Making a difference by making connections

CCS’s new lead principal, Barbara Anne Komons-Montroll, outside of the school. Photo: Brett Sigurdson

CCS’s new lead principal, Barbara Anne Komons-Montroll, outside of the school. Photo: Brett Sigurdson

CCS’s new lead principal wants to meet as many people as she can on the way to having an impact at the school

Brett Sigurdson | The Charlotte News

Outside of CCS, construction workers make a racket fixing the school’s roof, providing the facility with much-needed repairs. Inside, the building is also receiving a new look, though perhaps one not as obvious to the naked eye: the school’s administration has taken a new shape with new personnel.

As workers talk on scaffolding outside her new office, Barbara Anne Komons-Montroll moves around boxes yet to be unpacked. She’s been busy since beginning June 1, and the new lead principal at CCS is already taking steps to meet her first goal as the leader of the school: building relationships with students, faculty, staff and community members.

Warm and friendly in person, Komons-Montroll may be ideally suited for this kind of bridge-building at CCS. After all, she and CCS’s other new administrator, instructional leader Stephanie Sumner,  enter their positions under some scrutiny. When the school’s co-principals, Greg Marino and Audrey Boutaugh, both tendered resignations in February, a contingent of Charlotters, citing rising budget costs and a shrinking student body, urged the School Board to restructure the administration or risk defeat of the proposed $7.5 million budget at Town Meeting.

After the budget did fail, the board offered a kind of compromise: the school would keep two administrators, but rather than have co-principals to split oversight of the school’s K-8 grades, the school would hire one lead principal to oversee all grades and an instructional leader to focus on curriculum. The move cut roughly $28,000 from the budget, which passed on the second vote a month later, though by only 11 votes.

Komons-Montroll, however, is undaunted by the difficulty the board has experienced in passing a budget in recent years. As the principal of Doty Memorial School in Worcester, Vermont, she faced the kind of belt tightening that so many other schools around Vermont have faced.

“It’s a very important responsibility to find the best way to maximize the dollars that the town allots to the school to provide the best education to the kids,” she said. “Finding that balance—I see that as paramount to my work.”

The key to striking this balance? Building relationships, Komons-Montroll explained. While at Doty, she attended a community lunch at Worcester’s Town Hall every Wednesday to meet with townspeople to talk about school issues. At a Town Meeting there, she asked Doty students to speak to voters about how the education budget some townspeople were intent to vote down supports their learning, a move that won over several naysayers.

“It involves showing up, the person-to-person, a lot of listening,” she said. “I believe it’s really important to connect the school and the community.”

This personal approach to leading is emblematic of a passion for making positive changes in educational systems. Komons-Montroll grew up in Yonkers, N.Y. She attended Dartmouth, where she majored in geography and education. Her professors embedded in her a sense of purpose to open high-quality educational opportunities for all.

“I strongly believe in public education,” she said. “I believe in its gifts and what it offers and helping improve its ability to meet the needs of every child. And there’s always room for improvement in how to meet the need for every child so they can be the best they can be.”

Upon graduation, she taught first and second grade at Underhill ID School in Vermont. She briefly left public education to work on curriculum at the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center and at the YMCA  in Burlington before returning to school to attain a masters in education leadership from UVM. After spending time as the regional director for Building Bright Futures, she became principal at Doty, a position she held for four years.

Throughout her education experiences, Komons-Montroll has been passionate about how the system of education works, how teachers, staff, parents and the entire school system can have a positive influence on a student. “Everything is connected,” she said. “If everything is connected, it makes sense to look at it from a wider view and knowing that one thing will impact everything else.”

In CCS, Komons-Montroll sees another opportunity to have a positive impact on a school, one closer to the Burlington home she shares with her husband and two children.

“This is a high-quality school with high-caliber teachers, engaged parents and community,” said Komons-Montroll. “It’s all very exciting.”

As she gets acquainted with CCS, one of the system-wide issues she has to contend with is how she and Sumner will construct the lead principal / instructional leader roles. Right now they’re developing it, building on the proposal that the School Board created but taking a strengths-based approach to cementing their roles. One thing is for sure, she and Sumner have hit it off.

“Barbara Anne and I have worked together beautifully so far,” said Sumner. “We have worked hard this summer to carve out as much time together as possible, and that time has felt very organic and energizing.”

For her part, Sumner is focused on connecting with teachers. She will oversee the continuing implementation of Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Standards as well as personalized learning plans, efforts that will see her lending support to teachers implementing them in their lesson plans.

Said Sumner, “In the short-term, that means a lot of ‘on-the-ground’ support—being available to support teachers with their instruction and assessment and being a leader in the professional development needed to support them. It is essential that we work to find ways that better enable our teachers to focus on student learning in the face of many increasing demands on our time with students.”

For both Komons-Montroll and Sumner, the coming weeks and months are opportunities to make these relationships and more. Komons-Montroll has some ideas for making connections with Charlotters as she moves closer to the first day of classes. Until then, she said, she’s happy to have the opportunity to make a difference at CCS.

“It’s exciting,” she said. “I will grow and learn through this process. I see opportunities where I can grow myself, and I will grow with everybody here.”