Introducing Stephen Billhardt, TNCS’s New Interim Director of Preschool!

Since its inception 10 years ago, The New Century School has certainly grown into more than a preschool, having expanded to comprise both Lower and Upper School divisions. But in many ways, TNCS’s youngest students are still at its heart, and the lower school requires specialized guidance.

Meet Stephen Billhardt!

That’s why Stephen Billhardt has become TNCS’s new Interim Director of Preschool. He came to TNCS in sort of a roundabout fashion . . . but you’ll soon see how clear the path actually was! He and his wife were living and working outside of Boston when, in early 2021, she took a job with Baltimore City public schools. They did what Mr. Billhardt calls a “commuter marriage” for a year while he stayed in Massachusetts temporarily to complete his commitment working at an integrated preschool and kindergarten (and, over the summer, help his elderly father recover from a recent health incident). With both their son and daughter in their respective colleges, and the now 28-year married couple missing each other, he says it was the right move to also relocate to Baltimore. He joined his wife in mid-September and remembered TNCS from previous visits to Baltimore on walkabouts with his wife through Fell’s Point. “Any small school is of interest to me, so I had researched it to find out more about it. After 2 weeks of settling in, I reached out.” After speaking with both Co-Founder/Co-Executive Director Roberta Faux and Head of School Erika Johnson, he was hooked. Part of the appeal, he says, was the Montessori primary program, which he was familiar with because his own children went to Montessori school through 3rd and 4th grades.

Although—spoiler alert—Mr. Billhardt has been in education for more than 30 years, that’s not how his professional life began. “I didn’t know I was going to be an educator,” he recounts, “I thought I was going into business. My dad was in business, my brother was in business, so I just thought that’s what I would do. I actually sold car phones, fax machines, and antitheft devices for a summer.”

Background

Originally from southern Connecticut, he attended Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, earning an undergraduate degree in Economics and Political Science. “My first experience working with children was as a Big Brother in college. I had the same little brother for 3 years, and that got me interested in early childhood education.” He then ended up in Boston, where a couple of his friends were living who thought he’d make a great teacher and suggested he give it a try. While student teaching, he got a Master’s in Education, then a second Master’s in Educational Leadership from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. It was there that he met his wife, joking that that was the “best part of the program.”

After Boston, he moved to Vermont for his first full-time teaching job. “I just love Vermont. I taught at a small elementary school called Moretown Elementary—it’s just a great little school, and it’s right on the river.” What drew him to early childhood education? “It’s a great age. Early childhood is a wonderful learning opportunity for the children, for the teachers, for the parents. (As parents, we’re all still learning.) The developmental stage is so great—I appreciate all the smiles and the ready-to-learn attitudes,” he said.

And that sealed the deal! Since then, he has always worked in elementary school or preschool divisions. Next, he and his wife relocated to Michigan. She taught in Detroit public schools, and he went to Grosse Pointe to lead a grade 1 through 5 lower school. After a couple of years in Michigan, they relocated to Cambridge, MA, across the river from Boston. For the next 14 years, he assumed the principalship of schools in the Southborough and Watertown Public Schools.

“I’ve had the opportunity to be in independent and public schools for 33 or 34 years, 27 of those in educational leadership, and I like having that experience.” His most recent independent school experience was as Lower School Head at a pre-K through 4th-grade all-boy’s school called The Fessenden School in Newton, MA. “Once every 10 days he gathered all the students together and marveled at the range of learners and the developmental span. “Although that was challenging, it allowed me to really develop my skill set to engage children. They need some sort of activity; they’re attention spans are only so long, so you have to have little snippets of things and visuals. I would always have music at these assemblies.” Like TNCS, Fessenden “wears a lot of hats” being both a pre-K through grade 4 school but also having an upper school for 5th- through 9th-graders with a boarding option for domestic and international students. Mr. Billhardt was there from 2012 through 2020.

“Finally, over the last 2 years, I had a wonderful experience at the Willett Early Childhood Center, a public integrated preschool for children with and without disabilities. From age 3 there, students have the opportunity to get an individual education plan (IEP), and the public school is required to support them with the hope that they would learn strategies to overcome some of the disabilities or help support them with their disability. We had about 75 children on IEPs with another group of typically developing children as peer role models. All public schools have that opportunity, but I find it very effective. That was one building. Then there was also a stand-alone kindergarten building with 275 kindergarteners.”

Stephen Billhardt at TNCS!

