Rima Vesiland’s plate is full — and now so is her slate. Now that Nancy Kreloff has taken her position as the 10th-grade assistant principal, the administrative team at West Potomac High School is complete.
Kreloff joins Assistant Principals Greg Oliver, Bruce Jankowitz, Inez Bryant and Janice Monroe. She comes to West Potomac after having spent 2 1/2 years at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Prior that she was the department chair of social studies at Lee High School.
“As department chair, I realized that there were things on the administrative side that I wanted to be involved in,” Kreloff said. “I wanted to branch out and do something different.”
Working at West Potomac is a homecoming of sorts for Kreloff; living in Stratford Landing, this is her neighborhood school.
“The idea of going back to a community school [vs. magnet school] was attractive to me,” Kreloff said. “Plus I had admired Rima for a long time.”
Although Kreloff just started two days ago, she already has big plans, and said, “I want to be one of those people who set boundaries, but is also an advocate for the student. It’s a real balance, supporting a healthy class environment. As an administrator, I want to be approachable and want kids to know me.”
Kreloff said that she learned about "the other side of education" at Thomas Jefferson, but feels that the challenges that she faces at West Potomac are generally the same as at all high schools.
“You need to maximize the learning opportunities and give a sense of belonging to the whole community,” Kreloff said.
In dealing with the sophomore class, Kreloff said that she will assess where students are and try to get them involved. She feels that at this point, students need to think about whether or not they will be taking AP courses, and make choices about joining clubs or sports.
“So many things call for kids’ attention. We need to provide more in high school than ever before,” said Kreloff, who is planning to meet with the class soon, and said, “I’m a firm believer that everybody needs to be invited. I’d like to invite them to get involved and make relationships.”
In addition to working with a class, all assistant principals have other ancillary duties; in Kreloff’s case, she will oversee the ESOL program, foreign language department, librarians and custodians.
THIS IS ALSO the first year for Oliver, who took over the role of ninth-grade assistant principal this year.
“I finished my career in Ohio and Michigan, and now I’m starting over,” Oliver said.
A principal for 25 years, Oliver was looking to move to a big city. He liked the fact that Fairfax County was such a progressive area and also wanted to take advantage of the cultural events in the Washington, D.C. area.
“When I saw an opening, I thought, this was a great opportunity,” Oliver said. “This is a great place to be.”
Oliver specifically asked to work with ninth graders and said, “I’ve long been complaining about the transition from eighth to ninth grade. This is where you can have the most impact.”
As part of his plan to better integrate freshman students, he is working on a Freshman Focus Program. This ninth grade initiative will extract 100-200 students and place them in a program that will help them make a successful transition from middle to high school.
Team teaching across content areas will include information technology, character education and more. Oliver said that the goal is to develop a small freshman faculty that will help these students improve their academic skills and make for an easier transition into sophomore year.
“There are too many ninth grade failures, Oliver said. “This will be a school within a school.”
In addition to Olivers’ duties with the freshman class, he also oversees the social studies department, is responsible for the student and staff handbooks, oversees the school newspaper, and takes care of the duty rosters.
As far as preparing students for SOLs, Oliver said, “Everybody has a piece of that. We’re all responsible for the SOLs.”
Coming from two states that had standardized testing, Oliver said, “I am used to performance accountability. I find Fairfax County to be very progressive and think it’s good that it’s curriculum driven.”
As a student growing up in New York, Oliver had to take the Regents exams, and said that back then, people were complaining about "teaching to the test."
They still are, and Oliver said, “You have to teach to the test, that’s how you measure.”
He thinks that both the AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) and NCLB (No Child Left Behind) are great initiatives.
Oliver said that cultural diversity presents a challenge for the school, adding that they now have two part-time Latino liaisons who are reaching out to the communities. They will have a Latino Night on Wednesday, Feb. 23.
The administrative team meets once a week and Oliver said that they share the history of all students; sometimes overlapping grades.
In a perfect world, Oliver would like to see more money for alternative programs and better support from the community and the parents.
