Alexis Boyd Joins TNCS as Director of Student Support!

As The New Century School enters its second decade, the TNCS Community has welcomed some wonderful human beings to join it. Alexis Boyd, Directer of Student Support, is one of them. The first thing you’ll notice about Ms. Boyd is her smile—she’s almost always smiling! Director of Student Support is a somewhat new role at TNCS, combining elements of the Deanship and Counselor, but as we’ll see, Ms. Boyd wears both hats perfectly.

Meet Alexis Boyd

Ms. Boyd is originally from Pittsburgh, PA and moved to Maryland at the age of 8. Since then, she has lived all over the state, from Montgomery County to Ann Arundel County to the Eastern Shore. Currently, she lives in Howard County with her 10-year-old son, Levi.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in Social Work and Sociology from Salisbury University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore; a Master’s degree in Counseling from Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA; and an Educational Leadership degree from Loyola University. If you’re thinking that Ms. Boyd knew from early on where her career path would take her, you’d be correct: “I enjoy working with students, and my pull has always been the educational system,” she said. “I always wanted to do my part. I think I have a unique way of getting to know people and creating safe spaces, and I want for people to be able to say, ‘I left feeling better than how I came in’ after spending time with me.”

Before joining TNCS, Ms. Boyd was working with 6th- through 12th-graders at The SEED School of Maryland, a college preparatory boarding school here in Baltimore City. It’s the only school of its kind in Maryland and draws students from all over the state. Ms. Boyd even lived in adult housing on campus for a 6-month stint while working there from 2011 through 2022 (with a 2-year hiatus working in an outpatient mental health services agency). It was her second job out of college, and she started there as a counselor, working her way up to senior counselor. When she returned to The SEED School after her time at the mental health agency, she took a more academic position as a dean and worked up to senior dean, where she was able to really dig into some of the things she loves, like creating engaging programming. She hopes to resume some of those aspects of her role at TNCS, perhaps in the spring. She also became familiar with Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) standards (SEED is a charter school).

She says that working with older students was both very different from what she does at TNCS as well as similar in some ways. Kids of all ages need lots of support, after all.

Alexis Boyd at TNCS

When Ms. Boyd came to TNCS, she knew she was entering a school in the midst of some important transitions and maybe even transformations under the leadership of Erika Johnson. She saw that as an opportunity:

I’m really big on culture and climate—bringing the community together as a whole and having a good time out doing it. If I can sprinkle a little bit of sunshine here and there, that’s what I plan to do. I’m trying to keep that consistent positive energy in the air.

She even has an action plan to get everyone’s day started off with positivity. Each morning, she’s the first one at the gate so that her smiling face is the one of the first they see, accompanied by a cheery “buenos días” and “let’s have a marvelous day!” Toddlers who clung to their parents and cried on coming to school now run straight to her and grab her hand. Older students who are “too cool” for such demonstrative affection get fist bumps with any manner of follow-up gestures that create connection and maybe even elicit a smile. Ms. Boyd says she finds unique ways to connect with TNCS students, as many as she can. Some like to “connect smiles”; others need a quick wiggle dance before entering the school building and some need that recognition of an individual characteristic, such as Mr. Cheerio who comes to school every day munching on a bag of Cheerios.

“I’m trying to be creative and welcoming students to school. That’s a joy. I do try to insert a positive vibe into everything I’m doing. We’re always going to try to have a good time, in addition to making sure that students feel safe, loved, and supported and that mentally they are solid,” she explained.

Director of Student Support Role: The “Check-In Queen”

Ms. Boyd is nothing if not enthusiastic about her position at TNCS that combines the behavioral aspect a dean monitors for and the mental health aspect a counselor monitors. If that sounds like a double helping of responsibility, never fear, Alexis Boyd is here:

I think being a counselor and being a Dean go hand in hand. Even when I’m disciplining children for negative behaviors, I’m still nurturing them. If you do it right, it all goes together.

I’m big on emphasizing choice: I want students to know that they will always have a choice but must be accountable for whatever the reaction is from that choice. I want to give kids the autonomy to make good decisions, because when they get out of school that’s honestly what life is all about: you make decisions all the time. So it’s teaching them to get in the habit of making good decisions and having self-agency. Every action you choose has a reaction, but you don’t get to choose that reaction.

And, when it comes to consequences, I want even those to be a conversation with the student. What works for one child may not work for another child, and learning the difference and learning how each student thrives is going to be the most important part of my job. I’m  helping them move toward the TNCS way while still keeping their individuality and their true selves.

Ms. Boyd has created a daily routine that helps her attain the objectives of each part of her role, while still being flexible enough to allow her to adapt to the needs of the moment. After her morning sunshine sprinkle, she does what she calls “check-ins” of each and every teacher—the culture and climate emphasis isn’t limited to TNCS students but extends to everyone in the community. Teachers and staff might need a cup of coffee or for Ms. Boyd to watch their class for a few minutes. She makes sure they feel supported.

