Ann Marie Simonetti Joins TNCS as Admissions Director!

The 2021–2022 school year at The New Century School has been characterized by hope, joy, and glad new faces in the student body and the faculty and staff. One such new member of the TNCS community is Ann Marie Simonetti, Director of Enrollment Management (Admissions) and Marketing. Ms. Simonetti joined TNCS in September, when former TNCS Admissions Director Suzannah Hopkins accepted a position at St. Mary’s School in Annapolis, where her son is completing his senior year. Although the TNCS community was sorry to see Ms. Hopkins go, wishing her well in a position she will obviously enjoy deeply and being thrilled to welcome Ms. Simonetti are more than adequate consolation.

With school leadership experience in professional development, admissions, digital marketing and design, and advancement, Ms. Simonetti brings a wealth of knowledge to her position, which is so integral to the school. “I’m super excited to be here,” she said. “Everyone is so helpful and welcoming. It’s been a great couple of weeks, and [Ms. Hopkins] certainly did a great job of giving me all the institutional knowledge in the couple of days we got to be together.” Let’s get to know our new Admissions Director!

Educational and Professional Background

Ms. Simonetti attended the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, the alma mater of her parents and a few other family members, right out of high school. “I was undetermined for a while but eventually got into the major of hospitality and quickly found that to be the right place for me. I felt passionate about it, enough to pursue that as a career after college,” she explained. After graduation in 2003, she did a 400-hour internship at the Radisson in Valley Forge (since renamed). A Conference Center was attached to this very large business-oriented hotel, and her internship involved working in all the departments—front desk, sales, reservations, housekeeping—and getting a comprehensive picture of what operations required on a day-to-day basis.

“Through that, I found that sales and marketing was the area I really wanted to focus on and was very lucky to be asked to stay on in that role. I had the opportunity to do that for a while and then connected with the Radnor Hotel on the main line of Philadelphia, where I got into a management position and really started getting my footing in terms of how sales and marketing works together.” During her time at the Radnor Hotel, an unexpected opportunity arose for her to transition from corporate meeting planning to wedding planning. “Doing that, I got more experience working with all members of the family and how they each had individual wants and needs, hopes, and dreams to express. I also quickly acclimated to managing a rigorous project schedule and began exploring workflow management tools.”

It will become clear that her rich, diverse background primed her for her new role. Answering inquiries, providing customer service, following up on the detail-oriented pieces, and communicating the necessary information to all the people who need to work together to make an event successful served her well and parallels some of her current tasks. “The conversations I have now are very similar to those I had in that role in that they are focused on common goals and rely heavily on building a relationship to achieve those goals,” she said.

While weighing various options for graduate school she spent time as a private nanny. This experience reminded her of the many hours she spent in her Mom’s classroom and Dad’s school office as a child. She started on a post-baccalaureate degree at Cabrini University, where, coincidentally, our Head of School, Mr. Jacks, used to ride his bike through campus. During this time, she visited her hometown in south-central Pennsylvania and reconnected with her now-husband who she knew growing up. The couple had their first daughter in 2010 followed by twin daughters soon after.

After moving back to Pennsylvania she transferred from Cabrini into a unique post-baccalaureate teacher intern program. The program allows those with bachelor’s degrees to get hands-on observation time and experience in the classroom. “In this way, we progressed through to an instructional teaching certificate more expeditiously than we may have in a more traditional degree program,” she explained.

From Pennsylvania to Maryland . . . and TNCS!

Before Ms. Simonetti moved to Maryland, she had some more knowledge and experience to glean. After finishing her teaching certificate, she earned a master’s in curriculum instruction while working as a graduate assistant in the Teacher Education Department at Shippensburg University. Adding another piece to the puzzle, she then started working at the Montessori school where her oldest daughter was attending. “This was exciting for us in terms of wanting her to be there—it’s a philosophy I’m very passionate about—so when the opportunity came around to jump on board, I did my Montessori certification with them,” she explained. Toward the end of 2019, her husband was approached with a contract in Glen Burnie. Although only an hour and 20 minutes from where they lived in Pennsylvania, they felt that was not a reasonable daily commute.

