Principal Makes J.P. Ryon 'a School for Every Child'

Virginia "Ginny" McGraw, principal of J.P. Ryon Elementary School. (Courtesy Of Charles County Public Schools)
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By Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 23, 2009

A mother arrived at J.P. Ryon Elementary in Waldorf in 2006 to meet with the principal to discuss transferring her paraplegic daughter, Skye, to the school. Knowing how much work and money it takes to make a school accessible for the disabled, the mother worried that she was facing a long, bureaucratic struggle.

But Principal Virginia "Ginny" McGraw warmly welcomed Kristina Gozzi and showed her the rubber mats she had bought, with her own money, to put on the gravel playground so Skye could enjoy recess.

"Mrs. McGraw filled out paperwork upon paperwork for grants and funding to make her school accessible for all her handicapped students. Mrs. McGraw sat next to me at every meeting" with the Charles County school board, Gozzi wrote in a letter nominating McGraw for this year's Distinguished Educational Leadership Award from The Washington Post.

"She supported everything I had been fighting for two years. It is because of Mrs. McGraw's support J.P. Ryon is now a school for every child. Most importantly, Mrs. McGraw restored my faith in the Charles County public school system."

McGraw started her education career as an elementary teacher in D.C. public schools. After 20 years teaching in the District, she moved to Charles. She taught at Mount Hope/Nanjemoy Elementary for four years, was the school's community liaison for a year and then became vice principal.

McGraw has also served as vice principal at William B. Wade Elementary and as principal at Gale-Bailey Elementary. In 2002, she was named principal at J.P. Ryon, where she has been since.

McGraw plans social gatherings and holiday parties for the staff and frequently hosts bridal and baby showers at her home, say those who nominated her for the award. She lets new teachers stay with her until they find a place to live. She drops what she is doing to meet with parents who drop by the school and quietly gives cash to families that need help buying groceries.

"Unlike many others, Mrs. McGraw is not a principal whose only concern is test scores. She truly cares for the well-being of each of her students," wrote Zarina Ameen, a counselor at the school.

And McGraw, co-workers and parents say, is always available for a pick-me-up hug and some motherly advice.

"Mrs. McGraw celebrates with us, cries with us, shares in our successes and picks us up when we need it most," wrote Dawn L. Trotter, a speech-language pathologist at the school.

Parent Lisa Young added: "In this busy world where we seem to not have two seconds of time to ourselves, it does make a difference to us parents and makes us want to be more involved with the school when there is someone like Ms. McGraw, who basically is the entire cheerleading squad all rolled up into one person. This kind of dedication isn't seen that often and should be rewarded."

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