Ms.Boyd then takes care of her administrative tasks, like paperwork, preparing for sessions with students, convening with Ms. Johnson, and so on. Afternoons are spent with individual students who may need the counseling side of Director of Student Support. She has created a lovely welcoming space for them to come unload, talk, play, fidget, or just admire the twinkling lights she has hung. “Whenever a student wants to talk to me or needs that one-on-one, they really gravitate here.” You can see why.

The space is warm with plenty of sensory calming items. In addition what is pictured, she plays soothing sounds like birds chirping or ocean waves and plans to bring in some gentler lighting as well. Her sessions with students employ mindfulness techniques and deep breathing exercises . . . and a lot of good old talking about how they feel. The walls feature prompts to help students find the words to express their feelings.

And then there’s the Feelings Pillow! Ms. Boyd describes her approach this way: “The word ‘therapy’ scares kids off with negative connotations. I prefer ‘play counseling.”

Even students who don’t have a specially scheduled session come to this room and get a little more centered to be able to go about the rest of their day. As Ms. Boyd is going about her day, she makes sure students know she is watching out for them and has created a system of communication that lets her know if students are struggling in the moment without disrupting class: a thumbs up means all is okay, a thumb parallel to the ground means let’s check in later, and a thumbs down means they’re going to her safe space now for even just a couple of minutes.

She also had TNCS students make journals in which to set both short- and long-term academic and other goals for the day, the semester, etc.. They also have accountability buddies that help them stay on track.

Progress so Far

With all that Ms. Boyd has already accomplished, it may be easy to overlook that she is still acclimating to her new role, her new school, her new students. Fortunately, she says, the TNCS Community has been very welcoming. “Learning all the things that I need to learn in a school that is not as MSDE heavy as my previous school was has been a journey so far, but the community is very open to me and all of my kooky ideas. I am very eager to play a good role here, and the staff has really allowed me to feel comfortable. I can go to anyone and ask questions,” she said.

She is already making her mark, too, having the opportunity to do some curriculum writing for a more structured advisory committee. But what she’s really known for? Recess parties! She’ll take the school’s sound system to the playground and dance with the preprimary and primary TNCS students to their hearts’ content. Their current favorites are “Happy,” by Pharell Williams, and “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” by Justin Timberlake. Videos, please! She also holds “lunch bunches” of four or five students at a time, during which they all eat lunch together in her office, then play checkers or Twister, or just talk. (She takes full advantage of these “fun” opportunities to also work in some TNCS Core Value discussions and some social-emotional learning!)


Where she gets all the energy from is a mystery, but we’re sure glad she brought it to TNCS! So how does Alexis Boyd decompress? In her off hours, she does daily self-care, which might take the form of a few minutes meditating by herself, just sitting in silence in her “own little corner.” In addition, she’s a sports mom and adores it. “You will always find a fold-out chair in my trunk, and there’s always an extra pair of tennis shoes and a bag of ‘just-in-case’ clothes in the back seat,” she said. Levi attends private school in Howard County and plays basketball and football, so Ms. Boyd is at practice or games several times a week.

On Sundays, though, she’s probably out to brunch with the gals. Egg-cellent idea, Ms. Boyd!

Meet Erika Johnson: TNCS’s New Head of School!

At The New Century School, the 2022–2023 school year is going to be an especially consequential one. It not only marks a decade since opening as TNCS, but it has also brought the TNCS community a new Head of School. As Head, Erika Johnson has an important message for us: One school, One program, One community.

Indeed, as we’ll see, Ms. Johnson sees her role, at least initially, as one of unifying all of the many wonderful threads that have made TNCS what it is into one cohesive, beautiful tapestry.

Meet Erika Johnson!

Let’s start with how Ms. Johnson came to be TNCS’s new Head of School—this story may surprise you! With the former Interim Head’s time fulfilled, TNCS was actively recruiting candidates. But when TNCS Co-Founders/Co-Executive Directors Roberta Faux and Jennifer Lawner met Ms. Johnson in the context of seeking Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) instruction for TNCS students, they knew they were speaking to a natural leader and asked her to be Head of School instead! (And, looking ahead a bit, the theme of DEI will come up again.)

Background

To back up, Ms. Johnson and her husband are originally from Baltimore. They traced quite a route around the country before returning here in 2014, however. Ms. Johnson attended McDonogh School from elementary through high school, then earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Maryland. From there, she went on to pursue a Master’s degree in Liberal Studies from Loyola University. (And she’s not done yet—next year, she’ll enter a doctoral program at American University for an Ed.D. in Educational Policy and Leadership.)

Amidst all that education, she still found time to get married in 2000 and start a family in 2002. Her twin boys were born in Atlanta, GA, where she was teaching kindergarten and after-school programs with the Boys and Girls Club of America. In 2005, the Johnsons relocated to Oklahoma City, OK, where they welcomed a daughter. There, Ms. Johnson taught middle school, and Mr. Johnson was a youth pastor. Soon after, he was called to lead a church in Dallas, TX, where they remained from 2008 to 2014. While in Dallas, Ms. Johnson homeschooled her three children and helped her husband build relationships with the community, such as by offering a food pantry. An avid advocate of literacy, she handed out books to the young people coming through the food pantry line.

