Meet some of D.C.’s finest educators

The Washington Post Distinguished Educational Leadership Awards this year recognize 18 principals from area school districts who go beyond the day-to-day demands of their position to create an exceptional educational environment, using a combination of management, interest in staff and students, respect for learning and vision for the future.

The Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Awards this year go to 20 teachers from area school districts who demonstrate excellence in teaching, commitment to improving classroom learning through creative and quality instruction, and unwavering dedication to strengthening education in the Washington region.

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For each of the awards, members of the individual school communities make nominations, and the school districts make the final decisions, meaning the award-winners receive the honor from the communities they serve.

Winners of the leadership awards will be honored at a ceremony at The Post on May 7 and winners of the Agnes Meyer awards will be honored at a ceremony at The Post on May 14.

Here, we profile six of this year’s winners — three principals and three teachers — who represent districts in Washington, Maryland and Virginia.

Harry Hughes, D.C. principal

The District’s Harriet Tubman Elementary School has made impressive strides since Principal Harry Hughes took the helm five years ago.

Many more students are reading on grade level. More are doing advanced math. And in a city where parents can choose from among a dizzying number of public schools, more families are choosing Tubman.

“This level of continual improvement is a testament to Mr. Hughes’ sustained academic leadership,” wrote Chancellor Kaya Henderson in a letter recommending the principal for the Washington Post Distinguished Educational Leadership Award.

A graduate of the University of Virginia, Hughes worked as a D.C. elementary school teacher for seven years before becoming an assistant principal at Tubman in 2006. When he became principal two years later, he was charged with turning around the school, located in the heart of diverse and gentrifying Columbia Heights.

Since then, proficiency rates have climbed 23 percentage points in reading and 29 percentage points in math. Community members volunteer to come to Tubman to read with students on Saturday mornings. And staff members host classes for parents to help them understand how to help their children learn.

Teachers say Hughes leads with urgency, consistency and purpose. He’s facile with student achievement data and lesson plans, and he’s almost never in his office. Instead, he’s walking hallways, observing classrooms and out on the playground, quizzing kids on math skills during recess.

Just as important, teachers say, is his style, characterized by respect and compassion for everyone in the building.

“I cannot imagine a leader I would rather follow,” wrote one teacher, describing the gratitude she felt for the support he offered as she recovered from cancer.

“Although he stresses accountability and professionalism,“ wrote another teacher, “it is his kindness in the face of personal adversity and turmoil that makes us all want to work harder and longer to make our students successful.”

— Emma Brown

Monique Marshall-Ferguson, D.C. teacher

When students on the autism spectrum attend mainstream classes at the District’s Eastern Senior High School, they go with the support of Monique Marshall-Ferguson.

Marshall-Ferguson, winner of the Washington Post’s Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award, teams with classroom teachers to make sure that her students have the accommodations they need to learn chemistry, world history, English and other core academic subjects alongside their peers.

“She takes time to re-teach abstract chemistry topics in a way that allows her students to develop a deep understanding of the content,” wrote one teacher. “She has a clear understanding of what students with very diverse needs require in order to be successful and shine in the class.”

A native of a steel town in northern Pennsylvania, Marshall-Ferguson went south for college and graduated in 2004 from the University of Georgia. She worked in various education-related jobs, including as a tutor, summer school teacher and special-education instructor before earning a master’s of teaching degree from Bowie State University in 2010.

She was the lead autism teacher at Eliot-Hine Middle School in 2010 and the following year transferred to Eastern, where she was rated a highly effective teacher under the city’s evaluation system.

Besides her work with students, Marshall-Ferguson has been an important mentor to less-experienced teachers, helping them navigate the challenges of their jobs.

“Before she even met me, she took me under her wing,” wrote one first-year teacher, Becca Gentile. When Gentile ran into chronic trouble managing the behavior of a particular student, Marshall-Ferguson helped her come up with a plan.

“Her dedication to helping a student that she doesn’t even work with is inspiring,” Gentile wrote.

Marshall-Ferguson has applied for and won several grants to help her school buy books for children, and in her spare time has written three self-published books.

