New Year, New Everything: Q&A with Lakeside Charter Academy Principal Jim Montague
New name? Check. New Principal? Check. New Curricula? Check. New Energy? Check. Check. Check.
The 2018-19 school year is one of re-invention for Lakeside Charter Academy, and new principal Jim Montague, Ed.D. is at the helm. With his staff in place, his buildings renovated, he is now working hard to bring in students. Through information sessions, tours, and lots of individual conversations, he aims to inform community members about the many changes implemented in the former Thunderbird Academy building, and to welcome them back as part of something new.
At its peak, Thunderbird Academy had 450 students, but enrollment suffered in the wake of leadership turnover and multiple concerns about things like finances, cleanliness and test scores. Now, with new leadership and full support from the Office of Charter Schools, Montague and his team are building something new and looking to enroll as many students as possible before the doors officially open for the 2018-19 academic year.
At just 37, Montague brings a decade of experience working in North Carolina charter schools – he taught third grade and founded the athletic program at Socrates Academy in Matthews and then worked as assistant principal and athletic director at Charlotte Choice School. He holds a doctorate in educational leadership from Wingate University and wrote his dissertation on effective vs. ineffective North Carolina charter schools. We talked with him about his experience and his newest undertaking.
What are you like as a leader?
I love to be in the classroom because I love to be around the students and around the teachers. To build those relationships is crucial – not only with the students but the teachers as well.
I am a big believer in the fact that you have to INspect what you EXpect. I can only know what’s going on in my school by being in the classrooms.
I love sharing ideas with my teachers and collaborating with them. I’m a strong believer in distributed leadership. If I’m in the classroom, and the teacher is doing something fantastic, I want them to bring that to our staff meetings and PLC meetings and teach others.
What can people expect of the new-and-improved charter school?
It’s a breath of fresh air whenever something is starting fresh and new again. We have a fantastic staff that is hard working and want to see the school succeed.
There is so much potential in this school, and I think once parents come to the school and come to the information sessions, they’re really excited about our three pillars: our scholarship, our citizenship and our leadership. We want to give back to the city of Cornelius, we want to teach our students to be leaders. We’re going to assemblies where we go over leadership.
In addition, having specials such as character education, music, art, PE, technology – I think all of that is really appealing to our parents. And really, just delivering the best instruction possible–but in doing so, building relationships and making real-life applications so the students really hold onto their learning.
What were Thunderbird parents’ biggest concerns, and how have you addressed them?
The biggest concern raised in the information sessions I’ve been having was the joining of classes. I’ve told parents, 100 percent, we’re not doing that. At the same time, we need students in this school building, so the focus has to be on enrollment. Some of those families that left are starting to come back, we’ve had 40 enroll since June, and I think by next summer we’re going to be on a waiting list. You’ve taken on a big project – one with so much potential, but also so many challenges. What will be your markers of success for this year?
I took this job because I see the potential, and I like to build things from scratch. That’s one of the reasons it appealed to me–because I could make it mine with the strong team that I have around me and that I’ve put around me. I think, looking back at this year, if we could say that we doubled our size, and all of our students and staff members grew, and that our school as a whole grew, that would be a success.
What I told our teachers when I met with them was, let’s get great at two things this year. And then next year, let’s get great at two more things. Because if we try to get great at 10 things in one year, we’re not going to be great at anything. What we’re really going to focus on this year is that curriculum piece.
What makes charter schools different?
I’m a big proponent of charter schools, especially North Carolina charter schools. Charter schools give parents another option. On average, they allow for smaller class sizes, which improves instruction as our teachers are able to teach all children and meet them where they are. Our teachers can build relationships with them.
Our teachers also have autonomy to be creative in their teaching. Obviously, we’ll teach to the common core, but our teachers can do more projects and make those real-world applications. We’re a little bit more flexible and the curriculum is not as rigid. You just have a little bit more freedom in a charter school, and I think that’s a great thing. When kids come to school, their education needs to be engaging, and active, and fun. That’s what charter schools do and what we’re trying to do here.
Jim invites anyone with questions about Lakeside to reach out.
Christina is a local multimedia content producer and digital strategist. Formerly the editor of CorneliusNews.net, she is thrilled to work with the OTC team to once again help tell the ever-evolving Cornelius story. She lives nearby with her husband, Nate, and a small menagerie of 2- and 4-legged beasties.
Jack Conard Jr and artists Justin Christenbery, Rico Nye and Brant Waldeck. (Christine Dietz photo)