Liz Calvert accepts new role as principal

Hawk Talk Editor-in-Chief Cate Langhorn sits down to get to know new principal Liz Calvert and to ask students’ burning questions about how her leadership will guide Madison.

Cate Langhorn, Editor-in-Chief



Langhorn: So how many years have you been working at Madison and under what positions?

Calvert: I’ve been working at Madison since the fall of 2015. I actually got hired in December of 2015 and started in January of 2016. It’s the beginning of my eighth school year, and I’ve been an assistant principal here during that time. I did leave when I was asked to be the acting principal at Marshall Road [Elementary School] during the pandemic. We shut down four weeks after I started at Marshall Road. When I came back to Madison, it was like I had never left.

I started my career at Chantilly High School, where I was a history teacher and also coached basketball and softball. I was a stay-at-home mom with my children when they were small, until we moved out of the area during that time. I was a varsity basketball coach in a small area called Tyler County in West Virginia. When we came back to the area, I got a job at Oakton as a social studies teacher. I was a team lead and department chair as well. Then, I went to Rocky Run Middle School as a school based technology specialist—it was the same job that Mr. Rauenzahn does at Madison. I briefly worked in central office as an assessment coach, but returned to Rocky Run as the director of student services, which is Mr. Buckley’s job at Madison. I was at Thoreau as an assistant principal before being hired at Madison in December of 2015. I’ve worn quite a few hats during my career, and I’ve been on lots of division-level teams. I’m proud of the work I’ve done during my career and believe that my K-12 experience affords me some understandings and experiences that I might not have had if I had only stayed in a high school.

L: On a similar topic, how would you say your experience as principal of Marshall Road has prepared you to serve as principal here at Madison?

C: My expectation when I went into the Marshall Road position was to make sure the school ran smoothly through the rest of the school year. When the pandemic hit and schools were shut down, I realized I was responsible for more than what I had anticipated. As a principal during the pandemic, my responsibilities expanded well beyond instruction. I was suddenly responsible for implementing virtual learning—something no one had done on this scale before in FCPS. I realized, more than anything, that I had to be the calmest voice in the room and be confident when making decisions that impact an entire community. It was so important for me to listen and provide support every time I got the opportunity to. But, most importantly, I needed to interface with students as much as I could. It was so much fun taking part in lessons with students, even though it was virtual. What I’m finding in my first four days as the principal of Madison is that it’s a huge management job; but I have to make space to meet with students and staff. I need to listen and be confident when making decisions.

L: On the topic of the rolling gradebook and the idea of skill-based grading, would you want to use that model moving forward to support the MADWings program? That’s what I’ve been hearing.

C: The short answer is yes. Here’s a longer explanation of why. For several years, educators have been focusing on asking the question, “Are we preparing our students for the world in which they will live?”  Employers continually state that many new hires need remedial training in skills that weren’t acquired previously. While content is important, it’s really about how we use that content to solve problems, to examine the world in a different way. Students are going to be challenged with questions and problems as adults that I can’t even imagine today, and I know that sounds cliche. I’ve been in this business for almost twenty-five years and education is very different from what it was even ten years ago. It’s changing exponentially, and we have to be able to prepare students given this exponential change. These ideas resonated with our staff and has been driving our work toward a skills-based mastery learning framework that provides families with a clearer picture of how their student is learning and mastering skills that are critical for individual courses.  As a staff we have been working towards creating a gradebook that calculates grades and communicates consistently no matter what course is being taught. We are excited that this work will finally be realized next year when all courses will use the same grading practices.

Because the skills-based learning framework is designed to measure and communicate growth over time, the MADWings program complements this work brilliantly. Both focus on growth over time. MADWings is an opportunity for students to look deeply within themselves, and be proud of the things they’ve accomplished, especially those areas in which they have shown growth. If students can reflect on and talk about their own learning and growth, it promotes a mindset that obstacles in life are things you have to climb over, not run from.  It’s our responsibility to get students as prepared as we can for those climbs. A personal portfolio where students reflect on and celebrate their climbs is essential for building the resilience they will need in life.

L: So that actually brings me to my next question. It is my understanding that different departments are all using different grading systems and different ways of calculating overall grades. Are you planning on completely unifying these systems going forward so that we all operate under one grading system?

C: The short answer is absolutely. Like I said before, we are finally in a place where we will have one way that gradebooks are calculated beginning next year.

L: Yeah that’s great, and this next question is very general so it can go in any direction you’d like, but going forward what ambitions and goals do you have as principal for your time here?

C: If there is one thing that I hope for this community, it is that we truly embrace #OneKindActVienna and the “One School. One Community. One World,” motto. I want Madison to be an inclusive place where every student feels valued, heard, respected and safe. And I don’t know if that’s true for every student and it’s important we find out. I’d like to continue to build a community that supports one another and finds ways to build a better world. I’m not saying everyone has to be best friends. That’s not what I’m saying at all; but I think if we assume positive intent with people and don’t immediately jump to the negative, I would hope that we would really start to make the change for some of those students who feel disenfranchised in our school. Together, anything is possible!