So, I started looking for school administration opportunities that might be available near Glen Burnie. The robust community of Montessorians in this area was brought to my attention in talking with colleagues and members of my Montessori training cohort. After accepting a position in Columbia, we started researching schools and different places that we could live. We settled on Marriottsville/Woodstock, which is right in between Glen Burnie and Columbia and moved here in March of 2020.

If March 2020 sounds familiar, you’re probably feeling sympathetic for the timing of the Simonettis’ move. She was in school for only 6 days before the shutdown. Fortunately, this allowed them to get to know their surroundings and neighbors, and, as she neared the end of her 1-year contract, she started looking for different opportunities where she could grow and be part of a larger community. She began looking for schools with a toddler through 8th-grade model similar to the Montessori Academy of Chambersburg, where she worked in Pennsylvania.

At TNCS, the culture and the community appealed to her as well as the core values, which align with her personal mission statement and her vision for her professional and personal life. So, when this opportunity became available, she quickly reached out to TNCS Co-Executive Directors/Co-Founders Roberta Faux and Jennifer Lawner to convey her interest in the position but also as a “new place to call home and dig in there and set some roots. I really feel like I could contribute to the success and the growth of the students, the school, and the community and also to have that symbiotic relationship that we try to cultivate in the environment with the children,” she said.

In just her few weeks here so far, she’s already enjoying TNCS tremendously:

I really feel that everyone has been welcoming and helpful. The sense of community that I was getting from the website, my first visit here, and from some of the testimonials I’ve read online, is what I’m experiencing here on a daily basis. As someone who spent a lot of time in the classroom, I’m seeing that the things that are happening in practice are what I’m discussing with potential students and families as our philosophy, as our pedagogy and our curriculum. That’s so inspiring and makes it easy for me to promote the school because we really are providing those great opportunities and robust activities and meeting the individual needs of everyone in our community in a way that sets the foundation for learning and growing. It’s a great place for them to be but it’s also what I’m experiencing as a new team member—being met where I am and in terms of what I know and what I don’t know and what I need to bridge the gap.

For now, she’s focused on finding students who are the right fit for TNCS as well as continuing to getting to know current students and their families, learning more about the new advisory program (stay tuned for an upcoming blog!), and bringing some of her background and experience with outreach enrichment. “I’m getting to know our internal community and bringing ideas for how to strengthen our relationship with our external community outside the walls of the school.”

“I look forward to being here every day,” she said. And, when she’s back home in Marriottsville, you can bet she’s staying active. She coaches field hockey for the Howard Stampede and teaches a group fitness class. She also spends a lot of time enjoying the outdoors with her family, kayaking, exploring, and soaking up the beautiful surroundings.


Ms. Simonetti will be offering both in-person/virtual admissions events throughout the year. Please reach out to her if you know of a family who would benefit from being part of the TNCS community. Psst—our Fall Open House Is Saturday, October 23, 2021!

Gab Sussman: Opening Windows to the World in ELA!

Middle school at The New Century School enters its fourth year with a fresh new face as homeroom teacher: Gab Sussman. The first thing that strikes anyone walking into Ms. Sussman’s classroom is her warmth. She positively radiates enthusiasm and kindness, and it’s obvious that she wants to be there.

Educational and Professional Background

Growing up in Putnam County, in New York, Ms. Sussman attended both public and private schools and has a broad understanding of what both types of school have to offer. She attended Loyola University Maryland here in Baltimore as an undergraduate in a pre-med program. She said that battling the physics and calculus courses was fine for a while until she heard a classmate talking about her elementary education classes. Something clicked, and just like that Ms. Sussman changed her major to elementary ed. “That’s where it all began,” she said. “After I graduated in 2012, I went back to New York City and began teaching in early elementary classrooms in independent schools.” She also pursued a master’s degree in educational leadership at Fordham University. “There I did a lot of professional development around integrating technology; about reading and designing curricula; as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion,” she explained.

