Two Anne Arundel County Educators Receive Awards

ANDREA FOWLER (Courtesy Of Anne Arundel County Public Schools - Courtesy Of Anne Arundel County Public Schools)
  Enlarge Photo    
By William Wan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 30, 2009

Two Anne Arundel educators are being honored for their work in the county's public school system over decades.

Andrea Fowler, a special education teacher at Fort Smallwood Elementary School in Pasadena, was chosen for an Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award and will be honored alongside 19 other teachers from the region during a May 12 banquet at The Washington Post. Donald Lilley, principal of Annapolis High School, was set to be given the Distinguished Educational Leadership Award from The Post yesterday along with 21 other area administrators.

For Fowler, the award is the result of a love for special education that emerged during her struggles with school as a child in Puerto Rico. Fowler, 49, lived on the island from ages 4 to 16. But Fowler initially spoke only English and struggled at her Spanish-speaking school. A kindergarten teacher there who spoke limited English took a special interest in her and helped her along. Within months, Fowler was speaking and playing with the other kids.

"It gave me an understanding that people learn differently," she said. "What made the difference for me was having someone walk along and guide me through it."

Fowler, from a family of teachers, majored in early childhood education at what was then Towson State University and began teaching first grade in Carroll County schools. After moving to the Anne Arundel schools as a first-grade teacher at Fort Smallwood, she earned a master's degree in special education from Johns Hopkins University. She became a special education teacher at Fort Smallwood in 1999.

Now she spends her days moving from class to class, working with fourth- and fifth-graders. During the morning, she brings some struggling students from a fourth-grade math class to her room and reteaches them anything they had trouble understanding. She co-teaches a fifth-grade class and has students read aloud and discuss stories, peppering them with questions.

"It's fun because you see how much progress the students make," she said. "My main philosophy is to allow the child to guide the instruction: to look at their strengths and weaknesses and let that be your starting point."

For Lilley, the leadership award is a validation after years of struggle at Annapolis High. He came to the school in 2004 from Annapolis Middle School to replace a controversial and polarizing predecessor.

"It was a huge learning curve for me," he said. He arrived midway through the school year. The year before, Annapolis High had failed to meet federal test standards. A few weeks after, it would miss again.

After two more years of narrow misses on the mandated benchmarks, the school system announced sweeping changes at Annapolis High in 2007. All employees, including Lilley, had to reapply for their jobs. Those kept on would have to forgo summer break and work on a 12-month schedule.

Lilley argued for a chance to stay and guide the school through the dramatic changes. "No one likes to fail at anything. I knew if I was just given a chance, I could make this thing work," he said. He was given his chance and also provided with a slew of resources, including direct access to the upper echelon of the county's administrators and permission to shake up the school's schedule and structure.

He aimed many of his initiatives at incoming ninth-graders, such as a three-week summer program that introduced them to high school and helped them brush up on math and English. His staff members also worked hard on community outreach and increasing attendance.

Their efforts paid off when the school met the mandated targets last year for the first time in six years. Now it needs to do so one more year to get off the state watch list of struggling schools.

"What last year did was validate the plan we had laid out," he said. "It meant all the work we did, everything we went through, was worth it."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company