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Principal Goes Back to School

Romberg takes helm at Dranesville Elementary

Sept. 4, 2002

When Barbara Kelly, a sixth grade teacher at McLean's Churchill Road Elementary, heard that Lucinda Romberg was going back to school, she dropped her former boss a congratulatory note. "That's where you belong," it read.

Like an excited but nervous first grader, Romberg cannot wait for the first day of school. After three years working out of the county's central office in the human resources department, Romberg is returning to school, this time as the new principal at Dranesville Elementary. "I was so happy to see she was going back," Kelly said. "I knew she'd get bored at county, because it's the schools where all the action is. It's much more exciting with all of the students."

Kelly was right. Romberg, who was principal at Churchill Road from 1992 until 1999, did miss the energy of being around children everyday. "I missed being so close to the students and I missed the rhythms of the school year," she said. "I am excited to be back with the kids roaming the halls, again."

Romberg replaces Dr. Beverly Morrison who retired last year after 40 years in education including eight as Dranesville principal. "It's pretty awesome to be just the third principal at Dranesville," she said, laughing. "My biggest anxiety is that things are going so well here, I might just mess things up."

Romberg got the job last May, and she took over the reins at Dranesville on July 1.

Her first priority is to familiarize herself with her new community. Romberg has already had two meet-and-greets with parents and students at the Hidden Brook community pool earlier this month. "It was great to meet so many of the wonderfully eager students and supportive parents that I have been hearing so much about since I first took this job," she said.

Before arriving at Dranesville, Romberg was coordinator of instructional employment at Fairfax County schools. Romberg's former boss, Kevin Worth, says her "constant positivity and infectious enthusiasm" will be missed around the office, but he added that he was not surprised to see her leave. "In many cases where people came to us from a school setting, they eventually get anxious to get back with the students and teachers." It was no different for Romberg.

"She brings an excellent insight into identifying talent and recruiting teachers which will certainly serve her well when she has to hire new teachers at Dranesville," Worth said. "The Dranesville community is very lucky to have her."

<b>A RESIDENT OF FALLS CHURCH</b>, Romberg is still learning her way around Herndon, but she says each new day is a little more comfortable than the last. "I'm still getting to know to know Dranesville and the surrounding community," said Romberg, whose three grown children were all educated in Fairfax County public schools. "Herndon is known throughout the county as a community that has strong support from its families. It's a wonderful model for the rest of Fairfax County and one of the main reasons why I am sitting here today."

A resident of Northern Virginia for 25 years, Romberg enjoys the many cultural environments in Washington-metro area. Taking an occasional break from running her new school, Romberg has escaped to Wolf Trap several times this summer. "I love the symphony," she said, citing Yo-Yo Ma and Peter, Paul and Mary as her favorite performances she has seen this year.

Kelly says parents and students might be surprised to see how quickly Romberg can put a face to a name. "She knew all the kids. She wasn't one to sit around holed-up in her office," she said. "Lucinda was always out on the curb waving to the kids in the mornings — every morning."

And children looking to meet their new principal might want to strike up a conversation about their favorite Star Wars movie. "Yes, I know all the words from the first three Star Wars movies," she admitted, laughing. Romberg said her Star Wars knowledge is so good she used to watch the sci-fi classics with her children with the volume muted, so they could recite the dialogue themselves. She added that, while she has seen them, she doesn't like the latest Star Wars prequels as much as their old school counterparts. "Of course, seeing Yoda with a lightsaber was worth the price of admission."

<b>THE PTA PRESIDENT</b> at Dranesville, Cindy Wei, said she already has a great working relationship with Romberg. The two have collaborated on organizing the school's fall fundraisers. "My first impressions are that she is going to be wonderful. She has been very easy to work with, very warm and friendly," Wei said. "She has indicated that she does not intend to change much, if anything, of Dr. Morrison's work here, so I don't expect anything dramatic."

Romberg agrees. She said she was "anxious to continue the great work of Dr. Morrison," but added that she needs to see the "school in action" before she can determine where she would like to put her own stamp on a school whose student population is about 20 percent minority, a much larger percentage than at Churchill Road. Romberg says she is eager to see firsthand what is, and what is not, working at Dranesville. "Certainly there are always areas of improvement but it is hard for me to judge what those are until I have seen the school it firsthand," she said. "But one thing I know is I have a fantastic group of teachers who are always striving to meet the needs of the diverse learners in their classrooms and plan lessons that teach everyone."

Romberg also acknowledged the economic realities that have changed since she was a principal in McLean three years ago. Dranesville was forced to delay purchasing new math textbooks for half the school this year. "Certainly things are just tighter. Our instructional supply budget is not as much," she said. "Things are just going to be a little leaner, and teachers aren't going to have as many new materials. But the things that really count, I am going to have. I will have an excellent teacher in every classroom and that's the real key to a quality teaching."

Standardized tests will remain a focus, she said, but "students will always my first priority. "At the end of the first year, Romberg hopes to sit down with her staff and teachers to identify development goals and put together a long-range plan for Dranesville.

One issue Romberg knows is important to many parents is her school's bell schedule. Dranesville, which has the latest start time of any Herndon elementary school, does not start until 9:15 and it does not let out until five minutes to four. She has spoken with the transportation department to try and push up the school's hours. School hours are determined, in part, by the availability of the county's limited number of school buses. "Obviously, one of our challenges is Dranesville's hours," she said, "Clearly this is something we can look to change because there seems to be clear and organized support for it among the parents."

<b>"LUCINDA ALWAYS</b> said, 'Change is good,' so I wasn't completely surprised when she left Churchill," said her former teacher Kelly. "But I was devastated and shocked at some level."

Kelly applauded Romberg's willingness to try new things. "She craved innovation and she was always so open to new ideas. Whenever I went to her and said, 'Lucinda, I really need this or I really need that,' she would say: 'Tell me exactly what you need and I will find a way to get it for you.' And she always did."

Kelly said Romberg is every teacher's number one fan. "She believes in letting teachers play to their strengths which is really refreshing and very rare in a principal," she said. "Other principals will try and cubby-hole you, Lucinda never did. She encouraged her teachers, especially the younger ones, to continue to take classes and to not get in a rut."

Romberg, who graduated from the University of Maryland and received her master's degree from the University of Pittsburgh, believes it is important to play to each teacher's strength and experience level and she says she is always open to new ideas and new approaches to teaching. "Every teacher brings a slightly different perspective and different experience to form a rich tapestry," she said.

One thing she already knows she likes about Dranesville is the feeling of community she gets every time she drives up to the Powells Tavern Place school. "It is so accessible because it is such a community school that so many can walk to school," she said. "Dranesville has a reputation for strong parental involvement. From what I hear, the parents here really share their parents' value system for education. They want their children to be involved and they aren't afraid to offer their help and support. That's great."