That happy ambush left Harrod a little teary as she stood before her students at John Burroughs Education Campus in Brookland.
Accompanying the mayor and chancellor into the classroom were Principal Mary Weston and a considerable entourage of folks snapping cellphone pictures.
Many of them were looking a little emotional, too. Harrod’s students were delighted, if a little gobsmacked, by the moment. “I want to cry, too,” one girl said.
Two other kids, asked for their response, just opened their eyes wide and let their jaws drop.
“I am very lucky to be in a position where I can show up every day and work with such wonderful kids,” Harrod said. “I love my job. I really love it.”
I wrote about Harrod’s class on the first day of school in August, and I’ve been returning every so often since then. Her students tend to learn a lot during their year with her, according to standardized test results, and I am interested to see what that learning looks like — especially in reading and writing.
It often looks like discussion and debate. Harrod, who’s been teaching 11 years, believes that students can articulate themselves more precisely in writing if they know how to articulate themselves in speech. So she often runs her classroom as a fifth-grade version of the seminars she took as a student at Sidwell Friends and Kenyon College, prodding her students to explore and challenge each other’s ideas.
Earlier this month, a vocabulary-building lesson turned into a debate about “reliable” and “loyal,” with one student arguing that they were near-synonyms and another objecting. The latter couldn’t quite say how the words were different. He struggled with a few false starts before Harrod jumped in.
“It’s fine that you were having a little bit of trouble,” she said. “I’m glad you started that conversation. In the spaces between words, in the shades of meaning between words — that’s where the critical thinking happens,” she said.
The award means a $10,000 check and an extra-bright spotlight at the school system’s Standing Ovation event, a celebration of teachers scheduled for later this month at the Kennedy Center.
This year’s principal of the year award winner is David Pinder, head of McKinley Technology High in Northeast, an application-only school that’s made huge gains on standardized tests in recent years. The U.S. Department of Education named McKinley Tech a National Blue Ribbon School this fall.
The recognition represents a redemption of sorts for Pinder. He was put on leave in 2011 after he was accused of doctoring 13 students’ transcripts to give them credit for courses they never took, ostensibly to inflate graduation rates. There were also questions about the mishandling of a $100,000 grant from AARP to the school.
Pinder was reinstated after an investigator admitted lying to an interview subject, compromising the probe.
The principal choked up Thursday, according to observers, when he was presented not only with the award, but with an offer to accompany the mayor to the next Nats playoff game.