Marc Cohen describes his leadership style as principal of Maryland’s Seneca Valley High School with one word: “relentless.”
Cohen, the school’s principal for over 11 years, has seen the Germantown community change over the past decade. Located in the second most diverse city in the U.S., more than half of Seneca Valley’s students live in poverty, and the school has a “growing and vulnerable” Latino population. And yet the school has consistent high achievement, thanks in large part to a principal who is never satisfied.
“It drives some of the teachers crazy, but I believe so much in the power of the work that we do that even in their successes, I keep pushing,” he says. “It’s not in one big passionate speech, because that can fall on deaf ears, but in the day-to-day conversations we have about children and what we can do to help them succeed.”
Cohen struggled in high school until his English teacher took him aside and offered him a chance to help teach her class. The lesson she taught him — never give up — has been with him ever since.
“She saw a kid with potential who was not doing anything to meet that potential, and in a very devious way, she did everything that she could to prevent me from failing,” he says. “That one educator, on that one day, in that one year, took the time to make a difference in everything I do, and that’s what I want to do every single day for other people.”
“I have such awe for the work teachers do,” he says. “I’m afraid that if we don’t or can’t provide the structures and resources teachers need and get out of their way so they can do the work, that we will fail our kids. If we fail kids, it’s not just a data point. It’s a life.”