Principal Joyce Smith believes that getting students to buy into the goals of education is all about winning their trust. That's the aim of many of her programs at Annapolis High School. Many are student led because she believes students listen better to other students.
"They need to feel a sense of ownership," Smith said. "For education to continue to meet the needs of students, we have to involve them in the decisions."
Her approach is one of the reasons Smith is among 17 outstanding principals in the Washington area to be honored this week with the Washington Post Distinguished Educational Leadership award.
Smith has established many programs to build rapport among students and between teachers and their students. One of the most popular is the school's annual TEAM Days, the acronym standing for Together Everyone Achieves More.
Each September, about 500 students travel to Sandy Point State Park to address common issues, such as the changing cultural diversity at Annapolis High. This year, the focus was on how to evaluate rumors, a subject that had become a concern to students in the wake of the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado and the subsequent debate over who knew what before the attack.
Students were arranged in groups at random, so they were with others they may not interact with on a daily basis. Their discussions were led by student volunteers.
"TEAM Days make a big difference" in helping to find common ground and build school unity, said Sarah Martin, president of Annapolis High's Student Government Association.
Smith has spent 32 years as an administrator in Anne Arundel and a teacher of history, English and special education. Since becoming principal of Annapolis High in 1994, Smith has reached out to students in many ways. A conflict-resolution program, for instance, was established to help students deal with one another. A Wall of Fame was created to honor notable graduates, and an Annapolis Pride book was established to recognize student achievement.
Sherry Yaniga, coordinator of business partnerships for Anne Arundel County's public schools and coordinator of county nominations for the Washington Post award, said that of the five county candidates nominated, Smith's portfolio stood out.
"She has truly turned the school around and made a difference," Yaniga said.
Colleagues agree that Smith is an outstanding leader.
She stirs positive energy among the faculty with a reward system for teachers. One teacher, Sandra Croiser, wrote in a letter about Smith, "At every faculty meeting she hands out apples to staff members for something they have done." Croiser said that it may be for some simple thing but that teachers look forward to the recognition.
Leslie Gershon, an English teacher at Annapolis High for 20 years, has seen the school go through many changes. She refers to the years under Smith's leadership as some of the happier years because Smith allows students to take ownership of their school.
"[Smith] possesses the belief that the students in reality run the school," Gershon said. "Over the past several years, she--along with her student leaders--have developed a program [TEAM Days] which has given leadership training and experiences to hundreds of students."
Martin, the student government president, said she has seen change over the past three years. "It seems like there were a lot of fights [in my] freshman year," said the senior. "But I haven't seen any this year."
Martin attributes this to the TEAM program and to Smith's willingness to give the student body a voice.
"She is open to anything anyone wants to say." Martin said. "She is an administrator, but she gives the power to the students. . . .
"Here, it's okay to go to the principal's office."