Amid the hammering and drilling by a construction crew, Rachel Amstutz led a professional development class in innovative teaching strategies at Fort George G. Meade’s Manor View Elementary School Aug. 24.
Amstutz, the school’s new principal, encouraged teachers to think of new and challenging ways to teach students the inquiry component of Manor View’s International Baccalaureate’s Primary Year Programme.
The IB PYP is a rigorous academic curriculum targeted to children ages 3 to 12.
“It’s what’s best for children,” Amstutz said of IB. “It’s the basics of a sound education. “It teaches kids to think, be reflective and proactive.”
The Pasadena native is leading the school as the facility undergoes a $34.5 million revitalization construction project that began last year and will be completed in June.
The entire school will be renovated and refurbished, and students will have a new art room, new gym, new computer lab and an outdoor courtyard at the middle of the building.
“This will be an amazing building,” Amstutz said of the construction project. “Every square inch will be revitalized.”
Proud and Honored
Amstutz, 40, replaces Bruce Gruber, who served as Manor View’s principal for four years and is now the principal at Piney Orchard Elementary School in Odenton.
Before arriving at Manor View, Amstutz was principal of Bodkin Elementary School in Pasadena for four years.
“I’m honored, proud and excited to be here,” she said. “I’ve had the summer to hear what an amazing school and team this is.”
Amstutz called Manor View a “robust learning environment,” where educators are “connected to the kids, have a positive attitude and really want to be here.”
Her goals for the school year include shepherding the school through the construction project, strengthening the inquiry component of the school’s IB Programme and getting to know her school community.
Amstutz said the IB professional development experience focused on a specific topic for inquiry — plastics in the ocean.
The teachers were divided into four groups to investigate how to help students ask questions, conduct research, and take their knowledge to produce action about a topic that impacts their lives in ways they may not imagine.
“The purpose is to help kids find out how to make the world a better place,” Amstutz said. “We also want to show them that you don’t have to be a grown-up to solve problems.”
As part of IB, students at Manor View are instructed in Mandarin Chinese. The professional development experience also gave teachers the opportunity to learn a few vocabulary words and important phrases.
“Teachers have to be learners too,” Amstutz said.
Her own journey as an educator began at Anne Arundel Community College, where she earned a degree in general studies with a concentration in psychology and education. She also earned a bachelor’s degree from Towson University in elementary education, and a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University in administration, supervision and technology leadership.
Amstutz is pursuing a doctorate degree in education administration and policy studies at George Washington University.
One of her grandfathers, she said, was an educator and taught students in a one-room school.
When he died in 2001, Amstutz recalled, she was glad that she was already a first-year teacher at Freetown Elementary School in Pasadena.
“I’m glad he lived to see that I was a teacher,” she said.
Two years later, Amstutz left for Severna Park Middle School, where she enjoyed teaching math.
“Math is my love in life,” she said.
Amstutz also worked as the school technology lead, helping teachers learn how to use blogs, iPads, smartboards and other new technologies in the classroom.
After attending a technology conference in Philadelphia, Amstutz was hired by Discovery Communications to work as part of its Discovery Education Network in 2005.
She later transitioned to Montgomery County Public Schools as part of the central office staff for the chief technology officer.
“I was an instruction specialist, and trained teachers on how to use technology in the classroom,” she said.
On one project, Amstutz spent the day instructing teachers on using video and cameras to make learning fun.
Amstutz later returned to Anne Arundel County Public Schools as an assistant principal shared between two schools – Sunset Elementary School in Pasadena and Millersville Elementary School.
Amstutz said Millersville Elementary was a regional center for autism and she learned a great deal about instructing students with the disability.
“It was a very powerful experience,” she said.
In 2010, Amstutz served as principal at South Shore Elementary School in Crownsville for four years before working at Bodkin Elementary School.
Amstutz said she is proud that, after advocating for IB at South Shore, the school was authorized for the program as her tenure as principal ended.
Her philosophy about education, she said, is centered around relationships and “powerful connections with students.”
Amstutz said educators are charged with helping students learn how to navigate the world — learning to communicate, connect and also how to fail.
Latest Anne Arundel County
“Kids have to know it’s OK to fail and start over,” Amstutz said. “And learning has to be fun.”