It has to do with how you run.
“I always try to bring what I do outside of school into some aspect of the school community. I feel like middle-school students have a lot in common with marathoners…You’re going to have a kid like my husband; he’s self-motivated. He’ll get up every day and do the training runs. He doesn’t need the crowd support in order to get him to the finish line.”
“Then you have me…
“I will fight every step of the way because it’s hard and I don’t want to do it. Some days I run and I run really slowly. Some days I’ll run and I’ll get it. The next day I’ll run slowly and not know why. I need someone pushing me. I need someone being my cheerleader in the corner.”
“At the end of the day, when we cross the finish line, our medal looks exactly the same. Our goal as teachers is to get kids to that finish line, whatever it is. How we get there is going to look very different for each kid.”
“That’s how I bring my outside life into my school life.”
Simms replaces Neil Slevin, who became Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) director of middle school education. Simms said she’s had a lot of help from her staff making the mid-summer transition to Lunsford (she previously served as the assistant principal at nearby Mercer Middle School). “Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know walking into a position and they have picked up the slack where I might not have known that this is how Lunsford does a certain piece to opening the school year.”
Simms spent 11 years at Mercer as a language arts teacher, dean and assistant principal. She likens her administrative education there to a parent readying a child to leave home. “Now I’m out on my own in another building…
“The years of growing up at Mercer, having different roles in the same building; I was able to take on new responsibilities that were unfamiliar, but in a familiar place.”
Becoming a principal is more than just a change in title, Simms acknowledged. “It’s a huge change, but one that I was ready for.”
Mercer is in a nearby community and Simms feels she knows what Lunsford parents expect from their school. “They are completely invested in the education of their children and they’re not afraid to be active in the school community. Very often in middle school you find that parent activity drops off. Here, that increases in middle school. Our PTA is so active here and they’re advocates of student achievement. There are high expectations and they are vocal about what they want. But they know that they have teachers that can provide that for their children.”
Simms said she’ll work with parents to balance the academic and social needs of their children. “This is a transition time for them, so let’s balance some of the emotional pieces of transitioning to middle school with some of the academic demands.”
Simms first came to LCPS in 1998 as a language arts teacher at Sterling Middle School. She has no regrets about spending her entire career in middle school. “I flirted a little bit with going to elementary, but then I realized middle school is where it’s at.”
The changing nature of middle school students is something that fascinates Simms.
“It’s all about understanding the physiological, sociological and emotional aspects and the academic aspects of the kids. Their brains are developing more in this (time) frame than at any different age span in their life…
“When a kid says to you ‘I don’t know why I did something,’ sometimes they really don’t know.”
Equity can be a tricky thing when dealing with middle-school students.
“What works for one kid, may not work for another kid. You really have to know their family. You have to know their background. I think it’s so important that the counselors are moving with the kids to each grade level. They have that background knowledge that you need to make good decisions.”
Making good decisions is something Simms expects of her staff.
“I’m the kind of person who, if you come to me with a great idea and you’ve got a plan in place and it’s about kids and it’s in the best interest of kids, very rarely are you going to hear me say no. I like to give people freedom and authority in their classrooms and treat people like the professionals we want them to be…
“I’m also that person who wants teachers to take risks in their classroom. If we want kids to take risks, I want teachers to take risks as well. My job as principal is to support that; to give people resources so that they can take risks.”
Which naturally leads to the question of the biggest risk Simms took as a teacher. She said that risk involved teaching about the novel “The Wave,” which sought to explain how someone like Adolph Hitler could come to power. A rumor soon started that she was starting a Nazi Club. “In hindsight, I probably would have put forth some communications to parents in advance as to what I was doing…
“It was a little too well done, because it taught the lesson more than I had intended.”
Simms lives with her husband, Bob, and their 9-year-old daughter, a competitive gymnast. Between gymnastics and races, the family travels a great deal.
“That’s how I’ve been able to see the world.”