Suzannah Hopkins Joins TNCS as Admissions Director!

With the start of any new academic year comes changes. The New Century School is ever-evolving, striving to grow not just in size but also in substance. What is sometimes a difficult change to accept is the departure of friends—staff, students, teachers, and so on. Although saying goodbye can be hard, there’s always a bright side: new friends to be made. So, say hello to TNCS’s new Admissions Director Suzannah Hopkins!

Meet Suzannah Hopkins!

015Suzannah Hopkins is a native Marylander, having grown up in Montgomery County. She graduated from Ithaca College in New York State with concentrations in English, Art History, and Italian and then spent some time in Florence and other parts of Italy. In Florence, she got a post-baccalaureate degree in Art History (and enjoyed trying to fool the locals into thinking she was from there with her language and dialect skills). Later, at Johns Hopkins University, she attained a Master’s Degree in Museum Studies.

On returning to the United States, she worked in Washington, D.C., where she met her husband, another native Marylander. They currently reside in Anne Arundel County with their two sons, one 24 years old and the other going on 16.

When she isn’t helping steward children along their ideal educational paths, Ms. Hopkins enjoys attending her younger son’s lacrosse games, spending time with her family, and cooking. Her favorite local museums are The Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, where Mary Young Pickersgill sewed that flag in 1813; The Walters Museum of Art; and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Why TNCS?

Although Ms. Hopkins jokes that her education doesn’t seem to relate to what she does now, admissions has long been her career—for 14 years, in fact. Before joining TNCS, she was in admissions at St. Annes’ School of Annapolis and before that, at Sandy Spring  Friends School in Olney and Indian Creek School in Crownsville. “I really like admissions,” she says, “I enjoy meeting families and learning about their children and finding the right fit for them.”

She also circled back to her arts background and how it actually does relate to her current role. “Museums and schools are both educational institutions,” she explained. “There’s a lot of crossover in how promotion and fundraising happens as well as in how core advancement and development take place. People are choosing to come to your institution to learn something. How do you welcome them? There’s a level of customer service. How can the family experience the place?”

She also explains that every school has its own culture and methods, but coming in at the start of the school year will allow her to shape her admissions procedures to what she knows works for her. “But, there are so many good things here,” she continued, “that I don’t think it will  be hard to get in the groove. All of the schools I’ve worked in have been progressive, whole child–centric, and cross-disciplinary, and so my joining TNCS is in line with my background. Plus I love the language aspect! I’m hoping to learn a thing or two.”

Another advantage that Ms. Hopkins had on her side was the help of former TNCS Admissions Director Dominique Sanchies to show her the ropes specific to TNCS. (As an aside, Ms. Sanchies is still affiliated with TNCS in an administrative capacity while she em”barks” on a new adventure. More to come.) “She’s been terrific,” said Ms. Hopkins. “In fact, I have her on speed dial.” Finally, this time of year is not a crucial admissions window, so she has had the breadth and space to enjoy what’s happening with the first few weeks of school as well as to get her Blackbaud admissions pages put together in a way that works for her and for the school. She was already familiar with Blackbaud from the parent perspective, which is another bonus. “I’m also reading through school materials and learning routines, but so is everybody else, so we’re all in this together.”

So Far, So Good!

This should come as no surprise, but Ms. Hopkins reports that things have been going really well for her at TNCS so far. “Everybody on the faculty and staff is lovely. It’s been really nice to get to know everybody bit by bit. The students here are great. The littlest babies are just adorable, and the older students seem so kind to each other—it’s really nice to see.”

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She is gaining ground quickly on putting names with faces, and morning drop-off has helped a lot there.

Drawing once more on her arts background, Ms. Hopkins commented on what a rich environment TNCS sits in, artistically and architecturally. “This community as a whole is so rich in history, and I think the school is very lucky to be located here. Look at the stained glass windows in building north! They are so gorgeous and can be studied and enjoyed right here in our space,” she remarked.

Goals for Admissions

“The first year is a learning curve with new systems and structures, getting to know families, and building relationships with faculty and staff. One way to do this is to jump right in and give tours.” Formerly, tours happened in groups (and still will in certain contexts, such as Admissions Fridays tours and Open Houses—the next one takes place November 2nd, at 10:00 am), but Ms. Hopkins is eager to give one-on-family tours and has already begun doing those. Her first tour happened on September 4th. “I really like giving tours,” she said. “I enjoy meeting the family and having the chance to talk to them individually and getting a moment to connect. You’ll see me frequently walking through the hallways with families. I’ll continue doing group tours as well to strike a nice balance of both and to make this as convenient as possible for families.”

She really means it when she talks about enjoying getting to know the community: “I’m pretty approachable,” she said. If there’s anything you need from me, come find me. That helps me to get to know you, too, so come say hello!”


