When it was announced in April that Northwest High School Principal Lance Dempsey would be leaving after receiving a promotion, the initial reaction in the community was shock, but that quickly wore off when parents realized that the obvious choice to replace Dempsey was already in the community.
Most parents knew that James “Jimmy” D’Andrea, the principal at Kingsview Middle School, had worked as an assistant principal at Northwest for four years before moving to take the helm at Kingsview. And most Northwest parents knew that every student at Kingsview matriculated up to Northwest for high school. Everyone assumed that D’Andrea would get the Northwest post.
Everyone but D’Andrea.
“I was very torn about the situation,” said D’Andrea, sitting in his new office at Northwest last Wednesday, three days before the start of school. “I loved being at Kingsview and had no desire to leave Kingsview. I think everybody in the community was surprised when Mrs. Dempsey got the promotion. I was very happy for her, but it opened up the opportunity for me, and I was very torn about it because I loved being at Kingsview.”
But he wanted to get back to high school. Prior to his four years at Kingsview, D’Andrea had spent his entire professional career in high schools. He had worked at a high school in D.C. public school for six years and then spent five years at Northwest. “The four years I was at Kingview was the only time I was out of high school. I enjoy working with high school students. I love the opportunity that you have in high school to get to know students so much better because there are so many more extracurricular activities at the high school level, be it at sporting events, or competitions, or performances. There is so much more going on at a high school than there is at a middle school which gives you the opportunity to get to know students in ways where you don’t have that opportunity in middle school.”
Because of four years at Kingsview Middle School, D’Andrea will already be familiar with many of the current students at Northwest from day one. “The good thing is that I will already know about half of the students here Northwest. The current senior class were eighth graders when I started at Kingsview. It is great to reunite with students and families. It is really good to see them, although sometimes it is hard to recognize them. When I first met them, I was taller than them, and now many are taller than me.”
“I will absolutely be at as many sporting events as possible, because, as I said it gives me the opportunity to get to know our students,” he said. “I have always made it a priority to be there to support the students. I really enjoy that opportunity to get to know students beyond the traditional confines of the school day.”
He said that Mrs. Dempsey has handed over the @NorthwestJags Twitter handle which will allow him to continue to Tweet announcements, sports, and all Northwest news to the 1,600 followers of that account. “It is a great communication tool. Not only with parents, which is how I used Twitter while at Kingsview, but to connect with students here at Northwest.”
While the many students, offices, staff, and surroundings at Northwest may be familiar, much of what D’Andrea faces as principal of Northwest is different. For one thing, the enrollment at Northwest is much higher. In 2012, which was D’Andrea’s last year at Northwest, the enrollment was about 2,070 students. This year, as of August 24, Northwest had 2,350 students enrolled for the 2016-2017 school year, with more students enrolling every day, said D’Andrea.
And the students aren’t the only new faces. D’Andrea and his team have been working to hire additional teachers since he official took over as head Jag on July 1. Northwest has added 36 new teachers.
“What I have been working very hard on this summer is making sure that we have excellent teachers in every classroom,” said D’Andrea. “We got a significant amount of additional staffing due to the school growing by over 200 students in the last couple years. And, in addition, there is that staffing that the schools received from the additional funding that MCPS received from the County Council in May. The combination of those two things has resulted in an increase in the number of teachers at Northwest.”
“With the number of vacancies that we needed to fill,” he said, “we’ve been working very hard interviewing a tremendous number of people to make sure that we have all those spots filled.”
He said the additional staffing poses unique challenges regarding space utilization and making sure that the school is prepared to accommodate the increasing number of students. “We converted four computer labs into classrooms over the summer in collaboration with MCPS,” he said. “There are some periods of the day where every single classroom in the building is being used. We have a lot of teachers that are moving around during the day between classes.”
With all the changes, in terms of, additional students and new staff, the one thing that D’Andrea doesn’t want to change is Northwest’s success rate when it comes to student performance.
“Northwest has had a tremendous amount of success in recent years, and I am very committed to working collaboratively with the staff to continue that success as we move forward,” said D’Andrea.
“When you look at the student performance data from this school there has been a success in so many different areas. I am excited to be able to build on that success and having the perspective of knowing where our students are coming from based on my middle school experience. Having that middle school perspective makes me a stronger leader at the high school level,” said D’Andrea. “I am very committed to working with our leadership team and working with the staff and listening to different perspectives and hearing from students. I will definitely be listening to students, parents, and staff to identify the areas that we might need to work on in addition to focusing on the ultimate performance of our students.”
Some other differences this year is the make-up and size of the Northwest administrative staff. D’Andrea said the school would now have four assistant principals after an assistant school administrator post was converted to a full-time assistant principal’s post.
“The person who was the assistant school administrator, Angie Fish, moved into the new position as an assistant principal. We have two new assistant principals, Robin Wheeler who was an administrator at Damascus High School and Erica Singleton, who is coming from being an administrator at Kingsview Middle School.”
The Northwest assistant principals that have moved on are; Tim Brittan, who has left to become an assistant principal at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School and John Robertson left to pursue full-time graduate study this year, according to D’Andrea.
One change that D’Andrea will implement which affect students is a shift in cellphone policy at Northwest. “Historically, Northwest has said that students were only officially allowed to use their smartphones during lunch, except specific classes. However, beginning this year we are doing something that many other high schools are doing – allowing students to use cell phones during the five-minute passing time between classes.”
“Many teachers are using cell phones and other devices in class,” he said. “It is important that we as educators continue to adapt and use new technology. In the future, there will be more and more opportunities to incorporate instruction into the student’s devices.”
However, administratively, the cell phone policy is just about the only that the new principal is looking to change. “I think it is very important for new leaders to listen very carefully to students, staff, and parents to get a perspective on the school. Northwest is very different than four years ago when I was here last. The school has grown a lot; there has been a lot of changes in terms of academic programs and in terms of the success of the performance of students in a variety of settings. For me, it is about listening very carefully, being reflective and working collaboratively to make changes moving forward.”
“Northwest is an amazing place,” said D’Andrea. “I am so humbled and honored to be back serving as principal. It is going to be an amazing year.”
Top: New Northwest High School Principal Jimmy D’Andrea takes over at the Germantown High School familiar with many of his new students, but challenged by additional staffing and the desire to maintain the high student performance of the school.
Next: Northwest will have an enrollment of at least 2,350 students for the 2016-2017 school year and 36 new teachers on staff.
Next: Principal D’Andrea comes into Northwest knowing about half the students because of his four years as principal at Kingsview Middle School in Germantown, which is the largest feeder school in the Northwest cluster.
Photos by Germantown Pulse