By: Kylie Potter
The Bear Press was recently able to sit down with Hammond High School’s new principal, Dr. DiPaula. In addition to discussing how great it is to be back at Hammond, Dr. DiPaula also talked about his thoughts for the future and shared a bit about himself. Keep reading to learn more about our new principal!
Bear Press: During what years were you at Hammond and what were your positions?
Dr. DiPaula: I came to Hammond High School in 1996, and I was here until 2002. During that time, I was the school counselor here and the department chair of student services. I also coached tennis for that whole time and I was on the National Honor Society faculty council.
BP: What are the most notable similarities and differences you’ve seen since returning to Hammond?
DD: Well, HHS is still a school where we value people; some students might think that’s cliche, but I’ve worked in five different schools, and I can tell you that we really do value relationships, people and students. That’s important to me, so that’s remained constant. We’re still a school that values “Where people are important;” we value the relationships. What’s different: a lot of the staff are different from when I was here before. I’ve been gone for fifteen years, so a lot of faces are different. Our student body is more diverse now than in the past, which I think is great, there’s a nice richness that comes with diversity, so that’s really nice to see. But it was a great school in the 90’s and it’s still a great school now, so we have that going for us.
BP: What other previous jobs in education have you held?
DD: So when I left Hammond, I was an Assistant Principal at River Hill high school, well, first at Glenelg for four years and then at River Hill for four years. I worked in the office of human resources as a manager of teacher recruiting and hiring, as well as in a different school system as a director of human resources and employee relations. Then I was a middle school principal in Howard County at Burleigh Manor Middle School, and I joined faculty teaching at Johns Hopkins, maybe for about 11 years. I’m not currently teaching this year because life is way too busy and there’s events every single night at school, but I really enjoyed teaching at Johns Hopkins and their graduate school of education.
BP: What were you most looking forward to when you decided to return to Hammond as a principal?
DD: I wasn’t in a school last year, and I was really excited to get to know students and to get involved with the student body. [I was excited] to go to games, events, dances, concerts, plays, spirit week, just all the activities where we really get to interact with students and see them shine, not just in the classroom but also outside of the classroom and after school.
BP: How has your experience been at Hammond so far this school year?
DD: It’s been awesome, tremendous, every day is a good day. I’m happy, you know, coming to school every day, I’m just happy to be here. And you know when you’re getting ready for work in the morning or whatever and you don’t wanna go, you can feel that, but I’m excited to be here. And it’s long days, like I’m here late into the night a lot of times, but I enjoy being here, you know I enjoy the games and activities and hanging out with students and staff so it’s been really wonderful.
BP: What made you pursue a career in administration?
DD: I wanted to have the opportunity to make a difference on a larger scale, to be able to have a greater impact and not just impact individuals and groups of students at a time, but to be able to impact an entire school. I felt like I cared a lot and I think that’s important, you have to have someone who really cares and then has the skills to be able to make an impact and make a change and move a school forward. I care a great deal, I’m not just going through the motions, so I wanted to come and make this school the best school it could possibly be.
BP: What changes or improvements do you plan to bring to Hammond in the future?
DD: You know, I really wanted to take this school year to build as many relationships as I could, to get to know our staff, students and community, to figure out everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, and then to figure out before I evaluate [anything]. I didn’t want to come in the first month and evaluate and say “this is a problem, this is a problem, this is a problem,” I wanted to come in and really take time to see what’s going on. I know that we’ve got a really strong staff here, and the administration, with Ms. Leonard in the past, they did things the very best way that they knew how, and so I want to respect that there’s a lot of good things going on in the building. I want to really take this year to figure out what’s working and what’s not working, and then from that we’ll make changes for next year, so there’ll be a lot of planning that happens at the end of the school year and over the summer to make changes for the next school year. I don’t know what they’re gonna be next, but you know we’re going to look a lot at different forms of data, like attendance data, and suspension data, and we’re gonna look at student performance, honor roll, kids who are getting D’s and E’s; and you know that’s a piece of it, and then, what can we put in place to have an impact on that? And then we’re also gonna meet with students and talk with [them] about the culture of the building, the climate of the building, how it feels in their classrooms, and what we can do to make sure students are feeling valued and appreciated, and make sure it’s a good learning environment for teaching and learning.
BP: Hammond was recently awarded with the School of Opportunity designation. What about the staff and students at Hammond do you believe makes us a school of opportunity?