With that, welcome to The New Century School community, Suzannah Hopkins!

TNCS’s Annual Elementary and Middle School Back-to-School Night: Your Source for Need-to-Know Info for the 2019–2020 Academic Year!

Now that summer has unofficially ended, and school is back in full swing, The New Century School kicked off the 2019–2020 school year with its annual Back-to-School Night on Thursday, September 5th. The focus of the evening was to meet your student’s teachers and to present the student’s daily schedule, a curriculum overview, and school policies. In other words, students have had 2 weeks to acclimate—now it’s our turn! However, many parents were not able to attend, so this post will outline some of the more important bits of information you’ll need to get ensure a great year ahead.

As TNCS enters its 10th year, it’s worth noting how the school and its programs have expanded and grown to what they are today. Changes each year are inevitable, but TNCS has stayed true to its identity and has successfully weathered those changes, transforming would-be obstacles into opportunities and continuing to grow the student body.

An overview of tips and policies is given here, and specific documents can also be downloaded accessed via the TNCS Parent Hub (as well as Blackbaud—see more info below).

Welcome to the 2019–2020 School Year!

The evening began in the gymnasium of building north with Head of School Shara Khon Duncan warmly welcoming parents, new and returning: “It’s nice to see all of your faces again—welcome,” she began. She next introduced the new staff and elementary and middle school teachtncs-back-to-school-night-2017ers, who then returned to their classrooms to prepare for the group breakouts by division. (Immersed will profile Suzannah Hopkins, Admissions; Lindsey Sandkuhler, K–1; Loretta Lee, 2–3; and Daphnee Hope, 7–8 in the annual “Meet the Teacher” series so you can get to know them better.) Chef Danielle provided tasty refreshments for attendees.IMG_2827 copy

Sra. Duncan then addressed the parent audience and presented four primary points about this school year at TNCS.

Blackbaud Comes to TNCS

Never fear, it’s not a swashbuckling pirate! Blackbaud is a brand-new student information platform rolling out for the new school year. Led by Sra. Duncan, TNCS had been on a quest for an effective, efficient system for more than a year, and Blackbaud rose to the top after a thorough vetting process. Said Sra. Duncan,”with a student information system, we should be able to get information about a student; make queries within the database; and, most importantly, we should be able to communicate with families.” Sra. Duncan gave well-deserved props to Karin Cintron for setting up Blackbaud and getting it out to parents.

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In addition to everything Blackbaud will make easier to accomplish from an administrative perspective, like admissions, re-enrollment, and so on, the parent experience will be greatly enhanced as well. The system houses class pages, an interactive calendar, community groups for networking (e.g., class parents, Parent Council, volunteering), resource boards, a newsfeed, links to Family ID and other sites, and more. Throughout this school year and as parents get familiar with it, Blackbaud will become the go-to for just about everything school related. “No more digging back through emails to find out what concert attire is supposed to be,” said Sr. Duncan. “It’ll all be there for you in one convenient location.”

The rollout will continue in a piecemeal fashion, as TNCS administration recognizes that too much change all at once can be overwhelming. This initiative is to help make school processes easier, after all. “I really want everyone to buy in to Blackbaud as our primary communications tool,” said Sra. Duncan. “However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t email a teacher—please continue to do so. Blackbaud is more for our school-wide points of business.”

Communication: It’s Not Just Talk

Speaking of communication, this brings us to Sra. Duncan’s second topic. “Last year was my first year as Head of School, and I learned a lot. One thing was the importance of communication. I really want to beef up communication with parents, but that’s a two-way  endeavor.” She urges parents to speak up when they have a concern, not to wait around and let a situation get out of hand or cause bad feelings. “If something’s bothering you, please let us know,” she said. “It’s better for all of us if we can address a problem from the outset and possibly make a difference. You’re not bugging us—these are your children. We’re supposed to be working together.”

Sra. Duncan has a way of getting to the heart of a matter! Keep the lines of communication open through emails, phone-calls, conferences . . . but preferably not during drop-off.

Carline: Ins and Outs

And that brings us to the third topic of the evening: drop-off and pick-up. The most important take-away here is safety. There are children and adults walking about, and their safety is paramount. The carline is a wonderfully convenience for parents, but it only works the way it’s supposed to when everyone follows the rules.

Drivers: The speed limit is 5 mph. Not any higher for any reason. Please obey the traffic directors and their signals.

Walkers: Use crosswalks–don’t walk through the parking lot! Drivers are obeying traffic directors and might not see you. The directors themselves might not see you. Do yourself and your child a favor and use the crosswalks!

