It will be the first day of school for more than just the students at Middletown’s four schools. The new school year brings new principals to Middletown primary, elementary, middle and high schools.

Frederick County Public Schools announced in July that Sandy Fox will take over as principal of the primary school, Jan Hollenbeck will take over at the elementary school, Paul Fer at the middle school, and Bernie Quesada at the high school.

“The Middletown community, if anything, comes across ... as a unifying spirit, and that’s very strong, and it’s something I know I’m excited to be a part of,” Fer said.

All have had an extensive career with FCPS, serving as both teachers and administrators, and all were transferred to their new posts for a variety of reasons.

“Every year, we examine principal assignments within FCPS,” Superintendent Terry Alban said in an email. “We consider the experiences and skill set of individuals and how that complements the team members at a school and the needs of the school based on an analysis of data.”

Alban is confident that each of the new principals will benefit the Middletown community.

“The new administrators in Middletown are quality leaders. They bring a variety of experiences and have a deep love of students. We believe they will work well with each other and the community,” Alban said. “I think it will be an exciting and positive year for Middletown.”

All four agreed that having new faces for the top posts at all schools in the same town was unique, but they said they are ready for the challenge and plan to work together.

Fer, who is joining Middletown Middle after serving as assistant principal at Ballenger Creek Middle School, said although starting in a new school is exciting, it can also be daunting.

“We’re all coming from places where we knew probably every student’s name,” Fer said. “The challenge is to get back to that level with a brand-new 800-some-odd students.”

Fox said it also takes time to figure out what specific challenges every school faces.

“Teachers have been back for just a few days, and we’re still learning the community,” she said. “Sometimes it takes a little longer than that to find those areas that we can continue to improve.”

Additionally, each age group is different. With primary and elementary school students, the focus is early childhood development, whereas with middle schoolers it may be helping them to begin identifying their passions.

“Middle school students, they’re really starting to find out who they are as individuals,” Fer said. “It’s really neat to see students start to find their niche and what they’re really interested in.”

And for high schoolers, it’s a whole different ballgame, Quesada said. He explained that the unique challenge with high school students is helping them handle such an important transition in life.

“You’re dealing with kids that are on the cusp of leaving the nest, it can be a very difficult time,” Quesada said. “It’s conflicting because they want to be an adult, but they still kind of want to be a kid.”

Regardless of the challenges, all four new leaders said they hope to form relationships with their community and break the stereotype of someone who is simply an overseer of the building.

“There’s always that idea of who a principal is, you know, someone that sits in their office and never comes out or is always in a meeting or is that authoritative figure,” Fer said. “I think we’re seeking to flip that on its head.”

Quesada said principals must always remember what their main responsibility is.

“The biggest part of the role of a principal is to remember you’re a servant for the families and students in the community,” Quesada said.

Hollenbeck said the job becomes more meaningful once students return.

“It is very motivating once you start having those in-depth conversations with people and it’s not just a name on a paper anymore. ... It becomes much more purposeful,” Hollenbeck said.

As the first day of school approaches, the group said they’re excited to finally get some energy into the school buildings.

“I’m excited for the kids to come back. They really bring the life to the building,” Fox said. “You hear their little voices and the excitement.”

Follow Katryna Perera on Twitter: @katrynajill.

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