Darin Loepker, of Breese, and Tiana Montgomery, of Shiloh, are the new faces of leadership for the two schools in the Shiloh School District 85.
Former principals of Shiloh Elementary, Lori Murphy, and Shiloh Middle School, Jeff Alt, have left the district.
Loepker said he’s “excited to roll up his sleeves and being a change agent” in Shiloh.
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“I believe that a positive connection with students and their parents help ensure students have a positive experience at school. I make sure that I know every student’s name and get to know their parents. I like to know my students’ likes and dislikes. I engage students in conversation regularly about academics, athletics, hobbies, their family, etc.,” Loepker said.
Educated at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville for his undergraduate and graduate degrees, Loepker said he started his career teaching sixth- through eighth-graders social studies. He was dean of students and athletic director for three years.
“Students always come first, and that drives my decisions as a principal,” he said.
“All of my experiences have led to me being a successful administrator. You learn through education, not only as a student, but as a teacher and as an administrator, because the role of education is constantly changing, and your students are all different, and you have to know how you can best serve them,” Loepker said. “The way we best served kids 10 or 15 years ago is not the same way we can best serve them now, so you have to be able to draw from your experiences and look forward to being a change agent to help your students.”
While this is his third time being a new principal in about 10 years, Loepker said he’s staying put indefinitely.
“What I’ve noticed is this is a lot easier than when I first became a principal — the transition is smoother. However, it’s not without its challenges,” he said.
Loepker said his No. 1 priority is to learn more about the inner workings of his new school from students, staff, teachers and parents, so he can meet their needs.
“They’ve been walking the halls longer than I, and gathering their input and that of families and staff is very important for me — and for them. I want them to know I’m an advocate for them and the school, not just an administrator,” Loepker said.
According to Loepker, an “overwhelmingly positive” observation he’s made is the amount of parent involvement.
“We have a PTO that is here constantly, and they are always visible at school, and I look forward to that,” he said.
Loepker said he hopes to increase Shiloh Middle School’s social media presence by starting a Twitter account after school has been in session for a while.
“Keeping people informed on upcoming events, activities and news about students and staff is important to me, and we do that with the Shiloh School District 85 website already, but I think it would be great to start a Twitter account,” Loepker said.
Loepker’s children are Carson, 14, and Marlee, 9. His wife, Kelly, works for the American Red Cross.
“If I can leave one impression on my children and my students, it is that success doesn’t come easy. You get what you work for. If you want something bad enough, you need to keep trying no matter how many times you fail,” Loepker said.
Facilitating a “good atmosphere between teachers and administration and maintaining a strong character education program” is another goal of Loepker’s.
With a coaching background at Breese Mater Dei Catholic High School football, Loepker has also taken on coaching his children’s select athletic teams as well.
“I coach their baseball, softball and basketball teams as much as possible. They enjoy it, and so do I. It’s just fun quality time to be together,” Loepker said.
Q: What do you think is your most outstanding characteristic?
A: I am very outgoing and approachable.
Q: What irritates you most?
A: When people give up on problems easily.
Q: What did you want to do career wise when you were growing up?
A: I wanted to be a lawyer. Not sure why; I think I thought it was glamorous, like LA Law.
Q: Do you have words to live by?
A: ‘Good enough is never good enough. We need to always strive for the best. Do not except mediocrity.’
Montgomery has “loved school” and wanted to be a teacher for “as long as she can remember.”
“Wanda Salmons was my second-grade teacher in Alton, and she was amazing. Since she took my sister and I under her wing, I’ve wanted to be an educator — just like her,” Montgomery said.
Fostering positive relationships and leading by example are core values of Montgomery.
“Kids are my business, and at the end of the day, we are all here for the kids, and I hope to empower staff to follow in my footsteps,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery said she’s excited to “dig right in” and learn more about the students, families and staff at Shiloh Elementary.
“I come from a larger school, so being able to hone in more on building those positive relationships and keeping communication open is a priority of mine. I love kids. I love what I do, and I wouldn’t be here without the support I’ve been given over the years in education. It’s not just a job. It’s a passion,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery received her undergraduate degree from SIUE, but obtained her master’s and specialties degrees from Lindenwood University. She said she plans on returning to SIUE to work on her doctoral degree in January 2018.
“I’m very goal-oriented, and I believe I really am a lifelong learner. Every day is a learning experience. Even from the kids, I’m learning things,” she said.
This is Montgomery’s 15th year in education, with three years spent teaching kindergarten, second- and third-graders in East St. Louis at the former Lilly-Freeman Elementary School, which has since closed.
She’s been an administrator for 11 years in the Alton School District. She began as an assistant principal at Alton Middle School in 2006, but the majority of her career has been at North Elementary School in Alton, with the first five years as an assistant principal, beginning in 2007, with the latest five years as principal.
“My goal this first year, coming from a larger school, is to get to know my students, my families and my staff. I believe in building positive relationships, because I believe those can have lifelong impacts, if you do it correctly and genuinely,” she said.
Q: Do you have words to live by?
A: Treat everyone with respect.
Q: When they make a movie of your life, who would play you?
A: Sanaa Lathan
Q: What type of music do you listen to?
A: All kinds like gospel, Christian, jazz, classical and R&B.
Q: What would people be most surprised to know about you?
Q: I like to collect bags like gift bags, dressy bags, tote bags and more!