Double parking: Don’t do it! You might get ticketed, as police officers are really cracking down on that this year. It also causes numerous circulation problems and causes frustration for TNCS’s neighbors. What is double parking? It can mean temporarily parking next to a legally parked car and leaving your car with the hazard lights on, but it also applies to leaving your car at all anywhere on the street that isn’t a designated parking spot. “It gums up the system,” said Sra. Duncan.

Obey traffic laws: For example, avoid blocking the intersection of Ann and Aliceanna streets.

You may have noticed that Sra. Duncan is no longer directing exiting traffic. Unfortunately, not to mention unacceptably, she was nearly hit three times last year and is not willing to repeat that risk. “I love my life,” she said, “and I would love to continue being Head of The New Century School with my legs intact.”

“I don’t know of any school that has a carline that everyone likes,” said Sra. Duncan, “and it never goes perfectly. But, we all have to work together. We are doing the best that we can to get the students out of the school buildings and into your cars. So, your patience is really important and appreciated.”

Grades Get Real

“I saw way too many high grades last year,” began Sra. Duncan. “While you might think, ‘great—that’s awesome!’, it’s really not. High grades are great only if they are truly earned.” So, she met with teachers to make sure everyone has a clear understanding of what the grades mean. How are children earning their As, Es, and 1s? Indiscriminately serving out high grades now will not serve students well when they move on to high school, and reality sets in. “One, we’re not setting our students up for success with this approach,” continued Sra. Duncan, “and two, we certainly don’t want to get the reputation that we inflate grades.” She also pointed out that students will not try harder if they have already achieved the pinnacle of success. “They need room to grow, something to work toward. There’s room to grow in a B, and it means that teachers will be working with your child in those specific areas.”

“Please don’t panic if you see some honest grades come home. We really want to do what’s best for our students.” Inflate gate deflated! Homeroom teachers will provide more information on grading rubrics.


And that was the gist of Back-to-School Night. More homeroom-specific information will be communicated by teachers, via Blackbaud, and from Class Parents. Enjoy your school year!

TNCS Head of School Wraps up the 2018–2019 School Year!

Shara Khon Duncan has been Head of School at The New Century School for a full year.  Immersed had another sit-down with her for a nostalgic look back at her first year, what goals she set and accomplished, what went well, what she’s continuing to address, and what she’ll tackle next.

Immediately, Sra. Duncan expressed her pleasure and gratitude for what she called a great year.

It’s really great—I love it. Friends, family, and former colleagues will say things like, ‘you don’t look tired enough,’ or ‘you’re still smiling; how is that possible?’, and it’s because I love what I do. It’s not a job. I love coming to this place everyday, where I have such wonderful people to work with as well as wonderful students and families. I tell people that this is one of the most diverse environments that I’ve been in. It’s a blessing to be here.

Diversity and languages are, indeed, important to Sra. Duncan, who was a Diversity Coordinator at one of her former schools. She is amazed that TNCS doesn’t even need one—it organically attracts a culturally diverse population and is inherently inclusive and respectful of the community’s various needs. And the languages really elevate the school for her; in fact, that’s what originally drew her to TNCS (see TNCS Welcomes Shara Khon Duncan as Head of School for her rich history with languages). She gets to use her adopted language Spanish daily, and she is even picking up some Mandarin, thanks to the perseverance of Li Laoshi. Sra. Duncan joked that, so far, she can tell you whether it’s raining or not. “In all seriousness, though, it’s just wonderful to hear the students speaking in Spanish and Mandarin,” said Sra. Duncan. It amazes me to hear kindergarten students who just started in the fall and spoke only English singing in both languages at the spring concert and sounding like they’ve been doing it all their lives. It gives me chills.”

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Goals Accomplished

The year went really fast in a lot of ways, and in a lot of ways I feel like I’ve been here a long time,” said Sra. Duncan. “It presented some challenges in the sense that there was a lot of work to do just putting systems into place, trying to make it so that we can run more efficiently in the background, which was one of my goals.” She explained that in order to be as visible and out and about on campus as she’d like to be, she needed to first work behind the scenes to establish a framework.

One such system is a new student management system, which the TNCS community will learn about in the coming weeks and will launch for the 2019–2020 school year. It’s called Blackbaud, and it will provide a much more efficient platform for communication—think school delay and closing announcements—as well as much, much more. Staff will be able to readily send out notifications, and teachers will have individual web pages that parents can access to find out what’s going on in the classroom rather than receiving such information from a sometimes unwieldy email platform. Resource boards will also be available to house other kinds of information so parents don’t have to go spelunking through their inboxes to find out, for example, what is the requested dress for an upcoming student performance. It’s right there in one easy-to-access place.

“That process of vetting various systems to see which one would work best for us took a good deal of my time,” said Sra. Duncan, “but we established teams, and I talked to other schools. Things like that take time; you want to do your due diligence. There’s no one system that works well for everyone, perfectly, but our hope is that this one will probably work the best for us.”

