In less than two weeks, students will report to St. Vincent Pallotti High in Laurel for the first day of school. The challenge for the new principal who will greet them is to make sure everything's ready for the first bell.
"There's a lot to do before the start of school, and it's been a lot of work," said Jeff Palumbo, the new principal and president of Pallotti High. "It's been good work. There's a lot of good things already in place, and a lot of things we want to try and improve on."
The Pallottine Missionary Sisters and the school's board of directors announced Palumbo's appointment in February, two months after David McKenzie announced his resignation as Pallotti's principal. McKenzie had only been on the job for several months, and had replaced longtime Pallotti leader Steve Edmonds, who had been principal for 13 years. Edmonds is now president emeritus of Pallotti.
In taking the reins from interim principal Rick Diggs, Palumbo is the third principal the school has had in two years.
"Everyone (at the school) has come through this pretty positively," Palumbo said. "There was a lot going on, with the old principal leaving, a new one coming in and then leaving. There was a lot of concern, but Mr. Diggs did a great job to keep things going in a positive direction. There's a lot of great teachers and administrators that have been here a long time, so the foundation is still here."
There were a lot of dramatic changes at the school in the past year, Palumbo said, and he hopes to use what he knows of the school, combined with the strong foundation that already exists, to continue to improve it.
Palumbo said he hoped to focus on areas of the school that will draw more students to Pallotti — strengthening programs like the performing arts and athletics, for example.
"Hopefully, there's going to be more excitement," Palumbo said. "We hope to get things going with school spirit, be a little more disciplined, doing all the little things that clear up time to do the positive things."
Palumbo, 50, of Bowie, comes to Pallotti from Archbishop Spalding High School, in Severn. He has also been a coach, teacher and administrator at DeMatha Catholic High School, in Hyattsville; Towson Catholic High School; and the San Miguel Middle School, in Washington.
In announcing Palumbo's appointment in February, Edmonds described Palumbo as being well known and respected in the Washington and Baltimore archdioceses.
"He is a person familiar with the Pallotti community and is eager to embrace the diversity of our students and their families," Edmonds said in a statement. "He respects and honors our rich, 90-year history and is determined to dedicate his career to enhance the high moral and academic standards that exist at Pallotti."
While Pallotti is a smaller school — about 450 students — that, Palumbo said, hasn't always been able to keep up with other, bigger schools in the area, he said it's that smallness that also attracted him to the position.
"There's a flip side," Palumbo said. "It's a very small school that has a very good atmosphere, offering a lot of opportunities. The kids are comfortable here. I think it's a school that has an incredible amount of potential to be able to grow. ... The size of the school, it's small enough that it offers kids and parents a safe place to go to Catholic school."
Having knowledge of Pallotti from working in the region, Palumbo said he was drawn to the school because of its diversity, especially having worked at San Miguel, a school for low-income Hispanic boys.
"My involvement in Catholic education has been at very diverse schools, and I love that diversity," Palumbo said. "I love giving opportunities to kids that might not get that chance to go to a Catholic school. That's where my heart has always been. ... (Pallotti) is a place for everybody."
The diversity extends beyond ethnicities to include income levels and faith, Palumbo said. While first and foremost, Pallotti is a Catholic school with a large population of non-Catholic students, the education isn't about religion, but leading by example.
"Just the way we live our lives, by the things we're seen doing — like Mass and prayer — students know that they're in a different kind of environment," Palumbo said. "The Pallottine Sisters, their mission is for all members of the church to give of themselves, so that's a big thing we want to get across: Service to others is very, very important. It's different from just about any other (educational) environment."