A story yesterday about awards for area principals gave an incorrect name for one of the schools. Joan Tannenbaum is middle school principal and associated principal for instruction at George Mason Junior-Senior High School in Falls Church. (Published 11/28/90)

Fifteen Washington area public school principals received The Washington Post Distinguished Educational Awards last night for their efforts in creating exceptional educational environments for their students and teachers.

The winners were selected by their school systems, which screened nominations made by parents, teachers, students, school officials and community members.

The nominating letters from the 15 school districts included numerous accounts of the principals' enthusiasm and accessibility, of their willingness to let teachers try new ideas in the classroom, and of their ability to communicate with faculty members, students and parents.

The account given of Principal Eva M. Coffman by her staff at Dr. Samuel A. Mudd Elementary School in Waldorf, Md., was typical: "She often quotes the phrase, 'I think I can -- I know I can,' which has permeated the school and is now the school motto. She not only knows each child by name but can be depended upon for a hug as they enter school and a 'See you tomorrow' smile as they leave."

One of those children, Jennifer Anderson, who formerly attended Mudd, wrote: "Mrs. Coffman was always around when you needed her and she cared about your work."

"Principals don't always get the recognition for what they do," said Vincent E. Reed, vice president for communications for The Post and former superintendent of D.C. public schools. "This is a way to honor them."

The winning principals expressed many common themes in interviews before the awards ceremony.

"I just enjoy teaching and working with children," said Shirley G. Hayes, principal of Park View High School in the District.

A Washington native and graduate of Dunbar High School, Hayes began her career as a teacher in 1956 at age 21.

"I realized my life ambition very early," she said. "When I was a girl, age 6, I knew I wanted to be a teacher." Hayes recounted how she held "class" on the front porch of her home in Northeast, using playmates and dolls as pupils.

"I have never, ever felt burned out," she said.

Luther W. Fennell, principal of Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, said, "The thing that really inspires me and sustains me is just having the opportunity to work with young people."

Fennell, who was born in Vermont, grew up in Glenn Dale. He graduated from Bladensburg High School, and his mother was a teacher and administrator with the Prince George's County school system.

"It's really the kids that make the day real bright," he said.

Joan Tannenbaum, middle school principal and associate principal for instruction at James Madison Middle/Senior High School in Falls Church, said, "I would like to think that I received it for a lot of different people, including my kids, who are my heroes."

Tannenbaum, who is known at James Madison as "Dr. T" and who describes herself as a "streetwise kid," from Boston, said she found a home for herself in the education field.

"My father graduated from the fourth grade and my mother {from} the eighth grade, so education was really important, as a ticket out, to become part of the mainstream in American life," she said.

Principals also cited the encouragement of teachers they had as children and the help and support of the teachers they work with now.

Other principals receiving the honor were:

Donald B. Dixon, of Drew Middle School in Falmouth, Stafford County, Va.

Rick L. Fitzgerald, of Saunders Middle School in Manassas, Prince William County.

Nicholas P. Girardi, of Cedar Lane School in Columbia, Howard County.

Terrence W. Hill, of Sterling Middle School in Sterling, Loudoun County.

Mildred J. Lockridge, of Maury Elementary School in Alexandria.

David G. Melton, of Manassas Park High School in Manassas Park.

Shirley T. Phillips, of Sunset Elementary School in Pasadena, Anne Arundel County.

Cosimo M. Renzi, of the Timber Lane Elementary School in Falls Church, Fairfax County.

Michael N. Riley, of Governor Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick, Frederick County, Md.

Ralph E. Stone, of Zachary Taylor Elementary School in Arlington.

Alan R. Thormeyer, of Clearspring Elementary School in Damascus, Montgomery County.