It was a dark day at Westland Middle School in Bethesda when Alison Serino took over as the new principal.
Serino arrived at the school July 2, in the middle of a power outage caused by the June 29 derecho.
“I came in with the power outage. My first four days here, we had no power,” Serino said. “It was fun to come in powerless.”
She came to Westland after eight years as principal at A. Mario Loiederman Middle School in Silver Spring. She replaces Danny Vogelman, who retired as principal at Westland at the end of the last school year.
She started her career with Montgomery County Public Schools as a social studies teacher.
“I became an administrator because I absolutely loved teaching, but wanted to have a greater say in how a school should run,” Serino said. “I have an aspiration to lead and teach so staff and kids perceive me as a teacher.”
Her love for teaching is not just an empty phrase, according to Steven Katz, mathematics resource teacher at Westland.
“Many principals will tell you that they are a teacher first, but very often you don’t get the impression that they ever want to get back into the classroom,” Katz wrote in an email. “I see that she feels a principal, as she told us the first meeting, is a teacher on hiatus.”
Serino, who grew up in Silver Spring, was the student member of the Board of Education when she was a junior at Springbrook High School.
“It’s relevant to why I became an administrator, because [even then] I had big ideas about how the school system should run,” she said.
For now, she said, she is in a pulse-taking mode, getting to know staff, students and parents.
“It seems people are very, very happy here so it would be foolhardy to come in and do anything in a sweeping way,” she said.
Serino said she is getting the lay of the land, learning what it is about Westland that people love so much, yet is looking at the school with a fresh set of eyes.
If there is a blind spot, she said, it is very slight but one that makes the assumption that all students have equal access to computers at home or will be willing to go to the office to pick up free and reduced lunch forms.
“This is a really diverse community, going from wealthy to working class,” she said. “We cannot assume the all kids can log in at night and check Edline.”
She also wants to challenge students to think creatively, she said.
Emma Wells, PTA president, said she can see that already.
“What will probably make her unique is that she brings a different kind of engagement with the kids,” Wells said. “She challenges them one-on-one to think out of the box.”
Wells noted that Serino carries around a puzzle game, Batik, to play with the students.
“It’s a quick game to play, I meet kids that way. I like to see how they think, we talk, I make connections,” Serino said.
What advice does she have for her new students?
“Stand up for what is right even if you stand alone. I want them to advocate for themselves and their peers and do it in a respectful way,” Serino said.