Reginald Roberts, a Georgia native and new principal of Norwalk High School, says his desire to educate was practically pre-existent. His grandparents were heavily invested in schooling, and his mom started her teaching career in the first integrated classrooms in Perry, Ga. in 1959. As an assistant principal at Westhill High School in Stamford for the last five years, he has tackled beginning a freshman/senior advisory program, lead the charge to create a whole-school advisory program and refined the process by which students who receive special education services access necessary provisions. As he sets his sights on Norwalk, he plans to study NHS' existing programs and partner with NHS staff and the community to "enhance the greatness NHS already is." The Citizen asked Roberts about how he envisions his role at NHS, the career path that led him here and who he would like to have dinner with.
Q.Why did you want to leave your position as assistant principal at Westhill and take the helm at Norwalk High School ?
A. Having been a resident of Norwalk for a number of years, I have an investment in my community's success. My experiences as a district- and school-based leader in Stamford were nothing short of glorious, and I envision this position as another opportunity to collaborate with a dedicated community of professionals.
Q. What are a few of the things you are most proud of accomplishing during your time at Westhill?
A. During a tea at Yale, the President of Brown, Ruth Simmons, related to me, "Whatever you do, be excellent; it's the only choice." My current principal Camille Figluizzi has been the model of/for excellence for the last five years. Whether I was given the task of beginning a Freshman/Senior advisory program, leading the charge to create a whole-school Advisory program, or refining the process by which students who receive special education services access necessary provisions, I've accepted each task with passion and enthusiasm. While I'm most proud of the 540 students I helped usher to their commencement in June, 2011, after four years as their administrator, I'm also elated by the relationships I've fostered within and among departments and by my work with other administrators in standardizing excellence in teachers' practice.
Q. Heading into next year the school budget situation in Norwalk has been called "ominous." How do you plan to work with other administrators and the superintendent to ensure Norwalk High maintains its essential programs and staff positions?
A. Everyone I've met wants what's best for students and the school community. Given that impetus as a rallying point, I'm confident we'll find creative solutions.
Q. Do you have any plans to raise the bar for Norwalk High academically despite the fact these tough economic times are going to make that more challenging? What are some things that you were involved in at Westhill to raise the bar academically?
A. After several years of research, discussion and considerable professional development, Westhill eliminated the lowest academic track last year in English and social studies, maintaining only college preparatory, honors and advanced placement classes. Westhill applied for and received the POD grant, now in its fourth year, which has enabled a greater number of students from previously underrepresented groups to take an ever-increasing number of advanced placement courses. Through administrative support and teachers' initiatives, Westhill offers 17 early college experience courses, and through teachers' weekly department-alike learning groups and district leadership in science, math, English language arts, and social studies, teachers have developed rigorous, system-wide endpoints, a progress monitoring system and "living" end assessments. Additionally, Westhill increased its learning opportunities beyond the school day, its online, self-paced instructional models and teachers' use of digital portfolios in core classes so that students and teachers may track individual progress from year to year. I plan to study Norwalk High's existing programs and to partner with NHS staff and the Norwalk community to enhance the greatness NHS already is.
Q. The trend seems to be moving toward hands-on principals involved in instruction and administrative duties meaning more hours/more stress? What do you see your role being at Norwalk High?
A. When I was Stamford's director of social studies education, I was present in almost every social studies classroom in every school--all 20 of them--on a rotational basis each month, leading a workshop or symposium; facilitating interaction among teams of teachers from elementary, middle, and high schools (and across high schools); and personally teaching in classrooms as we piloted instructional strategies and resources, being a staple at school events while being responsive to community members vested in curriculum. As Stamford's curriculum associate for inquiry-based learning (2004-2005), I directed the curriculum revision process for social studies as we completed the first curriculum rooted in backwards design. I envision similar successful work as the lead administrator and teacher-leader at NHS.
Q. How long have you lived in Norwalk ?
A. I moved to Norwalk initially in 1997.
Q. Where did you grow up and where did you go to high school? How did your life path and career path lead to education? Was there a pivotal moment for you when you knew you wanted to be a history teacher/administrator?
A. I was born in Albany, Ga., and graduated as valedictorian from Dougherty Comprehensive High School. My mother began her teaching career in one of the first integrated classrooms in Perry, Ga. in 1959, and my father served in the Army between 1960 and 1987. My paternal grandfather was an author and my maternal grandparents were deeply invested in schooling, sending my uncles and aunts to college in the late 1940s and early 1950s; so, the desire to educate was practically pre-existent. It was my 10th grade American history teacher, Ms. Lohmeir, however, who sparked my love for the study of history; and though I went to Yale to become a medical doctor and to pursue an MD-PHD, in my sophomore year, I re-discovered my passion for the schooling process and landed at Harvard, where I studied with one of Sesame Street's founders and wrote the pilot/script for my own television series to teach students about culture and geography.
Q.When you were teaching at Turn of the River Middle School in Stamord (1997-2004) you authored and directed a play that chronicled African-American musical genres and poetry? What prompted you to take on that project and what was most rewarding about it?
A. As a part of its Juneteenth celebrations in 2000, the Stamford Center for the Arts commissioned me to write a play celebrating the same. Underwritten by Pitney-Bowes, Xerox, Reuters and a number of other corporations, the play was staged twice at the Rich Forum and I've consulted on other off-Broadway productions since then. The most rewarding experience was seeing my name in The New York Times; second would be the joy of bringing hundreds of cast members and an audience together to celebrate people's expression of joy despite their difficulties.
Q. In addition to music and history, what are your hobbies? What do you do to get rejuvenated?
A. I play the piano, trombone, baritone and am a vocalist, but the hobby that most intrigues me is figuring out why my puppy, Dezi Marcel, a puli, is fascinated with pink peonies and miniature hastas.
Q. If you could have dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
A. I'd share a plate of orechiette and broccoli rabe with Jesus. The wisdom He'd express would be mind-boggling, to say the least.