For Hillcrest Elementary School's new principal, Douglas Elmendorf, the move to the perpetually high-performing Catonsville school as it prepares to shift toward embracing more technology in the classroom is a natural fit.
The Pennsylvania native has degrees in education from upstate New York's Ithaca College and the University of Massachusetts, in addition to a doctorate from Towson University.
He comes to Hillcrest from Chase Elementary, where he spent four years as principal. In 2014 and 2015 he was named a finalist for Baltimore County Public Schools Principal of the Year.
Elmendorf made the move to Baltimore County in the 1990s and began his career as an instrumental music teacher in Baltimore County Public Schools. After teaching in Deep Creek Elementary School in Essex, Bedford Elementary School in the Pikesville area and Sandalwood Elementary School in Essex, he made the move to administration.
A Perry Hall resident, he has four children in Baltimore County schools, one at Perry Hall Elementary School, twins at Perry Hall Middle School and his oldest at Eastern Technical High School.
Though he loved his time teaching, he said, Elmendorf has found administration to be his calling.
"I love working with kids, but I know the impact I can have by working with the adults who work with them every day," he said.
One of his favorite experiences while working in Baltimore County schools, he said, was last year's integration of technology into first-, second- and third-grade classrooms at Chase Elementary in Middle River. The school was one of 10 county elementary schools where the school system would launch a pilot program aimed at integrating technology into the classroom. The program will move to Hillcrest this coming school year.
"It was great. It was probably my favorite year in education," he said.
In addition to watching students take a more active and engaged role in their education, he said, he enjoyed leading the school staff in adopting new ways of teaching. He hopes to carry the success he had at the eastern Baltimore County school to the local school on Frederick Road, he said.
But before the computers arrive at his new school in October, Elmendorf said his attention will be focused on getting to know the Hillcrest community.
The top priority right now, he said, is "just to build relationships with the community."
So far, he has met the members of the PTA board and many of the teachers on his staff, he said. He has also sent out surveys to staff members, PTA parents and community members asking for input on what they deem to be successful at Hillcrest and areas where they would like to see him focus more attention.
"It's such an involved community," he said. "I'm really looking forward to continuing that process."
The biggest adjustment, he said, will likely be related to the size of the school. Hillcrest's enrollment last year of 808 students is more than double the size of the student body at Chase Elementary. For the first time, Elmendorf will have two assistant principals, Denise Kelley and Peter Schmidt, instead of one.
"Everything's just bigger," he said, adding that he will have to learn to delegate some things to his assistant principals.
Jim Kitchel, president of the Hillcrest PTA, said he has been impressed with Elmendorf both times he has had the chance to meet him.
The Morning Sun
"He was very personable and engaging," he said. "He seemed pretty authentic."
For Kitchel, who works in Information Technology, knowing that Elmendorf has already been through the process of integrating computers into elementary learning is a big advantage.
But that change, combined with the redistricting process set to begin in the fall, he said, should prove to keep Elmendorf on his toes.
"Either challenge in and of itself would be...considerable," he said.
Working with a very involved Hillcrest community, Kitchel said, the PTA has helped organize two meet-and-greets to be hosted at the school, on July 19 at 2 p.m. and on August 18 at 6 p.m.
With a month and a half to go before the doors open for the first day of school, Elmendorf said he is excited to take on his new role and to help better prepare Hillcrest students and staff for the future of education.
"We're actually trying to prepare kids for careers that don't even exist yet," he said. "I think [the Hillcrest community] is going to be excited to learn that, while they're a high-performing school, there's always room for improvement."