Updated: New Principals Named for Whitman, Churchill High Schools

School board unanimously approves appointments

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Robert W. Dodd, left, and Brandice Heckert

VIA MONTGOMERY COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Students at Walt Whitman and Winston Churchill high schools learned the names of their new principals Monday evening.

The county school board appointed Robert W. Dodd, a lead consulting principal, to lead Walt Whitman in Bethesda.

“Dr. Dodd is excited and gratified to join the Walt Whitman staff and the school community in order to help continue Walt Whitman High School’s tradition of strong excellence,” Superintendent Jack Smith said during the board meeting.

Dodd has spent 25 years with Montgomery County Public Schools, working as an elementary school and middle school principal before becoming a lead consulting principal in the office of human resources and development, Smith said.

The incoming principal at Winston Churchill High in Potomac will be Brandice Heckert, currently an assistant principal at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High.

“Ms. Heckert is looking forward to working with the students, staff and community of Winston Churchill High School,” Smith said.

On Tuesday, Dodd said he's looking forward to supporting Whitman students as they speak up and make their voices heard.

Dodd said his father graduated from Montgomery Blair High School in the class of '47 under the leadership of then-principal Daryl Shaw, who went on to become Whitman's first principal. Shaw used to encourage Dodd's father to attend parent-teacher-student association meetings because he felt adults needed to hear from students.

At Whitman, Shaw also fostered an atmosphere that invited input from students, and the school's succeeding principals have preserved that culture, Dodd said.

"There's a history of valuing what kids have to say at Whitman," he said in a phone interview.

Dodd's family has deep roots in MCPS; his father was a principal at the now-closed Parkside Elementary School in Silver Spring, and his mother was a teacher. Dodd met his wife while they were attending Paint Branch High School, he said.

Dodd said in his time at MCPS, he's worked as a principal at Argyle Middle School and Strathmore Elementary School, both in Silver Spring. As a consulting principal for the past three years, Dodd has coached more than 30 novice principals throughout the school system.

"I really learned as much from many of my clients as they did from me, so now I have an opportunity to take all that I gleaned and put it into practice at … Walt Whitman," he said.

Dodd also recently earned a doctorate in entrepreneurial leadership in education from Johns Hopkins University. On the side, he's the co-host of an education-focused podcast called "Ed's (Not) Dead," which he started with a couple other MCPS employees.

Heckert has been an MCPS employee for 18 years, starting out as a high school math teacher. She’s spent the past 12 years as an assistant principal, Smith said.

Heckert has served as a student government sponsor and head cheerleading coach and has been an administrator at several MCPS high schools, according to a letter from Jennifer Webster, MCPS director of school support and improvement for high schools. She worked as a principal intern at Clarksburg High School before becoming assistant principal at B-CC, stated the letter sent to Churchill families.

"Mrs. Heckert has demonstrated strong instructional leadership skills while attending to the social-emotional needs of our students. Mrs. Heckert keeps student needs as the core of her leadership decisions," Webster wrote. "She has valued student leadership and has actively worked to ensure school structures give students space to lead and support their vision for the school community."

Whitman’s principal of 14 years, Alan Goodwin, announced in mid-March that he would be retiring at the school year’s end. Churchill’s principal, Joan Benz, who has led the school for 21 years, in April revealed her plan to retire.

The two schools are both highly ranked, with Whitman named the state’s top public school for three years in a row and Churchill occupying the position for the past two years. Benz has spent more than four decades working for Montgomery County Public Schools as a teacher, teacher specialist, assistant principal and principal. Goodwin has also worked for more than 40 years at MCPS.

Also on Monday, the school board appointed Eric Minus, director of school support and improvement of middle schools, as Sherwood High’s new principal.

The school board unanimously approved all the appointments. 

This story was updated with comments from Dodd.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.

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