Raising Expectations at "Small But Mighty" Rockville High
Part 1 of Patch's interview with principal and Mark Mann Award winner Debra Munk
With an enrollment that is one of the smallest among county high schools "sometimes people don't take us seriously," Rockville High School Principal Debra Munk says.
That's changed in recent years, says Munk, who sees Rockville's success on a television quiz show as one high-profile reason that people have taken notice of the school of about 1,260 students.
In two of the last three years Rockville's "It's Academic!" team has taken the top spot in the Washington metropolitan region, including an "It's Academic!" Super Bowl title earlier this year, defeating teams from Baltimore and Central Virginia.
"We've just suddenly gotten a little more recognition," Munk said. "We're small but we're mighty."
To the recognition that students have earned add recognition for Munk. She will be honored at Monday evening's county school board meeting as the winner of the Mark Mann Excellence and Harmony Award.
The annual award, named for the late principal of Parkland Junior High School who died in 1988, recognizes an administrator "who has shown an exceptional ability to encourage academic excellence, positive relationships, and strong community outreach," according to a news release announcing the honor.
"I just believe kids can do better than we think they can do," Munk said. "And I push them like crazy."
Rockville Patch recently sat down with Munk to talk about what the award means to her, how it reflects upon the Rockville High community and how the school has seen positive changes since her arrival in 2005.
In Part 1 of the interview Munk talks about why the award isn't hers alone, how Rockville has narrowed the achievement gap among students and why Rockville can beat a private school in almost every way.
Patch: Tell me about the Mann award.
Munk: It's really a community award. You don't get a Mark Mann award individually. You have to have a lot of good people who buy into your vision and who make all of these things happen. And I've had that kind of a staff. And I've had that kind of support from the community and from the students.
We have been very successful with our African American and our Hispanic students, in particular. We've had huge gains in their SAT scores. We've had huge gains on their passage rates on the [High School Assessments]. We're getting them into college at higher rates than we every have before. And there are a couple reasons for that: We've really focused on them. We have a number of them in the [Advancement Via Individual Determination] program [for students who are "in the middle" academically]. And then our college and career counselor is African American. Her son went to Duke. She can just get to the kids. I'm really proud of the success of our minority students.
One of the things about Rockville that's very interesting is we reflect the diversity of the county. The percentage of [students who are] white, African American, Hispanic and Asian are almost the same as Montgomery County as a whole. I'm probably the only school that reflects that diversity almost so exactly. We're not skewed one way or the other — maybe because we're right in the heart of Montgomery County. And Dr. Weast sort of looks at our school as kind of the canary in the mineshaft, you know. If we can move ahead, then the whole county ought to be able to move ahead.
Patch: So you're a nice microcosm of MCPS and Montgomery County as a whole.
Munk: Exactly. I believe in excellence in everything. It's important to me to have a winning football team. But it's also important for me to have National Merit Scholars. It's important for me to have a fabulous art program and send kids to art colleges. It's important for me to have an award-winning marching band and an excellent chorus. At the same time, I want kids to be making the honor roll.
We've been very successful at reducing two negative numbers. One is suspension and the other is ineligibility [for extracurricular activities].
Patch: What's the eligibility requirement these days?
Munk: [A grade point average of] 2.0. And we've gotten more kids to be eligible than we ever have before. The climate's changed. Doing well academically has become the norm.
Patch: And that wasn't the case when you showed up? The climate was different?
Munk: It was very lackadaisical. And we were hemorrhaging our top kids. They were all going to magnets and private schools and we've gotten them back. And that's part of the growth you're seeing is — we've got a lot of kids here from private schools now. We rarely have kids now that go to the magnet programs.
We used to have 12, 14 kids that go to the Richard Montgomery [International Baccalaureate] magnet. Not anymore because they have IB here and an IB diploma from Rockville means the same as an IB diploma from Richard Montgomery because it's an international standard scored internationally. And it doesn't matter where you get it. If you can meet the standard at Rockville as well as you can at Richard Montgomery it doesn't matter.
Patch: The school system is saying that one reason enrollment is growing is that families are opting not to pay tuition for private schools and are enrolling their children in public schools. How do the county's public schools compare to private schools in the area?
Munk: I've had people come in here and they've said to me, "Why should I send my child here rather than to a private school?" And I tell them, I said: "I can beat your private school in everything except one thing: The class size."
I said: "I have better resources. I have better trained teachers. I have better curriculum. I have better materials. I have better technology. I have fine sports teams. I have more clubs. I have more things your children can get involved in. I can beat anything at any private school you name. The only thing I can't beat is the class size."
And from what I'm hearing in the private schools, I've had people come in here and they said "We had class sizes of 23 last year." So when that happens, I don't know why you would go to a private school.
Tomorrow in Part 2: Why Rockville High is better than your stock portfolio.