Deep Run administrator among Md.'s best

Assistant principal's easy style wins fans and a statewide award

May 10, 2000|By Laura Dreibelbis | By Laura Dreibelbis,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Friendly, helpful, funny - the kids love him.

That's the popular assessment of Deep Run Elementary School's assistant principal, Steve Meconi, recently named Assistant Principal of the Year by the Maryland Association for Elementary School Principals.

An educator for 27 years, Meconi is known as an open, easy-going administrator whose encouraging manner has won fans among students, teachers and parents, many of whom wrote letters in support of his nomination for the statewide award.

"His demeanor is fantastic - he's always smiling," says Deep Run PTA President Christine Pick. "He never seems to be fazed by anything."

Meconi's low-key style was on display during second-grade lunch period one recent day at the Elkridge school. He moved gently through the room, talking with children, retrieving straws and opening milk cartons. Several children had forgotten spoons, and he grabbed a handful to pass out to those who raised their hands.

Taking the stage, he tapped out a rhythm on the microphone to get everyone's attention. The children responded by clapping the same pattern and everyone quieted down.

"I'm looking for classes to roll the die," he announced.

It's part of a game he's devised called "The Radical Ranger Board." If a class is recognized for good behavior during the school day, members get to roll a large die and advance on a floor-to-ceiling game board posted on the wall next to the cafeteria. There are rewards and pitfalls along the way, and the class that advances to the end gets a pizza party at the end of the quarter.

Meconi - who said "receiving the award was very humbling" - makes rewards and acknowledgment an integral part of his administrative philosophy. In addition to the "Radical Ranger Board," pupils are recognized for scholarship improvements and good bus behavior.

He pays particular attention to students with special needs. As one of the county's largest elementary schools, Deep Run has a substantial number of children with special needs. The school also is a Regional Early Childhood Center, which houses an early intervention program for children with developmental needs before they enter elementary school.

Meconi believes working in a school with such diverse needs is complex and challenging, but he says his staff does a wonderful job of getting the youngsters what they need to succeed. That diversity is good for children as well, he said.

"They learn to accept people with differences in need, and that differences can be a strength," he said.

In working with his staff, Meconi places a high priority on communication and being available.

"Steve's Weekly" is a newsletter designed to communicate with and recognize staff. There is a two-week calendar, sections for administrative news and issues, and a space for the staff to recognize each other for jobs well done. Several staff members said the newsletter keeps them organized and on top of issues.

"He's very supportive, you can always walk in his office," said fourth-grade teacher Ivye Pazornik, who described Meconi as "firm but caring."

Carolyn Erdmann, elementary special education team leader, said Meconi often will stop to talk with staff members and ask about their needs.

Meconi also builds bridges to parents. Pick, the PTA president, said he goes out of his way to explain school system policies and procedures. She also sees him encouraging the kids, pushing them to achieve.

"It's comforting to know he has a good relationship with the kids," she said.

Education is deeply rooted in Meconi's background: His father retired from Baltimore County schools and his brother teaches special education in Anne Arundel County. Even though his father pushed him toward computers, Meconi decided on education as a career while in junior high school.

He began his teaching career in Baltimore County 27 years ago and has taught every grade except first. He moved into administration because he wanted to have more impact in tailoring instruction to children's needs. As an administrator, he "can help to change a whole school," he said.

Meconi, whose wife, Jean, works in The Sun's advertising department, is drawn to elementary school because he can see the impact academically. He "wants them to leave elementary school loving education and learning - if they are negative, the next six years are more difficult."

He will get the chance to have an impact next year as new principal at Ellicott City's Northfield Elementary School. Deep Run Principal Fran Donaldson said she will be sad to see Meconi go, since having him is "just like having a second principal."

Colleagues aren't the only ones who will miss Meconi.

Fourth-grader Matt Sachs, who wrote a letter for Meconi's nomination, is "pretty sad." But he's sure his friends at Northfield will be pleased with their new principal.

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