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Maryvale's new upper school head emphasizing leadership skills

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Maryvale Preparatory School's new upper school head was recently getting ready for his first day of school. He'd moved into his new second-floor office, although he said the walls still need some art. He'd met with all of his teachers, moved a few classrooms, gotten to know his administrative team and became acquainted with some of the parents.

On Wednesday, he will meet the students: 370 girls in gray kilts and red blazers in grades six through 12.

Victor Shin, 33, is the all-girls school's first male administrator. He succeeds Donna Bridickas, who left Maryvale to become president of Seton Keough High School.

It's a first for Shin, too, to face so many girls after 12 years at coed Bishop McNamara High School in the Washington suburb of Forestville.

"When I see students, hopefully I don't see them based on gender or what they look like or face," he said. "I see students as students."

Since his arrival in June after the students left for summer break, he's been working on changes to improve the academics at the Lutherville school. "I'm all about the academics," he said.

Shin has worked on a new schedule with room for advisory time during lunch, has planned to bring in more guest speakers and is putting new emphasis on leadership development. "That's an area Maryvale would like to cultivate," he said.

Shin said he also expects to work closely with Amy Belz, who heads the middle school, to create a smooth transition for girls as they move to the upper school.

Along the way, Shin said he'll expect students to express their opinions, from the newcomer to the senior. "You need to listen to them. You have to hear what they say," he said.

The school has already had students in for a leadership institute, and he hopes to connect students with other leadership opportunities, such as the Maryland General Assembly page program. He plans to launch the ACE Mentor Program later in the first quarter. This extracurricular program exposes students to the fields of architecture, construction and engineering; and has a college scholarship component.

Ultimately, Shin said, he's planning "to make what we have — even better."

Shin has worked at only one school prior to coming to Maryvale. He started at McNamara as a history teacher, served as assistant principal and director of student life and most recently as associate principal and dean.

"It holds a special place in my heart," he said. He calls the 900-student McNamara "the complete opposite" of Maryvale, but noted that he expects the same high expectations and student engagement in all students. Shin said he left McNamara for a nonteaching position but only lasted nine months. "It was the worst mistake I ever made," he said. He missed teaching and, luckily, McNamara invited him back.

During Shin's tenure, he demonstrated a strong interest in students' welfare, as he coached volleyball, tutored after school, and organized extracurricular leadership activities. "He wanted to find a niche for every student," said Marco Clark, McNamara's president.

Last year, Shin chaired the accreditation committee and implemented an iPad program

"His contribution here will be a lasting one for students," Clark said.

Shin first became acquainted with Maryvale during a one-day visit to learn how iPads were integrated into the school day. It was, he said, "a pretty dynamic place."

When he learned of the opening for upper school head, he applied. "Meeting Tracey [Ford, Maryvale's president] was kind of the thing that clinched it for me."

Shin hopes to find his way back to the classroom once he's settled in. Although his background is in history, he prefers to teach math — "more light bulbs going off," he said. He plans to substitute teach in math classes and would like to tutor this year.

Don't look for Shin in his office.

"Day to day, I'm in the halls. I'm in the classroom. I'm running lunch duty," he said. He plans to know every girl by name by the end of first quarter.

Shin's energy has impressed his middle school counterpart. "Victor and I are collaborating really well," said Belz. "His energy is exactly what Maryvale needs right now."

He's met a few parents, but expects to meet plenty more in the first few days of school. "It's been a positive reception so far," he said. "They're giving me a shot."

Shin, born to parents who emigrated from Korea, attended Christian schools in Prince George's County through 12th grade. A passionate volleyball player, he started his high school's team and coached for a while. For now, he's content to be a "pretty vocal supporter" for high school sports.

He lives in Crofton but is considering a move to Ellicott City, where one of his two brothers lives with his family.

Shin is single. "I'm still looking for Mrs. Right," he said, adding that he's in a "committed relationship with graduate school."

A graduate of the University of Maryland, Shin has finished the first of a three-year doctoral program in educational leadership at the University of Pennsylvania. A lifelong learner, he said he traveled to Germany with a fellowship from the Goethe-Institut's Transatlantic Outreach Program. "It was not a vacation," he said. The schedule was jam packed with seminars, professional workshops and tours.

Occasionally, he said, he stops and reflects on his new position. "Every day I come here, and, man, I'm so blessed," Shin said. "I have a mission, and I have a job to do here. I hope I'm successful."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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