By Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Several times a month, Beach Elementary School Principal Michael Shisler gathers students, staff members and parent volunteers for rousing matches of chess.
It's not an easy game for sometimes unfocused and hyperactive elementary children to grasp. But Shisler, convinced he could share his passion for the game with students at the Calvert County school, began teaching the basics one day. He received a $10,000 grant to launch an after-school chess team, which became known as the Beach Bishops.
"Students proudly wear their Beach Bishops shirts whether or not they have been winners, because they are shown appreciation for their efforts by their coach and strategist, Principal Shisler," Vice Principal Andrea Banks wrote in a letter nominating Shisler for The Washington Post's Distinguished Educational Leadership award.
This year, the team of about two dozen students has participated in five weekend tournaments, earning team and individual trophies. The costs of attending the conferences and other expenses are covered by the grant.
"It's inspiring to see and a bit humbling to experience when you have a highly skilled third-grader as a partner," a group of Calvert administrators wrote in another letter.
Shisler has worked in education for more than 35 years and "has lived through all manner of education reform," the administrators wrote.
"As reforms have come and gone, Dr. Shisler has been unwavering in his advocacy for the students he serves. While he did not blindly embrace every aspect of the No Child Left Behind legislation, he saw the logic in data-driven decision-making and knowing each child's level of academic progress and needs."
Shisler began teaching while serving in the Peace Corps in the Central African Republic in 1972. Upon returning to the United States, he taught at Baltimore public schools for two years and then moved to Calvert, where he taught for 10 years. In 1988, he became vice principal at Beach Elementary. Four years later, he was promoted to principal.
Shisler's day starts at the front of the school, where he greets prekindergarten through fifth-grade students with an energetic, "Good morning. How are you?" On a typical day, he can be found reading to children in a classroom or conducting impromptu math lessons in the cafeteria snack line.
"In spite of his years of experience, I believe Dr. Shisler continues to be as excited and committed to learning and achievement as he was when he started in the profession," Banks wrote.