His initial impressions of TNCS will surprise no one. “It’s a very nice community,” he said. “And there’s a lot going—a lot of exciting things. For me, it’s fun learning about such a language-rich immersion experience with the children. I’ve had Spanish in my schools in the past, but nothing to the level of what you see in the classrooms here.” He’s also excited to be back in the Montessori atmosphere. “Montessori is the greatest approach education has to offer for that age group.” He appreciates the multiage component of Montessori and the work ethic it inspires. “I love the open-ended work, the communication, and the collaboration,” he said. “I appreciate the methodical approach to the materials: how they’re laid out, how children access them, when they access them, and how long they access them. So, walking into classrooms and seeing that really gels with me.”

After this long in education, Mr. Billhardt says, he wants to be at a school that excites him. He also wants his role to work for everyone involved. “Let’s see if what I bring works for everybody and for the institution first,” he said of his new position.

With 33 years in the public and private sectors, Mr. Billhardt is excited to help contribute to TNCS. “I’ve had a unique opportunity to see and work with children and families in those sectors. I think all schools offer different opportunities for educators and school leaders to learn. Independent school leaders have a lot to learn from public school leaders and vice versa. I think finding what works best for children, how we communicate with families, how we support and develop educators—each school does it differently. But there are some very good practices out there, and being able to pick the best from the different schools I’ve been at and the experiences that I’ve had, I hope to bring those to this school.”

As for how he’s settling into his new city, he picked the perfect fall to do it, as he greatly enjoys being outside. With these warmer-than-normal fall temperatures, he’s getting plenty of opportunities to walk around and get to know Baltimore: “I like the water; I walk along the harbor in the morning and watch the sunrise, or I take the water taxi. I’ve climbed the Washington monument, but I haven’t yet made it to the art museums.” He particularly wants to get to the American Visionary Art Museum, and we all know what a treat he’s in for. He’s also excited to start sampling some of Charm City’s food. Then there’s the Enoch Pratt Free Library—he has been to four branches so far. Reading and listening to audio books are a favorite pastime. “I like spending time on my own to recharge,” he said. “I love being around people, but at the end of the day I like to get some alone time to rejuvenate.”

When he’s not in Baltimore, he likes road biking and boogie boarding. With our nation’s capital so close by, he and his wife are also looking forward to visits there. They also travel to their daughter’s music performances; she plays the upright bass. “I love spending time with my kids who are 21 and 20. I love seeing how they’ve developed as students and now young people/young adults. As parents, even if you’re an educator, you look back and at some point, you have to say, ‘I did a pretty good job’. I think it’s important as parents and guardians to celebrate our children’s successes and be there to support and nurture them as they grow up. They still need us. That’s our role; our role doesn’t go away.”

A Day in the Life: Peeking into TNCS Division by Division!

What happens at The New Century School does not stay at The New Century School. Instead, the magic that fills each and every day enriches the lives of the students who experience it far beyond the classroom. Imaginations are sparked, perspectives broadened, values instilled, skills honed, spirits of adventure awakened. All while students pursue rigorous academics in an environment that allows them to learn and progress at their own paces.

Although this last attribute is typically understood to mean that a student who is not ready to work at a standard age level is not forced to try to do so and therefore burn out, and that’s of course the case at TNCS where applicable, it often means the inverse here—students are not asked to wait for anyone to catch up to them but can soar as high as they so desire.

Among the TNCS community, we have watched this magic transform our children lives, but it can be difficult to articulate to someone unfamiliar with the school. Sometimes, it  just needs to be seen to be believed. So, this week’s Immersed is trying something a little different. Throughout the past years, we visited classrooms unannounced to get inside glimpses of what any given day looks like in each division. You can bet there’s almost always something special going on. Maybe that’s because with daily triple language learning, visual and performing arts, an emphasis on service learning, and a pervasive atmosphere of inquiry, there’s just no such thing as quotidian at this school. We invite you to look closely at the montages to follow. There are worlds to see.

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A Day in the Life: Preschool Division

TNCS’s littlest learners in the preprimary classrooms, ages 2–3, focus on social and emotional development. They learn to work in groups and cooperate with their peers. They are immersed in either Mandarin Chinese or Spanish, so, as they cultivate language skills, they do so bilingually. Take a recent visit from Spanish-speaking Clifford the Red Dog and Pete the Cat. In addition to being exposed to language in all forms, making music and art are their main in-class pursuits, and artists are invited to classrooms to present their age-appropriate art. As students are ready, they begin to explore the Montessori materials they’ll see regularly in the primary classroom.

