The Washington Post

Karen Roche, Moorefield Station Elementary School

Q What are the main differences in approaching this job, compared with your two years as principal of Aldie and Middleburg?

There really isn’t a huge difference, in the fact that it’s still all about children. It’s all about making sure that we meet the needs of every child when they walk through that door. Of course there’s the size difference right off the bat. I’m coming from [schools] of 100 students and 60 students; Moorefield’s going to open the doors with over 800 students. So that’s a big difference. But I’ve spent the past several months finding the cream-of-the-crop teachers, teaching assistants, front office staff, custodial staff. So we are more than excited to get in there and open the doors and welcome all those students.

Are you doing anything special to help bring children from four schools together into a new, large school?

I’ve tried to be conscious about that in placing the students. One of the things we’ve worked on is to make sure that we have a good mix of students in each class, that we have a good mix of Creighton’s Corner kids, Legacy kids, Hillside kids, and then just balancing everything, so that when every child walks into the building, they’re going to know at least one familiar face. I think that’s really important the first year.

Have you ever opened a new school, as a teacher or administrator?

Yes, I was a charter member of Eagle Ridge Middle School [about] 2001, and that was a lot of fun. So I had a little idea of what we wanted to accomplish, to come in, get a great staff, build that sense of community, build that sense of who we are as a school.

What are your highest priorities in
hiring staff members?

The highest priority for me is [hiring] staff that want to work with children in an engaging manner. [The students’] attention span due to the technology has really changed over the past 10 years. So you really can’t be a classroom of paper and pencil. You’ve got to be a classroom teacher who can think outside the box. You still have to have the high expectations. The rigor has to be there. But there has to be a way to teach children nowadays where they’re using all of their senses, they are moving, they are absorbing the information. And so you need a teacher who embraces that.

I don’t expect to walk into a classroom and see students sitting at their desks. I expect to see the teacher actively engaged and walking around, and I expect to see 20, 25 kids walking around, engaged, moving, discussing, exploring and really getting their hands dirty, so to speak, and learning that way. I think that’s the way students have to learn nowadays to keep up with the changing world.

How full will the school be when it opens?

I’m going to start at a good place. We’re looking at classroom sizes that are going to range anywhere from 19 to 24 students per class. And I have six teachers at every grade except fifth grade; I have five teachers [there].

What do you think is the most
important job for the principal of a new school?

Hands down, it’s starting that community, building that community. You need to make sure that instead of its being a school of Creighton’s Corner, Legacy, Hillside and Rosa Lee Carter, it’s a school of Moorefield Station. And so we really worked hard, having our parent meetings last year, going to the schools and meeting all the students, voting on the mascot.

We’ve really taken a lot of time to build that community so that parents and staff and students are excited to come to Moorefield and build that community.

What kinds of outreach have you done?

I had three parent meetings over the spring, and I’ve also been to every school at least twice to meet with the students, because I think that’s important, that they know who I am, and that they know what school they’re going to, and that they start to take a vested interest in their school.

How was the mascot chosen?

The students voted [for] the Sharks. We had five different choices and, hands down, the Sharks won. Every time I’d go into a school and start to talk, they’d all start chanting, “Sharks, Sharks, Sharks!” So it was pretty inevitable that we would be the Sharks.

What are the biggest challenges you’re facing before you open?

Now we’re getting down to the nitty-
gritty. We’re making sure that we’ve got every student accounted for; we’re making sure that we have our a.m. kindergarten routes; we have our p.m. kindergarten routes done; we’re making sure the parents are aware that we’ve got the open house coming up, Back to School Night. Really, the tough work is done. We really worked hard to get the staff in place. The building is ready to go. Now it’s just checking the boxes. But I would say the biggest thing this year has been to work to get the right staff, the right people together. And I feel very confident that we’re ready to go.

If you had one message that you’d like to convey to your parents, what would it be?

I think the most important message is that we are going to take good care of your child. We are going to meet the needs of your child. We’re going to make sure that child walks in every day and is excited to come to school. Your child will be challenged, but your child will also be nurtured.

Are there any other thoughts you’d like to share?

I’ve been in teaching and education for 22 years, and all of my 22 years have been here in Loudoun County. And I think this is probably what I would consider to be the highlight of my career, just because it’s so exciting to be able to bring a community together and to bring a staff together, and to build what you think a vision of a great school is.

Really, to me, it’s the fundamentals of just meeting each child’s needs and getting them excited to come to school. We have their children for 61 / 2 hours a day. That is a huge part of their awake time. And so I want those students to get up every morning and want to come to school, and want to learn. I think that’s my job as an educator.


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