On her last day, Mount Vernon High School principal Nardos King went into school trying to act like it wasn’t anything different. But as she walked through the halls, she couldn’t help but reminisce over the 20 years of different jobs and professional growth she experienced in the building.
The week before the first day of school, King announced via email she would be taking on the role of assistant superintendent of high schools in Baltimore County and leaving the position she’s held for the last nine years. In her new role, the Springfield resident will support other principals in 14 different Baltimore schools.
Before becoming principal, King worked at Mount Vernon High School as a finance technician, instructional assistant, teacher and assistant principal.
“During my time as principal, I have met some of the most amazing students, teachers, staff members, parents and community members,” King said. “I have had the opportunity to work with excellent school administrators, and together we have all accomplished many things to be proud of as a school community. My heart is filled with gratitude and so many fond memories of my time with you. I will never forget you.”
King’s last day was Sept. 11. Esther Manns, Mount Vernon assistant principal since 2004, is serving as interim principal during the search for a new administrator.
At the end of her last school day as a Major, a pep rally was held where King got to celebrate the return of full accreditation from the Virginia Department of Education. The school was previously accredited with a warning after test scores including math Standards of Learning dropped below the state standard. To help raise the scores, King had brought in an instructional math coach for the school’s teachers and established inter-department collaborative learning teams to share lesson plans to help students.
King said she found out about the full accreditation in late July. “I claimed it from the beginning of the year,” she said. “We had such great gains the year before. This time, I wanted to make sure students knew exactly what we needed to do. I explained to the kids our situation: Everyone was working hard, the kids need to work as hard as everyone else. Their school, their community —I wanted everyone to know how great they are as students.”
Marilyn Garber, the math department chair at Mount Vernon and who has known King for 18 years, said, “To be a good leader, one must motivate people to believe in themselves. Last year when Mount Vernon was on warning for accreditation, some were saying we would not make it. Mrs. King believed in our faculty and students and knew we could be fully accredited this year.”
To motivate, King has been known to take drastic measures. Several years ago, when looking to raise students’ science scores, she promised to cut her hair into a mohawk if the scores came up to 70 percent passing for the state standard. She remembers checking the results online, seeing 70 percent, and scratching her computer screen to see if it had dirt on it. “I’m going to have to cut my hair,” she said.
And the principal did, at a pep rally, with her own hairstylist. Joy McManus, a chemistry teacher and former department chair in her 21st year at Mount Vernon, said the students ate it up. “She kept her word.
“Kids would say she’s strict,” McManus continued, “she doesn’t cut them any slack, doesn’t lower expectations, just like a good mom. They love her and she makes them tow the line, follow rules. She has this way about her, just pulls the kids in and they end up loving her. Not all, but a great many.”
Forming and maintaining relationships with faculty and students has been key for King. “Once a Major, always a major,” said McManus. “She’ll say that at the end of faculty meetings. It means we wish you well, always come back home. That kind of attitude encompasses her compassion. We’re all still connected. That’s really important. Community is sustained.”
Mount Vernon instructional coach Patricia A. Dutchie agrees. “With over 2,000 students and staff, Nardos is a hands-on principal to her students,” she said. “She gets to know many of them personally and builds positive relationships with them. I personally have seen her buy clothes for several students over the years, give students rides home to change clothes and buy groceries for families in need. To do that, she sees beyond obvious discipline issues to the student underneath and seeks to understand underlying concerns and causes.”
Being able to celebrate the full accreditation and then cheer on the Mount Vernon football team and conduct the marching band at the game, King said was a great day and “the way I would’ve wanted to end my tenure at Mount Vernon.”
But she reiterated that “test scores do not define a school. I don’t want my legacy to be defined by test scores. When student success happens, those are the things I remember the most: a kid struggling, turning their life around, going on to college.”
King is also proud of implementing “Major Time” during the school day when students who are struggling can get extra help, as well as getting new artificial turf fields installed at the school and “just instituting the Major pride.”