After her time teaching and earning her graduate degree, she returned to Baltimore in 2019 to “close the gap,” as she puts it—she and her now-spouse had been maintaining a long-distance relationship and decided it was time to change that. “When I started working here in Baltimore, I had the opportunity to teach the upper elementary grades, and now I’m really excited to be teaching middle school,” she said. The impetus for her progression up through the grades came about during that professional development for coding and computer programming. Although she loved teaching early elementary, she and the school librarian started a coding club, and so she began interacting more with upper elementary school students. “What was also fun about that was, as my own students were getting older and advancing into older grades, I was able to keep in touch with them through the club and see how much they had changed. Our relationships grew and got deeper because they were older and experiencing a perspective shift. Through that after school program of coding, I realized that I really enjoy teaching older kids.”

So, when she was planning her move back to Baltimore, she had a good deal of flexibility as far as what grades she was comfortable teaching as well as what age groups she enjoys teaching. She got a position teaching in an upper elementary classroom in a Baltimore independent school. “This felt really familiar,” she said, “to be teaching 4th- and 5th-graders. It was new, but also at the same time I had the experience of teaching coding to that age, so it was a way to expand my career and my skills as a teacher.”

Her path to teaching middle school happened along a similar trajectory. At the school where she was teaching, an opportunity to coach middle school field hockey middle school presented itself. This happened during what she calls “the pandemic year” and turned out to involve more than just coaching field hockey. “I was getting to know the students and hearing what their days were like and supporting them social and emotionally. They had just done online school for a whole day, and now they’re showing up for a virtual practice. It was new, but again it was an opportunity for me to interact with this age group.”

Falling into Place at TNCS

TNCS 7th- and 8th-graders on a jaunt around Fell’s Point.

And now here she is at TNCS! She says she started wanting to teach middle schoolers in a more direct academic way, so when the position opened up here, she was quite excited about it. She has both the very familiar upper elementary–age students in her English Language Arts (ELA) classes as well as the fun new chance to teach her 7th- and 8th-graders as both homeroom teacher and ELA teacher as well as Global Studies teacher.

Things are falling into place in multiple ways for Ms. Sussman. “One of my favorite things about teaching upper elementary and now middle school are the amazing middle grade and young adult books. They are engaging and rich and complex, and I love being able to reach students through books,” she said.

Stories are really powerful, and being able to find that genre or find that one book that really turns the student into someone who loves reading feels really fulfilling. It takes the legwork to do the research and find those well-reviewed books and getting them in the hands of students, but those windows and mirrors are a really powerful way for young people to learn about the world and relate to the world outside of their own bubble of families and friends. It broadens their understanding of how the world works. I think that books teach lessons and can be opportunities for connecting with other people.

Gab Sussman being a good neighbor and helping out at Greedy Reads . . . and maybe doing a bit of research?

Ms. Sussman has ideas about how to reach those students who may not be independently grabbing a book to read or defaulting always to graphic novels.

What I love about ELA is helping kids make that bridge from graphic novels to really learning what kind of stories or what kind of characters appeal to them. There are all kinds of graphic novels; they’re not just fantasy. And the graphic novel genre and and format is very appealing to students of all ages and strengths and skill levels. Being able to help students understand that there’s something about the kind of stories that you enjoy, so let’s dig deeper into that. A lot of it has to do with just learning more about who you are. I really try to find those kinds of stories that kids need or are yearning for and and put them in their hands. ‘This is the story you’ve been wanting—once you start reading and you literally fall into the book, you’re not going to miss the pictures. The words will paint those pictures for you.’


In her second month at TNCS, Ms. Sussman says she already loves it. “I’ve always been drawn to smaller communities. As a kid, I was really lost in a large public school, and I felt like it was really hard to figure out who I was and figure out where I fit in the larger community.” She explains that this informed her university choices as well as where she felt most comfortable teaching. “The smaller structure in many ways is conducive to a stronger community feel,” she said. She also feels that TNCS is authentically diverse and multicultural:

It’s very tangible. It really affects how people interact with one another, and even in small communities, you can still feel isolated or you can still feel alone. So, it feels really wonderful to be part of a community that is intentional about representations of cultures and ways of life here. It affects the expectations that people have for each other, and it feels very vibrant in a unique way.

She says this carries over even into how some students are new to the school and some have been at TNCS for their entire academic careers. “There is really rich history in their relationships with each other. It feels natural, and, in a way, it mirrors society in terms of how people have history in a place and some people come and go.”