BRUCE JANKOWITZ is halfway through his third year as assistant principal for the 11th grade. He also is responsible for the Science and English departments and oversees staffing. As the main conduit with human resources, he has a lot of responsibility this summer during Vesiland’s absence. He also works with the summer interns and student teachers.
“The nice thing about 11th grade is that the students are focusing on their future,” Jankowitz said. “Most of them are beginning the process of investigating colleges or looking at other alternatives.”
Jankowitz tries to keep in touch with the students, saying, “Whenever I see a student, I give them a check-up. I take the time to talk to the students.”
Jankowitz works closely with Janice Monroe, who was assigned this year to the newly created role of assistant principal for special education. Because Jankowitz’s background is in special education (he was a teacher and principal), he understands the role that Monroe plays as well as the needs of the special education students.
He mentioned that Monroe setup two evening review sessions for the students who needed to do expedited retakes of the SOL tests.
“You have to keep kids focused,” Jankowitz said. Being in charge of the English department keeps him connected with the students, and he said, “English writing and research are so important. It gives me another avenue to work with students.”
Jankowitz sees the extreme diversity at West Potomac as one of the biggest challenges.
“We’re trying to meet the needs, but there are incredible challenges,” Jankowitz said. “We have growing ESOL and special needs groups and need to be sensitive to that.”
In a perfect world, he would have a community and school with one mind — with the number one focus on the students. Jankowitz is concerned that so many students have to work long hours in addition to attending school, and said, “There are so many things that pull our kids. There has to be a blend.”
When all is said and done, he thinks that West Potomac is “the best kept secret in the county. We have a lot to offer.”
JANICE MONROE comes well prepared for her new role as assistant principal of special education, having served as the department chair of special education since 1994.
“I know these students so well,” said Monroe, who works with special needs students at all grade levels. She oversees a department of 32 teachers and 18 assistants who work with about 300 special education students. Transition specialists work with seniors to help them find a job or decide what college or trade school they want to attend.
“The teachers are very supportive,” Monroe said. “I have never encountered a teacher who didn’t welcome a student into their classroom.”
Special education students fall into two main categories — low incidence students who need a lot of assistance, and high incidence students who are monitored by a case manager and checked to see if they’re doing all right. Some students are in self-contained classes, but any student can take just about any course.
“We try to fully integrate these students into the West Potomac community,” she said.
Her ancillary duty as assistant principal is to oversee all the testing done at West Potomac.
VETERAN INEZ BRYANT is currently overseeing the senior class, but she has worked with all the grade levels, looping up each year with the students. She’s been an assistant principal for the past seven years and serves as the acting principal in the absence of the principal. She was the summer school principal for two years, and currently oversees the math, physical education and business departments.
“I don’t have a big challenge [with the seniors]. The majority of kids are focused and working on essays and recommendations,” she said.
Bryant said that the students know she has many college connections and look to her to send them in the right direction. She also looks for scholarship and intern opportunities.
“A lot of kids come and ask [about scholarships],” she said.
Bryant believes that the biggest challenge right now is meeting AYP and NCLB standards.
“There are categories that we didn’t do well in and we need to focus on them,” she said.
She acknowledged that NCLB is under funded, and said, “We’re asking teachers to do quite a bit and don’t give them enough resources. We have to meet the needs of diverse learners.”
To help with this, Bryant has divided the math teachers into teams. “They give the same tests, the same quizzes, but give individualized attention to those who need to be re-taught a concept,” Bryant said.
She feels that there is plenty of help, with both after-school tutoring and lunch-time help available. West Potomac also offers remediation course in the summer for those students not passing SOLs. Bryant has taught SAT prep courses, and is glad that West Potomac will offer a semester class next year that will focus solely on SAT preparation.
In a perfect world, Bryant would like to see West Potomac go to 4x4 (block scheduling). She said that they’re doing it at the Academy and it works well. The advantage is that students only take five classes a semester and then they take the SOL as soon as they complete the course.
“It’s fresher in their mind, and if they don’t pass the first time, they can take it at the end of the year,” Bryant said.
She would also like to see more staff development for the teachers, and more funding for textbooks, resources and technology.