By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 29, 2007; GZ13
When Suzanne Maxey arrived as the new principal at Seneca Valley High School
in 2003, students and teachers were struggling against a pervasive feeling
that the Germantown campus had descended into mediocrity.
Today, Maxey is widely credited with having orchestrated a turnaround:
improved test scores, higher staff morale, energized students and freshly
painted hallways. She is the winner of the 2007 Washington Post
Distinguished Educational Leadership Award for Montgomery County.
"In Suzanne's four years at Seneca Valley, she has transformed the school
from a gloomy, moribund place to one of the most vibrant and well-respected
schools in the region," wrote County Council member Michael Knapp
(D-Upcounty) in a letter supporting her nomination.
Maxey was hired away from Bowie High School in the Prince George's County
school system, where student performance was strong. She arrived at Seneca
Valley at a time when the new Maryland High School Assessments and a
regionwide focus on expanding Advanced Placement participation were taking
In the four years since, the school has improved in several areas. Passing
rates have risen 10 to 20 points on each of the four HSA tests. AP testing
has increased. SAT participation is up, and the school's ranking in the
county for average SAT score has risen from 20th four years ago to 18th this
Maxey has worked to reconnect Seneca Valley students to their school by
attending numerous sporting events, increasing school spirit exercises and
holding monthly meetings with groups of students. At spirit events, she has
kissed a pig and been dunked in a tank. She made hard hats for school
employees bearing the logo Team Seneca. She arrived at one football game
with boxes of noisemakers and cowbells.
Seneca Valley was "a school crying out for change and strong leadership,"
wrote Anita Weinstein, a parent. "She has made that change happen."
In Frederick County, the recipient of the Washington Post Distinguished
Educational Leadership Award is Gerald DeGrange, principal of Brunswick
Last year, the school was visited by a top official of the Department of
Education to recognize improvement under the federal No Child Left Behind
law. Faculty members and parents credit DeGrange's leadership for the
changes at the school.
Since his arrival at the school in 2005, overall passing rates on the
Maryland School Assessment have increased from 54 percent to 83 percent in
reading and from 58 percent to 86 percent in math, helping remove the school
from a state watch list for low performance.
DeGrange, 57, designed a spreadsheet-based program called Interventions to
help teachers track test data for individual students, as well as how each
student is progressing and what instructional help each receives.
Teachers and parents say DeGrange arrived at the school with a large
repertoire of jokes, a collaborative style and a fondness for cooking chili
and chicken corn soup for staff luncheons.
When employees said they wanted a cleaner building and stronger student
discipline, he responded quickly. The new principal took a cloth and cleaner
and explored the building himself. He set up a new student behavior system
that stresses recognition for improvement. He makes a rule of checking into
every classroom at least twice a day.
DeGrange calls parents to share both good and bad news about students. He
took home the school yearbook upon his arrival and learned every student's
name. He introduced literacy events such as book cafes and winter reading
nights for students and parents to attend.
"To most of us, it seems Jerry practically lives here," wrote Karen
Fitzpatrick, a school reading specialist, in a letter supporting his
nomination. "He comes early and stays very late. He always takes the time
needed for every detail."