In the TNCS primary Montessori classroom, students ages 3 to 5 develop the ability to concentrate—to start, work through and complete a given task. They use Montessori materials to hone fine and gross motor skills both individually and in small groups. They continue to develop socially and emotionally and begin to refine their language skills in, now three, languages. Art and music are daily pursuits as is an emphasis on peace and kindness.

A Day in the Life: Elementary Division

In elementary grades, K through 5th, academics become more rigorous, but the focus on visual and performing arts, music, and languages also amps up, with dedicated teachers in each subject, making for a truly well-rounded education. Fostering independence while celebrating community, the elementary program encourages students to ask questions then figure out how to find the answers. Field trips to local spots of interest as well as in nearby towns happen at least quarterly.

As elementary students age up, they move to building north, which they share with middle schoolers. Here, service learning expands to include the outside community as well as the campus.

A Day in the Life: Middle School Division

When TNCS students hit the big time, a lot changes for them at school. Academic preparation intensifies, as they ready for high school, but research shows that middle schoolers can flounder socially and emotionally, so TNCS students are given loads of opportunities to try out their burgeoning independence in new ways and develop self-confidence and self-agency.

This peek inside some typical days at TNCS (where a typical day is anything but typical) should make it clear—TNCS students have the world at their fingertips.

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TNCS Gets Ready for School!

Always follow the green for TNCS events!

Always follow the green for TNCS events!

On Friday, August 22nd, The New Century School hosted a very special Back-to-School Orientation/Open House—this event marked the beginning of TNCS’s 5th year in its 724 South Ann St. location! During each of those marvelous 5 years, the school has grow, adapted, and blossomed into what it is today, an educational environment where each child is nurtured, challenged, and celebrated. This is no small achievement, and the 2014–2015 academic year promises to be the best yet.

Exciting and important changes are afoot, each moving progressive, multilingual, independent TNCS forward. Families who attended the Open House learned of many of these changes during the event while they met teachers and explored school grounds, got to know each other or caught up from summer break, and enjoyed some of Chef Emma’s tasty refreshments. For those of you were unable to attend, read on to learn what this school year holds in store!

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 TNCS Staff: New Additions and New Roles

Although we bade farewell to a few instructors at the end of last semester, their contributions to the TNCS community will not be forgotten, and they will always remain part of the TNCS family. With great joy, we also welcome some new members to the caring, talented, all-around amazing TNCS staff.

Robert Bekas (Elementary Physical Education Teacher): Mr. Bekas was born and raised in Poland, where he graduated from The Academy of Physical Education in Warsaw with a Master of Arts degree in Physical Education/Sport Science. During college, Mr. Bekas specialized in strength training, fitness, and martial arts. In 2004, he moved to the United States and began teaching PE to local private schools. His other hobbies include teaching martial arts. He holds black belts in karate, taekwondo, and kickboxing.

Teresa Jacoby (Kindergarten/1st-Grade General Studies Teacher): Mrs. Jacoby holds a Master’s Degree as a Reading Specialist from Loyola University in Maryland and a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and Special Education with an Art Education Minor from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. She also has an Advanced Professional Certificate Special Education 1–12 and an Advanced Professional Certificate Reading Specialist Certification, both from the state of Maryland. She has taught a wide variety of students ranging from Kindergarten through 8th grade Special Education in all content areas in both self-contained and inclusion environments. She also has run many extracurricular activities from chairing the Science Fair to Chess Club to Lego Robotics Club. She lives in Baltimore and enjoys using her artistic skills in and out of the classroom, gardening, riding bikes, and spending time with her family.

Jie Liang  (Mandarin Primary & Elementary Assistant): Ms. Liang holds a Master’s Degree in Secondary Education for Chinese Language from Towson University, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in German Language and Literature from the University of China. Ms. Liang has facilitated Startalk programs in Vermont and was an immersion teacher for the Confucius Institute in Nuremberg, Germany. She has taught kindergarten at the Baltimore Chinese School and interned at Perry Hall High School teaching advanced-level Chinese classes. She was a Lead Teacher in TNCS’s inaugural and highly successful Summer Startalk program in Summer 2014.

