Lafayette Elementary Principal Is Honored

Gail Lynn Main, principal of Lafayette Elementary, studied special education in college.
Gail Lynn Main, principal of Lafayette Elementary, studied special education in college. (Susan Biddle - Twp)
By Theola Labb¿
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 29, 2007

As a teenager growing up outside of Chicago, Gail Lynn Main did a lot of babysitting for Marian Bobo, a girl from her church who had Down syndrome. The Bobos had struggled to find a sitter for their daughter, but Main had no problem bonding with her.

"She was a teenager just like me," Main said. "We did fun girl things together."

Main, 56, remembered her babysitting days when she was studying to be a teacher at Texas Christian University. With a few more hours of course work, she could establish a concentration in her elementary-education major; she chose special education.

Main, principal of Lafayette Elementary School in Northwest, said it's critical not to give the same lessons to all students, but to know how to make education match each child.

"It's not like you teach special education, you teach reading, you teach math," Main said. "It's really important to know how to differentiate education for different levels of children."

Parents, teachers and many of the school's 624 students noted Main's dedication and strong sense of empathy in their nomination letters for the Washington Post Distinguished Educational Leadership Award. Main is the District recipient of the award this year, one of 18 winners in Northern Virginia and eight Maryland counties who were selected for their ability to lead their schools and change students' lives.

Main recalled that when she was growing up, most women were encouraged to enter the nursing or teaching professions, or become a homemaker. Her mother worked as a nurse, and her grandmother was a switchboard operator. Main, the oldest of five children, was the first woman in her family to go to college.

At Lafayette, Main has paid attention to the achievement gap, and African American students have had a 7 percent increase in reading test scores during her tenure. To bolster the character of students, she created the Golden L Award, which is coveted by students as a reward for being kind and safe and working hard in class.

Linda Geen and John Katz, co-presidents of the Lafayette Home School Association, said that the school was good before Main's 2001 arrival but that she has made it outstanding. Her motto -- "Be kind. Be safe. Be responsible. Work hard." -- has helped create a culture of learning and mutual respect. In 2004, the U.S. Education Department named Lafayette, the largest elementary school in the 49,600-student system, a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.

In her letter of support, school counselor Rashida Mosby said Main is the kind of principal who steps in to fill any role, from serving lunch in the cafeteria and shoveling snow to teaching a class as a substitute.

"Mrs. Main truly steps outside the box to really be a part of her school," Mobley said. "She is truly remarkable."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company