DD: I believe there are so many different programs here that have been put into place, specifically to ensure that every student gets recognized and supported with what it is that they need. Everything from “Good Job Great Life,” which is ensuring that every child has a plan for when they graduate, for where they’re gonna go, what they’re gonna do, whether it’s a high-wage job or the military or going to college or tech or trade school, something like that, but then we wanna make sure that you know the steps along the way and how to get there. We also want to make sure with that survey that every student has an adult in the building that they can go to, someone they can trust, and if they don’t, and they don’t acknowledge that in the survey, then we reach out to them. We try to make those connections because we believe, and I believe, that every child needs to have an advocate or someone that they trust, someone they can come to, so there’s a lot of different programs like that, but each and every program is specifically to address the needs of the students in our building, and as the year goes on, if we realize we’re not doing a good job in a particular area, we’ll create some kind of device or program or mechanism to ensure that we’re catching and supporting every child as we move forward. We want to make sure that things aren’t haphazard, that there’s a plan, and a plan is in place for a reason, it’s to ensure that every child is happy and healthy and academically successful, and when they’re not, that we’ve got some supports we can put in place to help them.
BP: If you could change, add, or amend one Howard County policy, what would it be?
DD: I would probably take a close look at the wellness policy, investigate that, and let’s see, I guess that’s probably the first one I would start with, the wellness policy.
BP: What did you enjoy most about high school? Why?
DD: When I was in high school, I loved playing sports after school, just something about the comradery of your teammates and your friends, as well as competition, but then on the flipside of that, outside of school I was really involved with music and I had a [rock ‘n roll] band. But with that, it wasn’t about competition, it was just about creating something together, and that artistic side, I loved that as well. A lot of days I would go to school all day, and then I’d practice after school, and then I’d go home and have band practice, then I’d try to squeeze in some homework before bedtime and get some rest.
BP: What are your hobbies outside of work?
DD: I enjoy going to the gym most days, so I enjoy fitness, I play tennis in a league; I’m trying to teach myself how to play guitar on acoustic guitar, but it’s kind of slow going, but nowadays you can look up anything! You can just look up a song you want to play, and look up the chords and just take your time and try to teach yourself. I love going to the beach, reading — Harlan Coben is my favorite author, he writes some pretty cool stuff. So did you play the drums in your band? Yeah, yeah, maybe there’ll be an opportunity some time during the year where there’ll be an event where I can play with other adults, or students for that matter, but I don’t know about people playing all this current stuff. My time was a few years ago, but I think I can still play a little bit. We practiced a lot. Usually when I have free time those are my hobbies, and I play some poker.
BP: What’s your favorite TV show and why?
DD: My favorite TV show, oh! The Office! Yes, so I have seven or eight seasons, whatever it is on DVD, so I watched it beginning to end then went back and started it over again. Sometimes if I don’t have something I wanna watch, I just pop it in and roll through a couple episodes since it always makes me happy.
BP: What’s your favorite band of all time and why?
DD: So, I grew up in the 80’s, and I was in high school in the 80’s, and so 80’s rock was my thing and that’s the music that we played. Nowadays it’s like a punchline, you know what I mean, the hairstyles and the dress and everything else, but we loved it at the time, and that’s the kind of music we played. Bon Jovi? Absolutely, yep, Bon Jovi, and Van Halen, and Motley Crue, and all these others, there’s a million bands out there, yeah.
BP: What’s your most embarrassing moment as a student?
DD: When I was [an Assistant Principal] at River Hill one time, I walked in the door when it was raining, I took the first step into the cafeteria from the outside, and I slipped and fell right on my butt in front of the entire cafeteria. That was kind of fun, but as a student I don’t really know.
BP: What’s the best senior prank you’ve ever seen?
DD:Ha, I don’t wanna give anybody any ideas. I’m trying to think of the best ones I’ve seen over the years. I had a friend at Oakland Mills who told me that some kids took apart a car and put it back together in the lobby of the building years ago, but I think the custodians let them in. I think there was one one year at Wilde Lake where they took all the office phones and they unplugged them and took the receiver off and hung them out in the lobby or somewhere and they said something like “Class of 2002 is off the hook” or something like that. There was something with goldfish or something at River Hill one year, I don’t remember, but then I think the PETA people got upset. I don’t think we had pranks when I was in high school.