She’s right at home at TNCS and in her ELA classroom. And the answer is no, if you were wondering whether she experienced any regret about giving up medicine in favor of a career in education.

I would be a very, very different person if I had not gone into education. I think being an educator is part of my identity—from the the training that goes into teacher education to the experience of working with kids and partnering with families to staying up to date on child development and what literature to expose kids to. I can confidently say that I feel really proud and really happy with where I am. As I was growing up, I had an older sister go to medical school and seeing that and wanting to be like her, might’ve been a factor in why I thought I also wanted to be a doctor. But having that conversation with that one person majoring in elementary education allowed me to carve this path on my own and for myself.

That sister went on to become a child forensic psychiatrist, and so she and Ms. Sussman are both experts in different areas of child development and not only have interesting conversations but are also able to support each other in their respective work.

All in all, it’s pretty clear that, at least for this part of Ms. Sussman’s story, the ending is a happy one.

Gab Sussman and her homeroom students, just chillin’ on the TNCS campus.

 

TNCS Canta y Baila con 123 Andrés!

Singing and dancing have always been regular activities at The New Century School. But when the TNCS Parent Council sponsored a virtual end-of-year concert by 123 Andrés on June 4, 2021, those traditions took on a special new meaning!

The Latin Grammy-winning music duo is well known to the TNCS community, and this joyous event brought us together in a new way. It was a first for the TNCS community to be sure, but it was also one of many firsts for the TNCS Parent Council. So let’s take a moment to reflect on their stupendous achievements! Tilly Gurman, the head of the Parent Council put it best:

I am so proud of all the activities we, as a Parent Council, have collaborated on over the last academic year. Considering the obstacles, in addition to many activities that we have done in years past, we pulled off the first Silent Auction, the first Earth Day Volunteer Activity at Patterson Park and now the first school-wide, real-time virtual concert to come together as a community and celebrate this amazing year!

And that’s really what the 123 Andrés concert was all about—celebrating our successes throughout the 2020–2021 school year, and the “beauty and resilience that is the TNCS community.” Revisiting this wonderful celebration seems like the perfect way to start the 2021–2022 school year on the right (dancing) foot!

TNCS families were given proprietary links to view the concert recording, which, due to contractual obligations with 123 Andrés, we cannot reproduce here. We can, however, enjoy these digital images from the event and some screenshots of the happy audience!

Concierto de Familia, con 123 Andrés

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Where There’s a Band, There’s Merch!

Although these aren’t really for sale, TNCS upper elementary students designed and created these beautiful posters for each of 123 Andrés’ songs.

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. . . And here’s to another year of one-of-a-kind learning and fun at TNCS . . . and hopefully plenty of signing and dancing!

Tad Jacks Joins TNCS as Interim Head of School!

On July 1, 2021, Tad Jacks joined The New Century School as Interim Head of School. Before he had even started, though, he expressed how much he was looking forward to being part of such a multicultural environment. TNCS Executive Directors and Co-Founders Roberta Faux and Jennifer Lawner told parents that, “[Mr. Jacks] comes to us with a wealth of experience, pedagogical expertise, and leadership skills.”

Let’s explore that wealth!

An Abundant Career

Mr. Jacks’ road to TNCS stretches far—overseas, in fact. He was born and grew up in the King of Prussia area of Pennsylvania, but he began his career in education at the American School in London as a student teacher and baseball coach. Although his love lay with working with kids, his first job out of college was as a college admissions officer before re-entering the independent school realm. Re-entering? Mr. Jacks attended Friends’ Central School, a Quaker co-ed day school, in Pennsylvania as a student, so it was a good fit for him to join Friends School of Baltimore. At Friends, he wore a variety of hats, from admissions to development (for example, he started up a a center for Russian language and culture) to teaching (for example, a high school class called “US society 1900 to 1960”) and even coaching golf.