Dan McDonigal (STEM Teacher Grades 2–4): Mr. McGonigal grew up in Pennsylvania and attended Bloomsburg University, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications, specializing in Journalism. Mr. McGonigal worked professionally for 8 years with a market research company prior to changing his career to education. In 2006 he earned his Master’s Degree in Education from Notre Dame of Maryland University. He has 7 years’ teaching experience in Harford and Baltimore Counties. He is currently working toward a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) certification through a Cohort with Towson University. He is passionate about bringing STEM-related learning experiences to the students of TNCS. Mr. McGonigal is married and the father of two young boys. He enjoys sports, working on home improvement projects, and spending time outdoors. He also enjoys traveling, especially his trips to Italy and Ireland.

Maria Mosby (Montessori Lead Teacher): Montessori has felt like home for Ms. Mosby for quite some time. She began at age 2 ½ years at Columbia Montessori School, in Columbia, MD. After several moves with her family throughout New England and the Washington, D.C. area, she rediscovered Montessori while studying Early Childhood Education at Towson University. Ms. Mosby was a primary assistant for 3 years, and a toddler assistant for 5 years at Greenspring Montessori School (formerly, The Montessori School), where she decided to take her Early Childhood training through the Maryland Center for Montessori Studies. During her internship, she worked at The New Century School summer camp and loved the warm, peaceful community. In her free time, Maria enjoys running, making crafts, studying foreign languages, and yoga. She is also a certified children’s yoga instructor and will complete her 200-hour yoga training in 2015.

As we welcome these new members to TNCS, we also congratulate current staff members on continuing the wonderful work they do so well and with such big hearts. Some are adopting new roles, including Cassidy Bryson, who will work in the Primary group to support language immersion; Jennifer Hodapp, who will lead Elementary Spanish classes and assume directorship of Spanish school-wide; and Yurisan Gonzalez, who will be moving to the Pre-Primary Spanish immersion class.

Elementary Athletic Programs

For the first time, TNCS and Coppermine at Du Burns Arena at 3100 Boston St. are partnering to offer exciting afterschool athletic programs to TNCS students, including transportation to the facility! The Fall session runs September 9–November 13, 2014 and is available to students ages 5–10 years old. Choose from Flag Football on Tuesdays, Lacrosse on Wednesdays, or All-Star Sports on Thursdays. Younger students can participate in Coppermine Soccer on premises at TNCS on Tuesdays. Direct your questions about the programs and enrollment to Coach Mark (mark@copperminefieldhouse.com).

Kindergarten—It’s Official!

New for the 2014–2015 academic year, Kindergarten/1st-grade teacher Teresa Jacoby introduces her students to the classroom and its special routines.

New for the 2014–2015 academic year, Kindergarten/1st-grade teacher Teresa Jacoby introduces her students to the classroom and its special routines.

The kindergarten program may be the enjoying the biggest changes of all. Kindergarten students will henceforth join elementary students on the third floor as part of a mixed K–1st classroom. The weighty decision to take K out of the primary classroom will better equip students for their elementary years. In addition to a focus on reading and writing in English, K students will receive a thorough introduction to meaningful technology as well as daily Mandarin Chinese and Spanish reading and writing lessons. Read Mrs. Jacoby’s bio above to meet our new kindergarten/1st-grade teacher! She says: “Mrs. Tyson* (our class Assistant Teacher) and I are both thrilled to be new members of The New Century School TeamWe look forward to building a strong, respectful learning community where learners have the structure, opportunity, and support to develop intellectually and emotionally.”

(*Note that Mrs. Tyson was a last-minute [though no less welcome!] addition to the staff, and her bio details were not yet available at this writing.)

Class Commences!

It bears repeating—TNCS is 5 years old and going strong! Previously Patterson Park Montessori, a one-room preschool that opened in 2007, the growing school moved in the Summer of 2010 to Fell’s Point and was renamed The New Century School to gradually add a K–8th grade program to the preschool. Founders, Co-Executive Directors, and Baltimore City residents Roberta Faux and Jennifer Lawner have succeeded in creating a very special school with progressive academic programming that allows students to thrive at their own unique skill and ability levels.
 
The elementary program at TNCS started in Fall, 2010 with only a handful of kindergartners but has now expanded to include three elementary classes through 4th grade and will continue to add a grade each year to accommodate the maturing student body through the 8th grade. It’s a glorious prospect!
 
TNCS looks forward to seeing you bright and early for class on Monday, August 25th, 2014, and we greatly anticipate assisting each child to make huge personal and intellectual strides this school year!