Nine years ago, Janet Walsh received a phone call informing her that her son Andrew, a third-grader, had been injured at Zachary Taylor Elementary School.
She rushed over to the school and found principal Ralph Stone comforting the boy. Pressing a bloody bandage to her son's injured ear, Stone assured Andrew that he would be all right. The secretary explained to Walsh that Stone had taken time out of his busy day because he "considers all these kids to be his own."
For the past 25 years, Stone has taken care of Arlington's children as an educator and administrator in the county's school system. Last month, Stone was awarded The Washington Post Distinguished Educational Leadership Award for 11 years of outstanding work as Taylor's principal.
Each year, the award is presented in each of 15 area school systems to "recognize those principals who go beyond the day-to-day demands of their position to create an exceptional educational environment." Principals must have a minimum of five years' experience in the school system to be eligible for the award.
Stone was nominated for the award in letters written by teachers, administrators and parents, and selected by a committee made up of senior staff members and Superintendent Arthur W. Gosling.
"My husband and I have moved our eight children through the Arlington County school system," wrote Susan L. Foulke. Stone "arranges a staff of top-notch teachers; he keeps communication avenues open to parents; and he relates to each and every student in a positive way as a principal to be respected and liked."
As principal, Stone has developed a computer program for Taylor's 646 students. Students in kindergarten through fifth grade learn computer skills in the classroom and in the school's computer lab.
To strengthen student writing skills, Stone has helped establish a student Publication Center. By the end of the school year, every student at Taylor will have "published" his or her own book.
Stone gives individual attention to both students and staff. He regularly visits classrooms and supervises at lunch to get to know the students better in a relaxed atmosphere. He also personally examines each student's work and writes personal notes to students and staff congratulating them on jobs well done.
Stone has been instrumental in developing a flexible teaching environment at Taylor. Removable walls enlarge classroom space so that classes can be combined for guest speakers or films. Team teaching enables students to interact with a variety of teachers while allowing teachers more flexiblity in designing learning programs.
"One person can't do it all. I've got wonderful teachers helping me," Stone said. "But it's not just teachers. Custodians work with kids, secretaries work with kids and nurses work with kids."
Taylor is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and has more students in its extended day program than any other school in the county. Before and after school enrichment programs are available for students interested in computers, science, music and foreign languages.
Stone has worked to involve parents in the learning process. The school offers seminars for parents, including kindergarten, minority and special education programs. Parents also can serve in the classroom as volunteers.
"Education is everyone's business; parents, the community and business are a part," Stone said. "Education is a solution for the future."
While in high school in Alexandria, Stone procrastinated about applying to colleges. But his high school coach, Steve Osisek, wouldn't let him off the hook so easily.
"He grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and said, 'Let's do this,' " Stone recalled. He applied and was accepted at East Carolina University, where he majored in physical education and decided to become a teacher.
Stone began working for Arlington public schools in 1965 as a physical education teacher at Taylor. He then taught fifth-grade students at Fairlington Elementary School.
But he felt limited interacting with only 25 students in one grade. He decided to get involved in administration as a principal at Patrick Henry Elementary in 1971, moving to Fort Myer Elementary School in 1977 and finally to Taylor in 1979.
"Being a principal is kind of like coaching: you get to work with all the kids and teachers," Stone said. "There are very few days when I didn't want to come to work in 25 years."
Principals Camay Murphy of Ashlawn Elementary School, Sharon Steindam of Jefferson Middle School and Margery Tracy of Long Branch Elementary also were nominated for this year's award.