If you’re starting to see some themes emerge, you’re on the right track. “I’ve always been in the classroom in some capacity,” said Ms. Johnson. Whether that’s in an actual classroom or in an ad hoc classroom taking place around the dining room table, along the food pantry line, or in her childhood bedroom as she taught her dolls to read, Ms. Johnson is a born educator. She describes being “plucked” from her congregation by the leader of the youth ministry to start teaching Sunday school lessons at the age of 11. “For me, those lessons always led back to teaching reading. Literacy has always been very important to me, so I was introducing stories and phonics and all these things through Sunday school lessons, and I’ve been teaching ever since,” she explained.

“Diversity Is Not Visual”

As for how the Johnsons wound up back in Baltimore, they returned to take over the elder Mr. Johnson’s tree removal service so he could retire. One of Ms. Johnson’s positions back on her home turf involved serving as Director of DEI at Notre Dame Preparatory School. “My heart is in the private school world,” she said.

As a student of color at McDonogh for 12 years, I am acutely aware that all students need an advocate. Now more than ever, when diversity is not visual, students need advocates not just in the classroom but within the administration so that the entire organization is able to shift to meet the needs of all students. There was a time when diversity could be relegated to Black and white. Today, diversity means so much more, and often one’s identity cannot be seen with the eyes. Our education systems must teach inclusion as we grow awareness about the complexity of identity.

And that brings us to TNCS.

Erika Johnson at TNCS

Ms. Johnson started at TNCS at the end of the last school year, taking those last couple of months to observe. She did, however, jump in and assist with some immediate needs around campus, so she got some on-the-job training. Since then, she has accomplished quite a bit.

“One School, One Program, One Community”

Right away, Ms. Johnson noticed that a lot was happening around her. Staff and faculty members were working diligently at their tasks, but not necessarily doing it “together.” “Part of the plan that I’ve set forth for the Leadership Team is to create One school, One program, One community. This unifies us so that the preschool is not isolated from the K through 8 program and vice versa. We’re really hoping to help families understand that what we begin at 2 years will walk with those students up through 8th grade,” she explained.

As part of this unification mantra, Ms. Johnson in collaboration with her Leadership Team (Ann Marie Simonetti, Director of Admissions; Abby Hou, Director of Preschool; and Alexis Boyd, Director of Student Support), has created the “Portrait of a Graduate.” This launches from TNCS’s four Core Values of compassion, service, respect, and courage and defines graduates by five traits, including:

  • Authentic global citizen
  • Inquisitive lifelong learner
  • Reflective communicator and collaborator
  • Creative problem-solver
  • Inclusive leader

“These are the things that we want to see from our 8th-graders as they move on to high school, but this also gives our faculty and staff a vision for who they have in their classroom—that everything they’re doing should be linked to the development of these traits,” said Ms. Johnson.

Another unification measure TNCS has implemented under Ms. Johnson’s leadership concerns the former TNCS Parent Council, which has now been renamed Family Partnership and will merge with the volunteering arm. Instead of the former Classroom Parent, that role has transitioned to Family Representative. “We’re trying to use more inclusive language and to demonstrate our understanding that families come in many different forms,” she explained. Also new this year, the Leadership Team will participate in the monthly Family Partnership meetings. They hope to build a strong link between the Family Community and the Administration.

“Sit and Steep in the Community”

With all that Ms. Johnson has already accompIished, she is careful to not overdo it so early. She explains it this way: “People ask what my vision for TNCS is, and I think the reality is that nobody can come in and cast vision for an organization they don’t know. I need a year to sit and steep in the community. I need to get to know the available resources and the curriculum, so that I can cast a vision. My hope is that the Portrait of a Graduate will resonate with the community. It really is who TNCS had already declared themselves to be. Now, how do we activate a plan to ensure success for each student?”

While she is developing this vision, she has a request of the community: Please be patient with us. “The leadership team is brand new. We are trying to honor the program as it has been designed while also remaining true to our Montessori inspiration and multilingual focus. We’re also trying to implement the necessary infrastructure to make those things possible. That’s going to take a bit of patience from everyone in the community,” she said.

In a true testament to all that Ms. Johnson has done so far for TNCS, this perspective is shared among the faculty and staff. Director of Admissions and Marketing and Montessori Programming Advisor Ann Marie Simonetti says, “Ms. Johnson joined us as a visionary leader with a deep respect for, and commitment to, the TNCS community. Her dedication to building relationships and deepening partnerships is evident in her daily interactions with students, families, faculty, and staff. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve alongside her on the Leadership Team as we endeavor to inspire lifelong learning and empower each member of our community to be their best.”


Although she gives her best to the TNCS community, Ms. Johnson balances work life with family life, and showers her loved ones, including King, her rescue Pit Bull, with love, laughter, joy, and respect.