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Finding the Founders

By: Arthur Yu

Nicole Cerra (left), Christy Knott (middle), and Ken Montgomery (right) are founding staff members that are still around. Photos taken by Arthur Yu.

Over five years ago, these three staff members helped found d.tech. To pursue his vision, Ken Montgomery enlisted Nicole Cerra and Christy Knott. In just three years, d.tech has seen teachers come and go. But these three staff members are some of the core group that has remained. What drives these three founders?

When I had asked Montgomery how the idea of the school began, he related a tale about one day while he was working in Capuchino High School. Approached by 15 kids to help found a speech and debate team, he agreed to coach the team that would later become the best team in southern California. Years later, he said, “I’m going through a bookstore and I see Times magazine. And on the cover is one of my former students who was on the speech and debate team.” After high school, this former student became the Deputy Secretary of Technology at the White House. Curious, he started tracking down his other former students to find they also were leading astounding lifestyles. Perplexed by how his students had such amazing outcomes, he reached out to a few and asked how they did it. He said “They all said it was that act of creation. It created this mindset of this is how the world works. You don’t passively receive it, you actively design it. And so it just hit me. That is what schools should be focused on.” Montgomery realized he was too focused on raising test scores instead of on creating a mindset for creative confidence. Montgomery has been driven by this mission ever since.

Joining Montgomery on his mission to create a school with this goal, Cerra assumed a heavy amount of responsibility for the school and its students. But how does she persevere? Cerra, d.tech’s Director of Learning, says, “What keeps me motivated is definitely the students and the culture.” Cerra has helped the founding class through what is now two campus transitions and has bonded with many of them. “We have all been through so much together, so there is a real commitment to those students,” she said, adding “I just haven’t seen a culture that is so open, so creative, so quirky, so fun loving in another high school.” Anyone in d.tech’s community is familiar with Cerra, and certainly recognizes her contributions to help us sustain such a positive and safe place.

While starting this school with Montgomery and Cerra, Knott has a different motivational force to keep her moving: “Just to keep making it better.” Knott always takes the opportunity to improve in her role as d.tech’s Health and Wellness Director. Every day is a challenge for Knott. Those who have helped Knott plan the camping trip can attest to this. To Knott, working at d.tech not only helps the students, but also herself. She says: “When I look at other people in my life, who have changed jobs a number of times, they are not being challenged and I have don’t have that issue. And I like that. I thrive off that.”

Montgomery, Cerra, and Knott all have different motivations, but one thing is for sure: They are here to stay.

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