradition of success at Cedar Grove

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Chris Rossi⁄The Gazette
Cedar Grove Elementary School Principal Lee Derby greets parents and students during an open house on Friday.
Lee Derby enjoyed being principal of Garrett Park Elementary School, but when the principal’s job became available at Cedar Grove Elementary, he knew he had to make the move.

‘‘It was too good a place to pass up,” he said.

Cedar Grove is a good school, doing a good job of meeting students’ needs, but it also presents an opportunity for improvement, he said.

Derby wants to take ‘‘a really good school to the next level.”

This year, Cedar Grove made state Adequate Yearly Progress targets in every category, he said, but work is needed to ensure that success continues in the coming years.

Derby plans to do that by looking at why some students are not doing well and matching those students with the best individualized opportunities. He also expects teachers to continue challenging students who are ready to be challenged.

Some Cedar Grove students will attend Damascus High School, but most will attend Clarksburg High, so the school needs to align its instruction to both schools, Derby said.

Derby will be missed at Garrett Park, said Rose Furr, the school’s staff development teacher. He knew the name of every child at the school and visited every class, she said. He was always ready to help staff when they needed assistance, including with such non-classroom activities as bus duty and indoor recess, she said.

‘‘He certainly left a mark at our school,” she said.

The Cedar Grove community was looking for someone who works well with parents to replace Principal Anita Murphy, who stepped down at the end of last school year.

‘‘One of the biggest things people were interested in was communication,” PTA President Sue Amick said. ‘‘We wanted to feel like he was listening to the parents and had an open-door policy.”

Derby considers open communication important and appreciates the community support Cedar Grove receives.

‘‘I very much believe in shared leadership and collaboration,” he said. ‘‘At the last school, I worked to strengthen community involvement and diversify staff — really take everybody’s perspectives into account.”

Derby made several visits this summer to the Milestone community pool and went to a parents’ home to meet families. His introduction to the Cedar Grove community came at the school’s end-of-year picnic in May, just after he was named principal.

‘‘We are excited to have him,” Amick said. ‘‘I think he is thoughtful. He strikes me as being a very good leader. He will be great for the school.”

Derby hopes to add more extracurricular activities this year. Rather than naming the clubs he wants to start, he will ask students and staff about their interests. His own interest is in soccer.

‘‘We can design it ourselves and do what we want,” he said.

Derby, 43, graduated from James Madison University in 1986 and began his career in education that year as a residential counselor at the Regional Institute for Children and Adolescents (RICA) in Rockville.

In 1995, he earned a master’s degree in elementary education from Trinity College and became a classroom teacher at Flower Hill Elementary School in Gaithersburg. After four years as a second and fourth grade teacher, he moved into the principal training program.

‘‘I had supervisory experience at RICA,” Derby said. ‘‘I enjoyed that and saw some things weren’t being done the way they should have and wanted to get into a position to do it he way they should be done.”

In 1999, Derby received a school principalship certificate from Johns Hopkins University. He was an assistant principal at Burtonsville Elementary School for two years and a principal intern at Luxmanor Elementary School in North Bethesda for one year before being named principal of Garrett Park Elementary five years ago.

‘‘The five years he was here, he was a wonderful principal,” Furr said. ‘‘He was very well liked by staff, students and the community. It was a very sad send-off.”

Another reason Derby was interested in the Cedar Grove principalship is that the school is close to his Damascus home.

He and his wife, Shelley, moved to Damascus 13 years ago. Their daughter Lindsay, 16, is a junior at Damascus High School and Lauren, 12, attends Rocky Hill Middle School. Shelley Derby is a school nurse at S. Christa McAuliffe and Monocacy elementary schools.

Staff Writer Titus Ledbetter III contributed to this story.