Top of the Hill

Top of the Hill

When Rodney Moore talks about working with middle-school students, the Sidney Lanier Middle School principal leans forwards and begins to talk with his hands. He emphasizes his words with the rise and fall of his voice.

"By the time they leave middle school they are the people they are going to be for the rest of their lives," Moore said. "It is paramount that you supply academic and social guidance so that they can become productive citizens and members of society."

Moore will soon be applying his passion for students in Loudoun County as the principal for Stone Hill Middle School, located in the Dulles South District. The school is scheduled to open in the fall of 2007, but Moore will begin as Stone Hill's principal beginning July 3.

"There are a lot of things to do before the school opens," he said. "I like being involved in new construction projects because they are so exciting."

Stone Hill is not the first school Moore has helped open. In 2002, he was the opening assistant principal at Liberty Middle School in Clifton.

Audra Sydnor, Fairfax County's Assistant Superintendent of Cluster I, was the principal of Liberty when it opened and hired Moore as her assistant principal.

"It was a very competitive process, but he had the pieces I needed in opening a brand new school," she said. "Rodney had a way of being able to be creative and innovative and that's important at a new school."

Moore said he grew a lot as an administrator while opening Liberty.

"There are certain skills that you hone and you gain by opening a new school," he said. "You have to create totally new relationships; relationships with local businesses, a new staff and the community."

THE ROAD TO becoming principal at a new school at the age of 36 was a winding one for Moore. While growing up in Washington, N.C., he was constantly surrounded by teachers.

"In such a small community I saw my teachers at church and the grocery store," he said. "Some of the teachers I had, had taught my parents."

It was not until his 10th-grade history class that Moore began thinking about a career in teaching.

"I was just amazed at the things that happened in class, at what my teacher did," he said.

While a student at Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina, Moore majored in education before switching to media.

"I decided I wanted to be a journalist," he said.

Moore was applying to graduate school when he picked up a job at a local radio station. It was while he was working at the radio station that Moore found out he had been accepted to graduate school with a teaching assistantship.

At the University of Akron in Ohio, Moore was in a program for higher-education administration and was teaching adjunct classes at nearby Walsh University.

In 1996, however, Moore's life changed.

He was in the doctorate program at Akron and working at MetLife when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. For more than a year, he was out of school and out of work. After he completed his chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Moore re-examined his life.

"It gives you a different perspective and a different idea of what's important," he said. "So I went back to teaching."

Moore had taken enough courses to qualify for a provisional teaching license in North Carolina and three weeks after his recovery, he was back in his home state.

SINCE GOING back to teaching full time, Moore spent two years teaching English and special education in North Carolina and then came to Virginia. He spent three years teaching eighth-grade English at Langston Hughes Middle School in Reston, before moving onto administration.

Sydnor, who first met Moore as a teacher, encouraged him to join the administration leadership program.

"I found him to be exceptional in instruction, he loved students and he had a very good rapport with teachers and parents," she said. "It was just that extra nudge to tell someone, this is what we see."

Moore entered the program and, when it was time to begin his internship, Sydnor was there once again. She hired Moore as an administration intern at Lanier Middle School.

"Rodney Moore had the best writing sample and was the most articulate and was so sound in instruction," Sydnor said about hiring him as an intern. "I was tickled pink to have the opportunity to groom him."

Between encouraging him and hiring him as both an intern and an assistant principal, Moore said he is deeply grateful to Sydnor.

"She took the first chance on me," he said. "I am thankful that she believed in me and entrusted me with those responsibilities."

THE DECISION TO move to Loudoun County Public Schools was a difficult one for the Sterling resident.

"I had thought about it when I first moved to the area because I lived in Loudoun County," he said, "but I was so happy with where I was in the Fairfax County school system."

His final decision to apply for the position at Stone Hill was a personal one for the father of 12-year-old and 2-year-old daughters. His wife, Meredith, a teacher a Seneca Ridge Middle School in Sterling, was out of work for a year after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Moore found it hard to be so far away from his family during the difficult time.

"Family always comes first," he said. "The experience [of this year] made me say this opportunity would be great for me and my family. This way I can come home, have dinner with my family and see my daughter before she goes to bed and still get back to a night event."

While the decision to apply came from a personal place, Moore became more and more excited professionally as he moved through the application process.

"Everything I heard about Loudoun County was true," he said. "I just became more and more impressed."

All new principals in Loudoun County are selected by a committee, Acting Director of Personnel Services Paul Webb said. For principals of new schools, the committee is made up of superintendents, other principals and teacher and parents from the schools that will feed into the new school.

"The panel is a confidential process," Webb said. "All principalships are handled this way."

Following the panel and rounds of interviews, the superintendent makes a recommendation to the School Board for a vote. While the School Board is not involved in the selection process, members know they can trust the recommendation that is made.

"[Superintendent] Hatrick normally does quite a bit of research and we all understand how important the principal role is," board member Bob Ohneiser (Broad Run) said. "Far and away the principals have been well-chosen individuals, highly charismatic, highly prepared and highly experienced."

Moore said he was nervous throughout the difficult application process, even though he knew he had the skills to do the job.

"There were a number of great people they could have chosen," he said. "I felt honored that they felt confident enough in me to trust me with this school."

As excited as he is with the new opportunity Stone Hill will provide, Moore is sad to leave Fairfax County behind.

"I love my job," he said. "I love the people I work with. The staff here is top, it's like family."

Lanier Assistant Principal Aimee Holleb agreed with Moore, saying she sees Moore not just as a principal, but as a friend.

"I knew him as an assistant principal and had a relationship with him before he became a principal," she said. "I am very lucky because I consider Rodney a friend."

MOORE'S CONGENIAL personality is no more apparent than in his philosophies about teaching and children. He believes in entrusting his staff and allowing them to try new things.

"He allows people to have the independence to get the job done," Holleb said. "He supports then and encourages them to take risks, like creating new classes or switching scheduling to better meet the needs of the kids. He trusts people, which is important in a leadership role."

Sydnor said one of the best things about Moore is his belief in the open-door policy for parents.

"Never second guess an opportunity to go in and share joys and sorrows and successes," she said. "He genuinely cares about people."

Moore believes that parent and school cooperation is important in the success of children and that a teacher or administrator's job does not end at the classroom door.

"It is said that it should be 50/50 school and parents, but sometimes you have to do more than 50 percent," he said. "I never want it said that [the school staff] didn't do all they could do for a student."

It is that dedication to children that Moore will be looking for when he hires the staff for Stone Hill.

"They've got to love kids and middle-school children particularly," he said. "I can teach content support, instructional skills and technology, but you can't teach a person how to love kids."

When making decisions for students and for the school, Moore keeps that love for children at the forefront of his mind.

"I always say, make a decision as if it would affect your own child," he said. "Then, even if you make a tough decision, you know you did it in the best interest of children."