Three Southern Maryland principals were among 17 private and public school educators honored last week with The Washington Post Distinguished Educational Leadership Award. The awards are given annually to those people who day after day go beyond the expectations of their highly demanding professions to create exceptional educational environments--work that Post Publisher Donald E. Graham said is by its nature unglamorous, but vital.

Robert Dredger, Patuxent High School in Calvert; In 4 Years, Excellence Emerges

Robert Dredger became principal of Patuxent High School when it first opened in 1995, fully aware of all the challenges he faced.

The new high school was built in southern Calvert County, an area where achievement test scores have lagged and students in some troubled neighborhoods confront problems such as juvenile crime. For half that first year, Dredger's domain was a cluster of trailers on the Calvert High School campus because the Patuxent students, only a freshman class at first, could not move into the new building until mid-year.

But somehow, Dredger made something out of nothing. "You took it day by day," he said. "As we added a class, we added new issues, new programs. We grew into the building."

Four years later, Patuxent High School posted the highest SAT scores in the county. The school's marching band and Navy Junior ROTC groups have won several awards. School sports events have become popular with residents. Dredger's staff says he somehow has managed to be academically oriented, athletically oriented and arts oriented all at once, a rare accomplishment.

Dredger credits his staff for the school's success. It was the team of teachers, guidance counselors, secretaries, custodial staff and others who made the school exceed expectations in four short years, he said. "I would put this staff up against any staff I've ever seen," he said.

But assembling that staff was Dredger's doing. Once he got them all together, Dredger decided he would give teachers the freedom to try new methods or programs instead of dictating to them how they should run their classrooms. "I think some principals can overrun a building," he said. "In my case, I'm more of a resource director."

Dredger has been an educator for 26 years, most of it in the Prince George's County school system. With a bachelor's degree in physical education and later a master's in guidance, he began as a physical education teacher at Thomas Jefferson High School in Prince George's. From 1974 to 1986, he worked at Eleanor Roosevelt and Fairmont Heights high schools, teaching several subjects, including drivers' education and serving as a guidance counselor. He also coached several sports teams.

Dredger moved into the administrative end in 1987, when he became a vice principal at Bowie High School. He became principal of Surrattsville High School in 1993.

Two years later, he decided to try Calvert County, a much smaller but rapidly growing school district.

That growth is Dredger's biggest challenge right now. Next year, Patuxent High will have about 1,645 students, 345 more than the building was designed to accommodate.

"We no longer have space," he said, sitting behind the desk in his office, which has a clear view of the portable classrooms behind the school. "There's a great challenge in education when you start overcrowding a school. The biggest challenge is to maintain the level of programming with overcrowded schools."

The solution? "You just have to roll up your sleeves and work a little harder," he said.

Kathleen Webbert Glaser, Hollywood Elementary in St. Mary's; A Never-Ending Search For 'New Ways to Teach'

Kathleen Webbert Glaser often walks around Hollywood Elementary School showing off to visitors the novel design of the six-year-old building.

She walks into the Uchi Roku-ban (House No. 6, in Japanese), a suite that consists of several classes that share an activity area. Hanging from the ceiling are kimonos and spread throughout are cherry blossoms. Along with the Japanese suite are the Casa Uno and Maison Deux.

The unusual setup is designed to allow teachers more freedom to team up on lessons and projects. Under Glaser's leadership, Hollywood Elementary has captured community praise for such features as its suite design and the nature trails that surround the building.

Glaser said that giving the students opportunities to decorate the suites, walk the nature trails and use their musical or artistic skills makes them more interested in learning.

"These kinds of projects stimulate the students so that the reading and writing comes naturally," she said. "Sometimes you need new ways to teach children."

Glaser knows early childhood education, having received a bachelor's degree in the subject from Towson State. She also received a master's in liberal arts from Johns Hopkins University.

Glaser first taught kindergarten and first grade in Baltimore City, then became an early childhood specialist in 1974. She moved to St. Mary's County in 1976, working as a Title I resource teacher at Park Hall Elementary School. In 1982, she became principal of Hollywood Elementary.

As the second-oldest of 11 children, Glaser said that guiding youngsters has always come naturally to her. "From a very early age, I was responsible for younger brothers and sisters," she said. "I felt really drawn to teaching."

Teachers and parents call her compassionate, caring and nurturing. Her warm blue eyes and soft voice seem to convey that image to students.

Glaser said that teaching children has brought her "deep gladness." So have her two daughters and husband, a professor at St. Mary's College.

Glaser calls Hollywood Elementary a "community of learners and leaders." Always looking for ways to make learning a stimulating experience, she often attends conferences and owns a stack of books about education.

She is well versed in educational theory and is trying such methods as multi-age classrooms and looping, which allows a student to stay with one teacher for two years.

She is eager to try anything that will improve her school. The quality of education reflects the quality of society, she said.

"I see it as a way to make a contribution to the next generation," she said.

David M. Trudnak, William B. Wade Elementary in Charles; Higher Standards of Learning

When he was in the fifth grade, David M. Trudnak wrote a letter to his Aunt Betty to ask her when she was going to visit him. That letter now sits in a frame in Trudnak's office at William B. Wade Elementary School, where he has been principal for five years.

Trudnak shows that letter to each of the Charles County school's 816 students before asking them to write him letters.

"It's good for them to see what I did," he said. "That was a precious time." Trudnak makes it a point to go to every classroom to discuss the letters the youngsters write him. Sometimes he has them read their letters to him in his office. And to show them that he values their work, he tapes many of the letters up on his wall. Some of them have even been laminated.

Trudnak said he sets high standards for the students and tries to lead by example. He even has them thinking about careers and how they can accomplish their goals. When a student tells him he or she wants to be a baseball player, he tells the student that there are scholarships to pursue.

"They've got to be starting to think about it," he said. "What do they have to do from second grade on to be that?

That kind of thinking worked for Trudnak, who earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Mansfield University of Pennsylvania and completed additional graduate work at Frostburg University and the University of Maryland.

Trudnak has spent his entire career in Charles County public schools. It began in 1972, when he became a teacher at Indian Head Elementary School. Ten years later, he landed the top job at Wayside Elementary School, which eventually merged with Glasva Elementary. He served as principal at three more schools before becoming principal of William B. Wade Elementary.

Trudnak grew up in a Pennsylvania coal-mining town where, he said, hard work was expected of everyone.

And hard work is exactly what he expects of his students.

"I grew up with that kind of work ethic," he said, crediting his father for setting that example. His father quit school at age 12 to go to work as a coal miner. Workdays for him were 12 to 15 hours long. When he wasn't working, Trudnak said, his father was doing repair work around their house.

That kind of attitude has paid off at William B. Wade. In the past year, MSPAP and other test scores have risen.

Trudnak said educators face increasingly tough challenges in making youngsters successful.

"I think there are so many things going on in society, so many challenges facing children," he said. "The elements of society kids experience every day--the media, videos--tug children in different directions and not necessarily directions that we as educators want them to go."

He says his job is to steer them in the right direction and urge them to accomplish their goals.

"That's what we try to do at our school, and we don't let anything get in the way."