Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

Payne to offer team approach to leadership at Fallsmead

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Fallsmead Elementary School has new leadership, and Principal Reginald Kevin Payne Jr. is happy to share the role.

‘‘My main philosophy is together we’re smarter,” Payne said. ‘‘Woodrow Wilson said, ‘I not only use all the brains I have, but all the brains that I can borrow.’ That’s why we use the leadership team to ask our parents, staff and students to give their input.”

A group of 15 staff and parents have been meeting since Payne took over as principal of the Rockville school in July. So far, they have targeted improving reading and math scores for special education students, an area in which, overall, Fallsmead students excelled beyond district and state averages.

The group wants to attack the achievement gap.

‘‘There is no instant fix of everything in one year,” Payne said.

Payne, 36, says there are physical challenges at the school this year, stemming from the installation of a new wing.

Scheduled for completion by next school year, the addition includes a larger media center and six additional classrooms.

James Song, director the Division of Construction for the school system, said the project has kicked off slower than expected, pending permit approval from the City of Rockville. However, he expects the project will still be completed by the target date.

A father of two, Payne describes himself as passionate about family and education.

Payne never seriously considered a career in education until college, when an aptitude test indicated he would make a good teacher.

Now, he enjoys ‘‘that magic moment when a child gets something,” he said. ‘‘The whole countenance on their faces change, the proverbial bulb over the head.”

Last year, Payne served as a principal intern at Cashell Elementary School in Derwood. He has been an assistant principal at Twinbrook Elementary School and co-chaired the science department and worked as an intervention teacher for at-risk students at Silver Spring International Middle School.

He holds a master’s degree in education leadership from the University of Mississippi.

Twinbrook Elementary gets new principal

Like Payne, Karen L. Johnson, acting principal of Twinbrook Elementary School, says she is not going to make sweeping changes.

‘‘I don’t want to come in and make changes just because I think it’s a good idea,” Johnson said. ‘‘I talked to staff members who have an idea of the history and have been here, so I don’t make decisions in a vacuum. I like to make decisions based on what has gone on in the past.”

An advocate of the team approach, Johnson is spending her time meeting with staff and learning the lay of the land.

‘‘My goal is to learn the routines and things that are working well here,” she said. ‘‘I’d like to keep in place those things that are working.”

Johnson, 48, is a veteran of the county school system.

For 16 years, the mother of two worked as a special education teacher and in academic intervention at Broad Acres Elementary School in Silver Spring. More recently, she served as an assistant principal at Wood Acres Elementary School in Bethesda.

‘‘I believe that all children can learn at high levels,” she said. ‘‘Different children have different learning styles and needs.”

Matching teaching methods to fit learning styles may be the means for a former special education teacher, but her end is more important.

‘‘A lot of ills that we see in our society, I think education is the key,” she said. ‘‘If there’s poverty and you teach them about money, how to make it and think about it, you see a difference,” Johnson said. ‘‘If there’s people who don’t get along and you teach them about the other groups, you see a difference.”

The daughter of parents and a grandparent who attended segregated schools in Montgomery County, Johnson has seen change within the education system itself.

‘‘Now I have the opportunity, as an African American, to work with all children in an environment that accepts, values and honors all children that come to us,” she said.

Johnson has a master’s degree in counseling and personnel services from the University of Maryland, College Park.

She replaces Carolyn Cobbs, who is now principal at Col. E. Brooke Lee Middle School in Silver Spring.