Blackbaud will also facilitate the application process as well as the administrative workflow for teachers and other staff so that they can maximize their time. “When you’re a small school, you wear many hats. But anything we can do to make people’s jobs better, so they work smarter not harder, is really important. We can, including me, find ways to use our other skills more effectively,” said Sra. Duncan. Curriculum is one thing that is very much on her mind that Blackbaud will help streamline.

See what other successes the year held in Thoughts on the First Half of the Year from TNCS Head of School Shara Khon Duncan, and read on for what’s to come!

What’s Next

One important change is with the upcoming implementation of i-Ready supplemental work. “We used to use SuccessMaker, but it didn’t really work for us the way we wanted it to this year. What we found through our research is that i-Ready will give students the ability to practice their skills in ELA and Math in a classroom rotation,” said Sra. Duncan. The advantage is that, as a supplemental program rather than a primary curriculum, it will help diagnose any problem areas students might be having and feed that information to the teacher.

Narrowing the focus a bit, with TNCS having graduated its first-ever 8th-grade class this past year, the Middle School is very much on everyone’s mind. One thing that this class showed Sra. Duncan is that test-taking skills are critical. “It’s a double-edged sword,” she said. “Being a school that doesn’t do standardized testing, per se, we nevertheless have to prepare our students for the standardized testing they’ll need to enter high school. So, we’re working on test-taking skills for our middle school students, in particular, and they all took the ISEE test this past year.”

She says she wants to make the TNCS Middle School the best it can possibly be and is focusing on strengthening that program over the summer.

Our goal is to help people understand that we go all the way through 8th grade. We want people to see this as a school that doesn’t end after preschool or even after elementary, it ends at 8th grade, and we want families in for the long haul. Families who enter in preprimary or primary believe that something is good about our program, so why not see how that can continue in their child’s life? They know that language is important, and they get to see it in action. I’m in awe everyday of what our teachers do, but we want that to continue all the way up. So that’s something we are working on.

Another thing the first crop of 8th-graders revealed to Sra. Duncan and to Curriculum Coordinator Adriana DuPrau, TNCS’s “resident expert on high school applications,” is that middle schoolers must get used to doing daily homework, so they increased the amount mid-year. “That may sound like not a popular thing, but it helps them get that time management piece down that they really need in order to be prepared for high school,” explained Sra. Duncan. “Students adapted to it wonderfully, and parents were right along with us!”

With the test pilot of increased homework having gone so well, this new initiative will continue for the coming year. Additionally, research and other long-term projects are on the horizon. “There’s a lot more that we need to teach our students, such as understanding how to use and be critical of technology. There are pieces that they have to learn about the whole process, and what’s important is helping them understand what goes into the process of researching. It’s almost as important as the writing process,” said Sra. Duncan.

She continued: “We feel very good about our first graduating middle school class, and we learned an awful lot about the whole process. Ultimately, we just want to make sure that we have everything we need to make sure our students are prepared for when it’s time to move on from here.”

It’s a Partnership

With everything that Sra. Duncan and the rest of the school is doing to ensure that TNCS students are learning and flourishing, it’s vital to remember that parents also play important roles in this process. One big theme of Sra. Duncan’s is the importance of two-way communication and that her door is open. When community members hear things thirdhand, for example, but don’t bring their concerns forward, uncertainty spreads. “When people are talking to others about something they’ve heard regarding the school, but they don’t come to me, I can’t address it. If you have a concern, I’m happy to talk to you about it,” she said.

She’s going to be straight with you, but she also really wants to hear what you have to say and is going to be very fair about that. “I know I have more peace of mind if I just say my piece or ask my questions. I don’t want anyone to ever feel like they can’t come talk to us. This is your child. Come talk to us. We may not agree, but we’ve got to talk about it. I get it—I’m a mom, too.”

A second important theme is that TNCS is a work in progress—a very innovative and exciting work in progress—and that there’s no such thing as a perfect school.

The advantage is that we will always keep trying to be better. We are a young school, but that’s a good thing, because we’re trying to figure out how to make this work beautifully every single day. We are trying to learn from every little thing that doesn’t quite work the right way. We fix what doesn’t work, and we figure out how to do more of what goes great. This hidden gem down here is pretty amazing, and when people really find out about it, they are duly amazed.

Final Thoughts

When asked what the main thing she wanted parents to know about her first year at TNCS, Sra. Duncan said: “This is what I was made to do. This is my thing. I’ve been working toward this my whole life, and I didn’t know it. It’s just so wonderful. This is my place. I love it. I really love it.”

And, with characteristic good humor: “Also please don’t run over me while I’m directing traffic. Please.”

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