Dedicated to an Open-Door Policy

By Karin Brulliard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 15, 2007

Brian Hull and Trudy Taylor are everywhere, their staff members say -- reading to students in classrooms, slapping high-fives in their schools' cafeterias, waving hello and goodbye at the entrances.

And when they are in their offices, the two veteran principals keep their doors wide open.

That accessibility helped Hull, of Colin L. Powell Elementary in Centreville, and Taylor, of Thomas Jefferson Elementary in Falls Church, earn this year's Washington Post Distinguished Educational Leadership Awards. Based on nominations from students, teachers and colleagues, Hull was selected as Principal of the Year in Fairfax County and Taylor in Falls Church.

Colleagues say the principals are on top of innovative teaching and administrative methods. But it is their support of each child, teacher and parent that makes them stand out.

Once, recalled Barbara Cooper, Taylor's secretary, a fourth-grader escaped the watch of his mother, charged into Taylor's office and proceeded to narrate his summer vacation. Taylor listened with rapt attention, Cooper wrote in a nomination letter.

"This child was beaming when he walked past my desk," Cooper wrote. "Yes, the stacks of paper were still on Mrs. Taylor's desk, the phone calls still needed to be made, the reports didn't disappear and staff members were cued in line to see her, yet that child was made to feel '10 feet tall.' "

Those who work with Hull said he knows each of the more than 900 students at Powell by name. Sometimes he drops by their classrooms to read or peruse their work; sometimes he dons a tuxedo-style apron and serves them a "fine-dining" lunch to reward good cafeteria behavior.

"Just recently, Mr. Hull was seen walking hand in hand, on the school's fields, with a first-grade student who was having a difficult day," physical education teacher John T. Kelly wrote in a nomination letter. "His calmness and caring attitude soothed the child's anxiety."

Hull said his "wonderful teachers" helped him decide as a child that he would pursue a career in education. He began as a teacher, first in Milwaukee and then in Fairfax. He made the leap to administration in 1984 and has since served as assistant principal or principal at seven Fairfax schools.

Since then, the region has become even more diverse, an evolution reflected in the hallways of Powell, which Hull helped establish four years ago to meet demand in booming western Fairfax. Students and staff at the school come from 36 nations and speak 47 languages.

Hull's staff members say he strives to get all students' families involved at the school. That's especially true for those whose native language is not English, some of whom are active PTA members. This year, Hull launched a Welcoming Committee, a program that matches new families with families who share a common language or cultural background.

"We're always looking at new and unique ways" to involve parents, Hull said. "There is truly an awareness and pride and recognition of everyone's diversity."

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