Relay Elementary principal to transfer to Timber Grove Elementary effective July 1

After making great gains over the previous five years, Relay Elementary School will suffer a loss this summer.

The Baltimore County Public School system will transfer the school's principal, Heidi Miller, to Timber Grove Elementary School in Owings Mills effective July 1.

Test scores on the annual Maryland School Assessments at Relay have shown consistent progress each year since Miller took over in 2007.

"When I found out she was leaving, I cried," said Sara Toscano, the incoming PTA president at the school. "She's turned Relay around into being one of the gold standard schools."

When Miller became principal of Relay Elementary, her first job as principal, she took control of a school that had showed fewer than 90 percent of its students test proficient or advanced on the Maryland School Assessments that test reading and math skills.

In spring 2007, 93 percent of Relay's third- and fourth-graders tested as proficient or better in the math assessments, according to data from the Maryland State Department of Education.

That year, 89.5 percent of third-graders and 90.1 percent of fourth-graders were proficient or better in reading, the data showed.

Of fifth-graders, 79.7 percent were proficient or better in math and 82.4 percent were proficient or better in reading, the data showed.

Through a steady increase, 95 percent or more of the students tested proficient in math and reading in 2010 and 2011, the final year data was available. The data will not show rates exceeding 95 percent.

Toscano said Miller works well with students, staff and PTA members

"I can't put my finger on what she does, but she works magic," said Toscano, whose daughter, Marleigh, will have a new principal for the first time as a fourth-grader next year.

Miller recalled walking through the doors of the school on Salford Road for the first time.

"I was very impressed with the students, with the manners they had, coming in. They were very respectful, very polite children," Miller said. "The teachers were so hard working."

"We shared the same vision and I think that's the most important piece," she said. "We all wanted to improve. We all wanted to make refinements and make things better in many ways."

Miller implemented Doughnuts with Dads and Muffins with Moms at Relay Elementary to get more parental involvement.

The school has also focused efforts on acquiring and integrating technology into classrooms.

Miller rattled off a list of technological advancements at the school, including interactive white boards, voting tools that graph students' responses and netbooks for each fifth-grade classroom.

For the progression in test scores and advancements in technology, Miller credited teamwork among the staff as key.

"I work to recognize talent in people and I work very hard to bring out talent in people," Miller said.

Saying goodbye to the students and staff will be difficult, and Miller said she will especially miss the PTA.

"The PTA is wonderful," Miller said. "The PTA has done such a tremendous job fundraising this year. They're putting money toward helping us with technology expenses."

Miller has things to look forward to at her new school.

For one, her commute to Timber Grove Elementary from her home in Cockeysville will cut her one-hour trip to 20 minutes.

"I'm looking forward to meeting other challenges," Miller said. "I think everyone needs to be able to grow. And if you don't move forward and get out of your comfort zone, you don't grow."

Verletta White, an assistant superintendent of elementary schools for Baltimore County, said Miller excels in looking at the needs of the school as a whole and those of individual students.

"I know that Ms. Miller has had an increased focus in personalized and small group instruction so that we can meet the needs of each learner," White said. "Where there are deficits, she has created schedules and time and has mobilized staff in a way to get students the support they need."

White said Timber Grove Elementary is a school that is progressing and Miller will help that process.

According to 2011 data, 82.6 percent of third-graders at Timber Grove were proficient or advance in math and 85.9 percent were proficient or advanced in reading, according to the Maryland State Department of Education.

The data also shows that 90 percent of its fourth-graders were proficient or better in math and 82.5 percent were proficient in reading.

Miller expects Relay Elementary to continue to grow in her absence.

"I came in feeling I was walking into a very strong school," Miller said. "Now, I feel like I'm leaving an outstanding school.

"I feel that there are many good things in place," she said. "My team is very confident and they have the tools they need to keep moving forward."

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