— Emma Brown

Jacqueline Fludd Peng, Montgomery County teacher

Jacqueline Fludd Peng, a veteran social studies teacher for Montgomery County Public Schools, knows that teenagers hate yawn-inducing lectures about the conflicting views of the upper and lower socioeconomic classes that sparked the French Revolution.

“However, as a teacher who is as passionate about her content as she is about her students’ success, I know that in order for students to want to learn and achieve, learning must be relevant, instruction must be engaging and achievement must be attainable,” she said.

So Fludd Peng, an AP modern world history and sociology teacher at Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville, divides her students into three groups to teach them about the Estates General legislative body. The first two groups, representing the first and second estates, get to eat cupcakes — a privilege of their stature in 18th-century France. The teenagers of the third estate, hungering for a taste of the sweet treats, plan a revolution against their fellow students.

It’s that kind of innovative and inclusive approach to education that led her colleagues to nominate her for the Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award.

Fludd Peng, a graduate of George Washington University, joined Montgomery County schools in 2005.

In 2008 and 2010, Paint Branch principal Jeanette Dixon said, the school led the country with the number of black students who scored a 3 or higher on the AP modern world history exam. Dixon largely credited Fludd Peng with the accomplishment.

“One of the best decisions that I have made in my 12 years as principal of Paint Branch has been to hire her,” Dixon said. “To say that Ms. Fludd is an outstanding teacher does not do her justice. She is also a hard worker who is dedicated to teaching. She is open-minded and enjoys working with people of different cultural backgrounds.”

— T. Rees Shapiro

Timothy J. Thomas, Fairfax County principal

After becoming principal in the summer of 2006, Timothy J. Thomas helped steer the Westfield High School community out of dark times. In 2007, three graduates died in the Virginia Tech mass shooting. The next year, a group of former and current Westfield students were arrested for participating in a deadly heroin distribution ring.

Now in his seventh year, Thomas has been credited with creating a vibrant and positive atmosphere at Westfield.

“Mr. Thomas inherited a school environment in which the vision was waning and he quickly faced obstacles with students and staff in a stagnant culture,” assistant principal Virginia Muller wrote in his citation for the leadership award. “Under the leadership and direction of Mr. Thomas, Westfield High School offers a safe and supportive learning environment where the students excel in all areas and the faculty and staff interacts in a collaborative, collegial and professional manner.”

Thomas, a George Mason graduate, joined Fairfax County Public Schools in 1992 as a Spanish teacher at Centreville High School. In 2000, he became an assistant principal at Centreville High. He was an assistant principal for four years at Westfield before he was elevated to principal.

At Westfield, he oversees 2,800 students and is highly regarded for his inclusive nature and for leading by example. He greets students as they walk in the doors in the morning, singling out the teenagers by name and speaking with them in Spanish and English. After lunch, he is known to help the custodians clean up trash in the cafeteria.

PTA member Jennifer Campbell said Thomas “is approachable, sensible, practical, honest, direct, realistic and with a compassionate work ethic.”

— T. Rees Shapiro

Lisa Roth, Loudoun County teacher

Lisa Roth sends her incoming students at Dominion Trail Elementary School a postcard the summer before they start first grade.

“Welcome to Room 3!” one card said. “I can't wait to meet you so we can learn and grow together!”

With that, she welcomes her Ashburn students into a school year that will set the course for their academic career. As she told parents at Back to School night last fall, “First grade is magic,” a time when a students’ self-
confidence about learning is developed and they figure out how to take risks in the classroom that can help them learn.

To the parents, colleagues and former students who nominated her for the Agnes Meyer award, Roth shines as a teacher because she challenges every child and makes each one feel exceptional.

One former student, now in sixth grade, recalled a proud moment when he read a book aloud in Roth’s class. He also remembered the encouraging feedback she gave him, and being able to speak with her in the hallways.

“She wanted to find out more about us as kids and not just as students,” he wrote.

Roth’s colleagues and friends described how her nurturing extends well past school hours, including the time she spent to learn about Down syndrome to better assist a student and how she called one student the night before a tonsillectomy to ease any jitters.

At the end of the year, she sends her students home with a book of photos and work samples compiled through the year, along with a poem she writes for each student that ends with the line, “The one thing I tried to teach you, to last your whole life through, is to know that you are special, just because you are you!”

— Michael Alison Chandler

 
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