After 23 years at Friends and all of those many hats, he was approached by The Odyssey School to become their Head of School. Although Odyssey’s mission is to provide an education environment conducive to learning difference like dyslexia, they wanted Mr. Jacks for his extensive experience with governance, strategic plans, accreditation, admissions, and development. Within a few years, though, his athletic daughter was about to go to college. He needed the flexibility to attend her matches and provide all the support college students need. As she was attending school in New England, he decided to take a position as Assistant Head of School at the Wooster School, in Danbury, Connecticut, alongside the Headmaster who just happened to be a dear friend of Mr. Jacks’ as well as his former teacher. He actually commuted to Connecticut from Baltimore for 5 years! And called it fun!

Back in Baltimore, he embarked temporarily on a project to lead and support the Middle Grades Partnership with the Baltimore Community Foundation. Before the next school year began, Mr. Jacks was contacted about heading The Craig School in Mountain Lakes, New Jersey. That 7-year stint came to a close just last year when the commuting finally did get to him (he was only home in Baltimore on weekends and holidays). “I decided that I’ve done this commuting enough, and I’m going to come home,” he explained. “So for the last year, I’ve been doing really interesting projects for people, mostly in education.”

TNCS and Tad Jacks: A Natural Fit

All in all, his career in education spans 42 years, a career he is grateful for. The depth and breadth of such an illustrious career might have tired out a less high-energy person than Mr. Jacks, but it’s clear he’s got plenty of ideas still to develop. And that brings us to TNCS. He says he had heard about TNCS both from friends of his daughter and from his natural habit of staying abreast of the independent schools in the area.

He has also worked side by side on diversity programs with our former Head of School Shara Khon Duncan. “I’ve known Tad since the 90s,” she said, “and TNCS is in good hands. He has a heart for diversity, and he digs right in and does the work.”

(Mr. Jacks says he is also eager to gain a little Mandarin Chinese and Spanish, not that multilingualism is his forte per se.)

Not surprisingly, given his background in development, he has begun to shape a vision of what his time at TNCS could mean.

I want a concept—a spirit—that as a school in Baltimore City we must continue making a difference for this city. And maybe it’ll come out in different forms along the way. There are so many problems that come to school even before a teacher can get to work with education. So I’ve always asked how I can make a difference in the city. I have way too much energy to not be in school right now. I just feel like it’s not just where I want to be, it’s also where I need to be.

Of course this kind of empathic orientation aligns beautifully with TNCS’s commitment to service learning, and Mr. Jacks says that’s another aspect of TNCS that attracted him. “It would be nice to put a solid foundation in place so that every year students in the different divisions know what big projects they’ll be working on,” he said.

That’s not to say that Mr. Jacks plans to make drastic changes—instead, he’s here to help. In an email to staff, he wrote:

My hope is that I will learn more during each meeting and want to hear from you about your roles, your interests, and how best I can help you. My pledge to all of you is that I will do my best to help each of you in your work and to support you on your objectives and goals. During the coming year, I plan to immerse myself in the life of the school, capitalizing on opportunities to build school spirit and support progress in key areas. I will be listening for ideas that foster relevant, engaging, and inspired learning.

And he’s eager to advance TNCS’s Core Values of Compassion, Courage, Respect, and Service. “In my first few days here, I have found that many individuals are compassionate about working with young children, have the courage to help a parent understand that their child may need more attention, have a respect for each other, and are in service to our community,” said Mr. Jacks.

Said Ms. Faux and Ms. Lawner: “It was clear from our interactions and from his amazing references that Tad’s philosophy of education, commitment to children, and auxiliary skill set would make him a fantastic fit for TNCS. We are confident and enthusiastic that this next step will move TNCS to an even stronger future as a leader in progressive, diverse, and joyful education.”

Although it may seem like he’d have time for nothing else, given his involvement in so many facets fo education, Mr. Jacks also has a personal life complete with hobbies and predilections, like contemporary music and visual arts. And yet, somehow, the conversation always swivels back to education in the best way. Mr. Jacks still remembers being in high school—elementary school, even. “I’m in education because of things that happened in the 4th grade; 4th grade and 11th grade were two watershed years, and I don’t think that’s any different for students now.”

How fortunate that TNCS’s current student body will have at least one of their watershed years under such capable and compassionate leadership. Welcome to TNCS, Tad Jacks!