Park Middle School’s Kai Montgomery named administrators association’s Vice Principal of the Year

Kai Montgomery Vice Principal of Park Middle School. Photo: AUSD

By AUSD

She had wanted to be a teacher all her life, so Kai Montgomery went after the credential … and then another … and finally a graduate degree. But after those qualifications helped her land a couple of jobs in Antioch Unified’s District Office, Montgomery realized something was missing amid all the paperwork and policy making: The children.

These days the former instructor is back on campus, for the past four years as a vice principal at Park Middle School where she has won recognition from the Association of California School Administrators.

“I really missed being with students because of the individual conversations,” she said.

Montgomery moved around a lot as a child but even though she had attended 10 schools by her senior year, the environment offered a comforting routine in her ever-changing world. “School can be a solace for you when there’s a lot of other things going on,” she said.

Now she’s trying to foster the same caring environment, which makes it easier for young people to learn, Montgomery said. It’s a goal she always carries with her: Tattooed on the inside of her wrists are the words “empathy” and “kindness.”

Children must have their emotional needs met — to be understood, for example, or know how to cope with anxiety — before they can tackle academics, Montgomery said.

To that end she assembled teachers, a special education instructor, a psychologist, therapists and academic counselors last year. Some are Park Middle School employees, others are from outside agencies, but they all work together on behalf of the students who are referred to them for behavior or academic problems.

CARE, as the group is known, meets twice a month to map out ways of getting youngsters back on track. The practical help ranges from putting low-income families in touch with organizations that provide food, clothes or other necessities to arranging for a kid who’s having trouble managing anger to work out that aggression at a boxing center.

In addition, Montgomery is establishing the so-called “restorative” approach of moderating conversations between students who have caused trouble and the classmates or teachers they have hurt so each can share his or her point of view, come to a mutual understanding and repair the relationship.

She also is planning to train teachers how to diffuse conflict in their own classroom using these practices. Montgomery readily acknowledges the difficulty of continuing to pursue help for students when previous efforts have failed. “You just don’t give up,” she said.

And the best part of the job is when that persistence pays off.

“You try five different things and the sixth works. You feel great!” Montgomery said.

Montgomery is the married mom of a 17-year-old daughter and 21-year-old stepson.

She is also a travel bug who goes “anywhere I can have good food.” Dreams of sampling culinary delights have taken her on cross-country road trips in the U.S. as well as a month’s trip to Europe and, most recently, a week-long cruise to Mexico. Next stop? Bangkok, Thailand’s on the short list!

#WeAreAUSD

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