New head of middle school Rommel Loria (back row, left) previously advised a group of students at The Park School of Baltimore called the Neighborhood Revitalization Club. The group supported communities in Baltimore in the development of vacant lots into green spaces for recreation and growing food. (Photo used by permission of Loria)

Q&A: New head of middle school misses coaching tennis, enjoys small-school feel

New head of middle school, Rommel Loria, hails from Baltimore, Maryland. Loria received his bachelor’s of science in finance from Georgetown University, received a law degree from University of Maryland, and earned a Master of Liberal Arts from John Hopkins University. He worked at the Park School of Baltimore, a Kindergarten through twelfth grade school. He taught sixth, seventh and eighth grade English, and later moved into administration as the director of Civic Engagement of Service Learning. He also coached the varsity girls tennis team.

Q: Is there anything you miss from the Park school?

A: I miss the students and my colleagues. Much like here, it was very much a close-knit community.

It was a bigger school, around 900 students. It was also k-12, so there are similarities.

I miss the conversations I had with teachers there. Luckily, there are teachers who are interested in figuring out the best way to work with students here as well, so I get to have those conversations a lot with teachers in the middle school and other parts of the school.

I (also) miss coaching. This time of year is when the girls’ varsity tennis team had matches, so I was out on the courts everyday.

We had matches a couple times a week. As hard as that is and as much time as that requires, I miss the physicality of that and the strategy involved in coaching. I keep in touch with a lot of my students.

I had an advisory, so it was sort of a sad departure when I had to go as well.

Q: How did you find out about Country Day?

A: The school listed the job, and so I saw the job listing for the middle school head, and I just started in the process.

My first conversation was with (assistant head of school) Tucker Foehl. He shared with me a lot about the school. I learned Tucker was from Baltimore as well, so we had that in common.

The vision that was described – and I later learned from (head of school Lee Thomsen) and other folks around the search committee – of what Country Day believes in, what it wants to be and what it is – those things all appealed to me.

Coming here, we see that this is a very close-knit community, and students can be defined in a lot of different ways. People can be successful here, not because they conform to a particular definition of what success is, but because they have their own gifts and talents that they can develop passion around.

Q: What do you like about the school so far?

A: It’s smaller compared to my last school. There is this sense of this closeness that is nice to see.

As you get to bigger school communities, you can easily lose that sense of closeness just because you have double the amount of students. You might not get to know people around campus as well, and I think that’s really important.

I have a daughter here in second grade – her name’s Leah – and my son Charlie is in pre-K. It’s exciting for me to be in my office and see them walking to gym class.

Q: Is there anything you want to change or improve?

A: I think this year, and maybe more accurately this is a continuous process for me, is asking questions about why. Why do we do this this way? Do we need to continue doing this this way? What values does it reflect?

I’m excited to see how we teach and how we treat students. If anything, and I don’t know what pieces of this require change, I would hope that all pieces of our program reflect those beliefs about how we treat students and how we work with them.

Q: What prompted your changes to the middle school dress code?

A: I was supportive of (the change to not require collared shirts everyday). I think that the process for that really started with the previous middle school head Sandy Lyon, and I was asked to weigh in on that.

It was something that I can’t take full credit for it because it was definitely in motion (already). I helped refine the language with (dean of student life Ed Bolman) over the summer just to make sure that that process that had begun with Ms. Lyon was able to be enacted immediately when I started.

Q: What’s the elective that you’re teaching?

A: I’m teaching a video elective. We have sixth through eighth grade students who are working on different projects.

We have them film dialogue and think about the different angles and different shots that would be required, like a shoulder shot or a medium shot. We have different exercises that help us identify those different shots.

Then they’ve gone on to do self-directed projects (such as) a music video. One group of students is doing a small action movie.

I chose (to teach) video making because it allows students to have lot of choice and really personalize their path. I am excited by the work of researchers who have found a link between choice and motivation in the learning process.

Q: What was your law degree for?

A: I was a civil litigator for a while in Baltimore. So that isn’t legal law, but it’s people or organizations or companies suing other people or organizations or companies. Often it would be about a breach of contract or something.

I found that to be really intellectually stimulating. I really like reading and researching, and crafting arguments, but it wasn’t wholly satisfying, and I was searching for something that would be more satisfying.

Q: Why did you choose to change career paths and pursue teaching?

A: What’s interesting is that when I was in college, I had this mentor. I called him after my first year of college, and I said, “I don’t think (law) is for me; what do you think I should do?” And he said, “What do you like?” and I said, “English, and I was on the tennis team” and he said, “I think you could be a teacher. You could study English and coach.”

(But) I ignored him and became a finance major. (Teaching) was in the back of my head all that time. Ten years later, I was practicing law, and I went back to that advice and I gave (teaching) a shot.

I really enjoy being around students. I think that was something definitely missing being a lawyer: being around children and working with kids. And that’s something I did a lot of when I was in college and right after college when I was an Americorp volunteer at a group home in Chicago with teenage boys.

I think that it’s a lot of different pieces of interest. Teaching is a really creative activity for me. Working with students is something I really enjoy. As an English teacher, for example, I just loved playing with ideas and playing with words and interpreting texts. And all of those factors come into play, whereas there are parts of being a lawyer that I like, (but) there are more parts of being a teacher that I like.

Q: Did you do anything interesting over the summer?

A: I moved. I got to experience Sacramento over the summer. I spent a lot of time outside and swimming and (spending time) with my family.

And we had our son on July 10. His name is Max.

Q: Do you have a favorite sport that you like to play or watch?

A: Tennis is my favorite sport. I played it so much, and my kids are starting to play it.

It’s funny. I feel like I might take a break from it for a little while, but I’ll always come back to it. I do find myself – when I make certain motions – practicing my form. It’s something that I’ve spent so much time doing that it’s like a familiar old friend to me.

Q: What’s your favorite movie?

A: It’s kind of silly, but I really like romantic comedies. You could pretty much put any romantic comedy in front of me and I’d watch it, no matter how poorly done it is.

My favorite romantic comedy of all time would be “Notting Hill.” Most people would say you’re not missing much, but I wouldn’t say that. So “Notting Hill” is up there (with), “You’ve Got Mail,” which (was made) when email was just starting. It’s a Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan movie. Again, many people would say you’re not missing much.

My guiltiest pleasure would be “Serendipity” with John Cusack in perhaps one of his lesser celebrated roles.

So those are up there. If those are on, I’m clicking on it.

Q: What’s one thing you want people to know about you?

A: I’m excited to be here.

I’ve heard (the school) described by a lot of colleagues, at least in the middle school, as (a community that) looks at a whole student. I think that that’s unique in the education world, and I think it’s something to be celebrated.

I’m excited to be a part of that and to make my contributions.

By Ethan Monasa

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