Meet Dr. Timothy Purnell: AMS Executive Director
Dr. Timothy Purnell wants to make the world a better place, and the evidence so far shows that he’s making pretty good progress. Purnell’s roots are in public education, and he has spent many years in the field, serving as a teacher, superintendent, and adjunct professor, among other roles. Prior to becoming Executive Director of AMS in August 2017, Purnell won honors including the National Superintendent of the Year Award, the You Make a Difference Award, the Governor’s Teaching Recognition Award, the Weston Teaching in Excellence Award, and a Geraldine Dodge Fellowship School Leadership Award.
Purnell’s enthusiasm lies in finding ways to help every child become a “captain of his or her own learning.” As superintendent of Somerville Public Schools in Somerville, New Jersey, Purnell helped develop a high school for at-risk youth, where students have agency in guiding their education and pacing themselves. He also met regularly with a student cabinet, composed of children from grades 2-12 with a wide variety of backgrounds and academic abilities. That group of students set standards and agendas for each meeting, coordinated refreshments, invited guests, and orchestrated outcomes and follow-up.
“The most difficult transition to my role at AMS was the loss of my direct connection with children, particularly those who are at-risk,” says Purnell. “I have a passion to mentor children who are disadvantaged. On the other hand, not only does AMS share my commitment to make the world a better place, I am now able to work with educators and policymakers on a global scale – and this is thrilling to me.”
As part of his first year with AMS, Purnell spent time conducting a “listening and learning tour” of some of AMS’s member schools and affiliated teacher education programs, both in the U.S. and overseas. In addition to helping him become familiar with the nation’s larger Montessori network, the tour gave Purnell an opportunity to talk directly with teachers and administrators and find out how AMS could better serve them. Purnell notes that members stated desires for more guest speakers, assistance with leadership searches and identifying guest speakers for local events, more online learning and other professional development opportunities, and language translations of Montessori information.
Partly as a result of that tour, Purnell spoke about a few exciting shifts that we can look forward to at AMS. “We are exploring ways to provide more services and better support to our individual members, schools, and teacher education programs, and to ensure consistency of learner outcomes among our TEPs,” he says. “We will also be separating the concept of school quality from school membership. I’m sure we’ve all seen subpar Montessori schools with AMS membership certificates hanging on their walls, which might indirectly connote quality; this is something we will be addressing. Along with this, we will be bringing heightened awareness to member schools meeting specific indicators of best practices.”
Purnell describes joining AMS as “being part of the largest Montessori movement and networking opportunity in the world.” Members have the power to “foster a strong movement of change that will impact public policy, legislative decisions, and parental choice in Montessori opportunities,” he says. “There is power in voice, and we plan to amplify that voice in all aspects of mainstream media and research institutions.”
Purnell enjoys talking with anyone who has a passion for Montessori education. He urges those with comments or questions to contact him directly, either through LinkedIn (Timothy Purnell, EdD), Twitter (@drpurnell), or his TimeTrade account.
“We are listening to your concerns and are making adjustments to better support the great work that you are doing,” says Purnell. “Become involved as we evoke the realm of possibilities, dream without limitations, and make the world a better place for our future!”