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Doran Takes Reins as Wootton's Principal

As Wootton High School begins the 2003-04 school year, Dr. Michael Doran is the school’s new principal. He arrives after six years as principal at Pyle Middle School in Bethesda.

Doran grew up in England, and graduated from the University of Southampton in 1974.

He came to the United States two years later, living in Boston and New York for five years each while studying for his master’s degree (Boston University 1980) and his doctorate (Columbia University 1989).

Doran moved to the Washington area after he received his doctorate, first working as a principal in Fairfax County. He and his wife Kathy Lavindre live in Bethesda, and have two children: Sam, who is now a sophomore at Duke University, and Emma, a junior at Whitman.

Doran has also coached a Division I Washington Area Girls Soccer (WAGS) team, the MSC Crushers, for 10 years.

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What is the most exciting aspect of becoming Wootton’s principal?

“It’s a new challenge for me professionally. Wootton is a school where there is a lot going on. What’s exciting is that I’m going to a school that is already functioning incredibly well. My challenge is to keep it at that level, and to even see where we can go over the next five to ten years.

What types of changes do you foresee for Wootton?

“I think it’s too early to tell. I am somebody who absolutely has my own vision of what a school should be, but I’m also smart enough to know what I don’t know.”

“I’ve been impressed with teachers I’ve met, the counselors I’ve met, and the with the parents I’ve met. … They all seem to want the same kinds of things I want.”

What did you envision for Pyle when you first arrived there?

“What I really wanted to do when I got to Pyle was really to make it into an exemplary middle school, where the middle school met the needs of pre-adolescents.”

“There was a focus on academics, but also on ethics, where kids took lots of different kinds of electives; where they felt safe to take risks. There was a balance between getting good test scores and having good kids, and I mean good in the sense of decent and caring, not just good behaviorally. “

“I was proud of the fact that Pyle was a top school in the state academically through MSPAP [Maryland State Performance Assessment Program] and we also won an award the very next year for Character in Education. “That showed me Pyle had that Pyle had that balance.”

What challenges do you anticipate at Wootton?

“I think it’s a struggle where all schools that are high-achieving, like Wootton, like Pyle was, have a different challenge than some other schools. It’s not better or worse.”

“How do you have the kids work at the highest level academically, so that they can really grow and mature and be ready for college academically, but still remember that they’re 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 years old?”

“Pressure and stress have to be taken into consideration. … We need to offer those other kinds of things that don’t have a grade, that don’t have a teacher demanding homework.”

What are some of the difficulties students face at a high-achieving public school?

“You do see students manifest those kinds of anxieties… in terms of almost shutting down -- these very, very good students suddenly get bad grades. … You see them manifesting themselves in having eating disorders, depression, trying to be perfect. … Those are issues that you sometimes see at a higher level at a higher-performing school.”

“For these kids, they’re working hard, they’re just as worried, they’re just as concerned [as students anywhere else]. It’s not an easy life.”

“Being a principal at Wootton is certainly no less difficult than at any other [school]. Being a principal is very difficult, period. But it’s a wonderful opportunity.”

Is there anything you’d like to see more of from parents and the community in general?

“From what I’ve gathered we really do have an incredibly supportive community already. … For the parents who want to be involved, are we really getting them involved? I hope so, but I don’t know that.

“It is a really, really positive parent community. They already love the school, and they’re going to make sure that it stays a wonderful place. That’s the pressure I’m going to have.”

Are there any times at Pyle that illustrate that standard?

“There’s one that might be a humorous ones. … It was all about the backpacks, and the weight of the backpacks. Everybody kind of bought into [the idea that] our kids’ backpacks are too heavy; we’re going to ruin our children’s spines.”

“It built to the degree that we had a parent meeting. … It well attended.

“Obviously, [the parents’] expectation is that we were going to do something. … They don’t accept that this is just going to be a way of life … you can’t just say, ‘They’re heavy; don’t worry about it.’”

Pyle’s meeting featured a chiropractor, featured three kinds of backpacks that distribute weight equally throughout a child’s back.

“We had one person there showing people how to pack the backpacks. We had teachers there that promised that they would make sure that they didn’t have kids take books home that they didn’t need. … We said we would work with the kids, to remind them that they didn’t need to take every textbook home every night.

“What ended up happening at the end of a meeting that was open and honest, the parents realized and believed that the school didn’t just do this arbitrarily. … The parents trusted us, they realized we didn’t take it lightly that they had this concern.”

“[The backpack meeting was] an example of the high maintenance we have to give our parents… but because they’re these kinds of parents, we have the kind of kids we have. They’re wonderful, they’re bright and they’re going to be future leaders.”

What originally interested you in teaching and education?

“I grew up in England, and at 11 years old in England, we took a test … called the Eleven-Plus, and I failed it. If you failed that test at 11, you were steered toward what they called a secondary modern school. That school finished at 16 years of age, so you couldn’t go to college. While I was at that school, I had some very good teachers who still believed in me, and I guess at that time were kind of role models for me, the way that teachers look like they enjoy their work, but also have an impact on people’s lives. … By 13, I realized I wanted to be a teacher. ”

“I took another exam at 16, and finally did go to what they called a grammar school and did my last two years there, so I was able to go to college. … What it taught me was to believe in kids who don’t always do well early, that education is powerful and teachers are powerful in kids’ lives.”

“It was almost an obvious choice. What else could I do? What else should I do? There was almost no other competing idea in my life of what I should do.”

“I taught in England for two year before coming to America.”

What brought you over to the United States?

“An American lady, who I met in America while on vacation. I came and visited again the next year, and stayed and got married.”