New Walker Mill principal brings strong science, math background

(Natalie McGill/THE GAZETTE) - Nicole Clifton, the new principal of Walker Mill Middle School, succeeds Gorman Brown, who led the Capitol Heights school for seven years.

After 12 years in different Washington area school systems, Nicole Clifton is making a return in the fall to the district where she got her start.

Clifton of Upper Marlboro, who taught at Suitland High School from 1996 to 2000, is the new principal at Walker Mill Middle School in Capitol Heights. She will succeed Gorman Brown, who departed after seven years to serve as principal at Springdale’s Charles H. Flowers High School.

Clifton, who served as principal of J.G. Whittier Education Campus in the District for five years, said she wanted to make a change from the pre-kindergarten-through-eighth-grade setting at the public school, which focuses on science, technology, engineering and math. She said she always had an interest in running a secondary school, but also is excited about a chance to live and work in Prince George’s County.

Before teaching in Alexandria City Public Schools and D.C. public schools, Clifton taught social studies at Suitland High.

“I know middle school,” Clifton said. “I get it. They’re some of the best kids in the world. I’m the new kid on the block, that’s a no-brainer, but just embracing new relationships with kids and parents will be the biggest challenge.”

She said her background is in giving students access to technology and using it to track their achievements.

Clifton said she will continue to promote the use of the school’s existing technology, such as Promethean Boards, computer screens that allow teachers to create interactive lessons. Clifton said the boards minimize classroom disruptions and allow students to take quizzes using clickers so teachers can get instant feedback about whether students comprehend material or a classroom lesson needs to be tailored to struggling students.

“It’s inviting to the 21st century of kids who love technology,” Clifton said.

Brown said he was impressed by Clifton’s knowledge base and said she has a grasp on human dynamics and understanding early-adolescent behavior. He said she is used to working with talented student populations, experience that will lend itself to the school’s Talented and Gifted program offering accelerated learning for high-achieving students.

“She just brings a welcome knowledge and spirit,” Brown said. “She was at a STEM school prior to Walker Mill, and I think that science, technology, engineering and mathematics piece has been our focus for the past couple of years. I think she’ll do an outstanding job at Walker Mill.”

Part of that job will include making sure Walker Mill meets its Annual Measurable Objectives, which it did not for the 2011-12 school year because of reading performance, according to the Maryland State Department of Education Web site. AMO is a measure of whether a school reached state benchmarks for grade-level reading and math skills demonstrated on the standardized Maryland School Assessment given to grades three through eight.

Walker Mill language arts teacher Albert Lewis said Clifton’s use of data analysis through technology could help the school make AMO next year.

Lewis said Clifton is a “competitive” educational leader who wants to be the best.

“I think that competitiveness and the technology and how we integrate that into the lessons is what will help us move forward,” Lewis said.

Clifton said she thinks Brown did a “great job in terms of running his ship very well” and that he is always a phone call away if she has any questions.

“I’m a quick thinker,” Clifton said. “I learn quickly, so no fear. No fear at all.”

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